First drive review: Mini Cooper S Paceman (2012)

Mini cashes in on the Range Rover Evoque masterstroke

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If copying really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at Land Rover must be glowing with self-satisfaction. They came up with the idea of giving an SUV platform an overtly sporting three-door body while maintaining a butch, off-roader stance. The result was the wildly successful Range Rover Evoque, a car so cool that you’ll shiver just looking at it.

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Mini must have thought, ‘yeah, we’ll have some of that.’ And so we have the seventh Mini variant, which is effectively a sleeker, lower, more stylish version of the company’s gormlessly lumpen five-door Countryman SUV. So it’s a coupé-off-roader. A “coopder”, perhaps?

The Paceman sits on the same wheelbase and track width as the Countryman but all of the metal aft of the A-pillar is new. The waistline rises dramatically to the letterbox-window at the tail. The back end of the Paceman is also much better looking than any other Mini variant, principally because the new tail-lights are wide rather than tall, which gives the impression of a wider bum (in a good way, J-Lo).

Inside, the Paceman features four individual seats that easily accommodate four adult-size people. Because the car sits on the Countryman’s longer wheelbase there’s more room in the back compared with its hatchback siblings; my 6in 2ft frame was well provided with both leg and headroom. There is also a good deal more room in the luggage compartment, at least compared with non-Countryman variants.

In another welcome touch, the Paceman’s front window electric switches have been moved to a conventional spot on the doors, just as they have on the latest Countryman. (On the other Mini models, they remain ergonomically compromised toggles mounted on the centre console.) The Paceman’s interior is familiar Countryman territory, with (seemingly) a massive Cadillac hubcap standing in for the speedo and lots of clever storage.

From launch, there will be a choice of two 1.6-litre petrol engines: a regular 120bhp version or the turbocharged 182bhp motor for the Cooper S model. Two diesels will be on offer: a 111bhp version or the hotter 141bhp motor. A manual six-speed gearbox is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional.
We tried the hottest Cooper S Paceman with its turbocharged 182bhp petrol power. The figures claim that it’ll cover 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds and power on to 135mph. That’s pacey by anyone’s measure and the car feels every bit as quick as the claims. Later – no word on exactly when – MINI will also launch a 215bhp John Cooper Works Paceman, which will be quicker still.

The Paceman sits a bit lower than the Countryman, which looks better and lowers the car’s centre of gravity for better handling. And it does handle with more agility than its agricultural sibling, with well-contained body roll and something approaching verve when you push on through corners. The steering delivers good feel, too, and the ride copes with rough surfaces well, albeit with a bit of bounce.

But why would you buy a Paceman, which starts a £18,970, when you could have the even better-to-drive regular hatchback Mini, which starts at £14,900 for the 120bhp petrol model? There isn’t a huge amount of extra space in the Paceman, so that’s not going to swing the deal. Ditto the slightly higher driving position.

I reckon the answer comes down to the Range Rover Evoque effect. Offer people big, stand-out style with bags of character detail and they’ll queue around the block for a piece of the action.


Verdict ★★★☆☆

Quite a good answer for a question nobody asked.


Release date:
March 16, 2013
1598cc, four-cylinder turbocharged
183bhp @ 5500rpm
177b ft @ 1600-5000rpm
6-speed manual
0-62mph in 7.5sec
Top speed:
46.3mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
L 4109mm W 1786mm H 1518mm