Overall rating: 3/5
So, let's get this straight: MINI created a jacked-up crossover with five doors and more space and called it the Countryman. Then it decided to take two of the doors away again and reduce some of the practicality yet up the price a tad. Say hello to the MINI Paceman...
In the Metal:
About the only thing that'll divide opinion more than the whole concept of the MINI Paceman is its styling. For the record, we're not enamoured with the overall shape, though the new rear end holds some appeal and on large wheels in the right colour it could look stunning. More to the point, it'll stand out, even in a crowd of MINIs. That's despite a front end largely unchanged from the Countryman it's based on. The Paceman also starts a new trend for the company by having its name emblazoned across its behind.
The Paceman's interior is remarkably still spacious. Clearly it's more difficult to get into the two rear seats (there's no three-seat option) and that sloping roof line reduces headroom, but it's still pretty commodious and the split-level boot is a usable size, if 20 litres down on the Countryman's. In terms of design, the Paceman has a few unique flourishes, but it'll be familiar to other MINI drivers. Tweaks recently revealed for the Countryman's cabin are carried over, including electric window switches situated on the doors.
If you're expecting the Paceman to drive much like a MINI Hatch then you're in for a disappointment; the latter is far more engaging and quicker to react to input. Unsurprisingly, the Paceman drives like the Countryman, which is to say there's some body roll initially, then it settles on its springs and you can adjust its attitude through a bend. We don't like the slightly non-linear steering response, but it is a safe chassis, moving into speed-scrubbing understeer if you overstep the mark.
At least the ride is better than the Hatch's. It absorbs bumps well, even if it makes some noise about it in town and bounces about a little on high-frequency ripples. MINI will offer two different chassis set-ups for buyers so make sure you test drive both to find your preference.
Our test car was a front-wheel drive Cooper S model with the manual gearbox. The latter is as snappy as ever and the engine has plenty of go when you need it and has the obligatory pops and bangs on the overrun if you have Sport mode engaged. We were impressed with how quiet and refined it is when you're not pushing on too, though no doubt most buyers will go for one of the diesel options anyway.
Visibility over the shoulder isn't bad at all, but this car could really do with a lower seating position for the driver.
What you get for your Money:
While we acknowledge that the entry-level MINI Paceman is not really comparable to the cheapest Range Rover Evoque, we'd also argue that these cars are bought for style and image above anything else. Hence the MINI is a bit of a bargain relatively speaking.
MINI also has the upper hand in terms of choice. Before you even consider personalisation and stripes and what have you, there are Cooper and Cooper S variants in both petrol and diesel to weigh up, manual or automatic in every case and 'ALL4' four-wheel drive in most models. The Paceman is also considerably more efficient than Land Rover's offering.
When the Paceman goes on sale in March 2013, the line-up will include Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD versions, but there'll also be a John Cooper Works model that has yet to be revealed. We expect it to share the JCW Countryman's underpinnings, which means ALL4 four-wheel drive and 218hp. Perhaps then the Paceman will make sense to us...
It should be clear from the above that, while we don't 'get' the MINI Paceman entirely, we also realise that it does everything important to the majority of drivers that the Evoque does, for considerably less money. For that reason, you've probably made up your own mind on which you like the look of most.