Overall rating: 3.5/5
Think of it as a quirky fast alternative to the Range Rover Evoque and MINI's Paceman John Cooper Works doesn't seem such a bizarre proposition as it first appears. Its four-wheel drive system gives it all-weather surefootedness, but don't expect hot hatch levels of engagement.
In the Metal:
We're aware that the Paceman has as many doubters as it has fans, and the opinion-splitting looks and concept divide us here at CompleteCar.ie too. For the record, I like the styling of the John Cooper Works model - especially when viewed from the rear three quarters. JCW specification includes a substantial body kit, 18-inch alloys and the distinctive twin exhaust system. The stripes and loud paint finish are optional.
Red contrast detailing is the theme for the cabin and it does look sporty. There are four individual seats, with good space for shoulders and heads in the rear (if not for especially long legs). Buyers need to shell out more for the JCW leather seats though. And while it is a funky cabin, it's lacking a little in outright perceived quality - the plastics are just a little too hard for our liking.
First up, we need to point out that the cars we tested in Germany were all fitted with relatively high profile winter tyres - not the stylish (and optional) 19-inch rims depicted in the images. That limits any detailed analysis of the car's ride and handling, but in summary the Paceman feels, unsurprisingly, little different to the Countryman JCW. It grips well enough, though body roll is more pronounced than expected. The steering has very little communication through it either, so it won't appeal to keen driving enthusiasts. Perhaps aware of that MINI didn't think it necessary to change the regular Paceman's suspension for the JCW variant. Instead, its buyers will revel in the seemingly endless traction on tap. You really can plant the throttle well before the apex of a corner and let the four-wheel drive system sort things out for you. In wet conditions especially it's neat, tidy and fast where the driver of a front-wheel drive MINI hatchback would be contending with wheel spin and the intervention of traction control.
However, in spite of the fact that the Paceman JCW's engine is the most powerful in the MINI line-up it doesn't feel all that quick. The 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is impressive on paper, and the engine is appreciably torquey in the mid-range, but it just isn't exciting to extend to the red line - and worse, it sounds strained when you do. Saying that, switch into Sport mode and the exhaust pops and bangs rudely in a computer-controlled 'overrun', which makes up for a lot of things.
What you get for your Money:
For €50,540 the Paceman JCW comes with a considerable cosmetic overhaul inside and out as described above including 18-inch alloy wheels and sports seats trimmed in cloth. Air conditioning, electric windows and a CD stereo are also standard, as is ALL4 four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox. There are loads of tempting options plus a six-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles behind the steering wheel.
ALL4 four-wheel drive is standard in the Paceman John Cooper Works, as it is in the Countryman JCW. An electromagnetic centre differential is controlled by a system that uses the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) sensors. Torque to the rear wheels can be as much as 100 per cent of the engine's output depending on the conditions, though the majority of the time there is over 50 per cent sent to the front wheels. Turn the DSC off and the Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) on the front wheels is enabled. This applies the brakes to a spinning wheel so that power is redistributed to the other.
The potential market for the MINI Paceman is quite small, so this high-performance John Cooper Works version is very much a niche product. Only the Range Rover Evoque really comes close to its sporty semi-SUV stance in concept. Four-wheel drive gives it all-weather capability, but we reckon this car will be bought first and foremost because of how unique it looks.