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Review: MINI Paceman Cooper S ALL4

MINI Paceman All4

MINI is a car brand that means a lot of different things to a great many people. For some, it’s about economy. For others, it’s style. For many, MINI is about performance. Thing is, they’re all right. MINI is a brand and a range of cars intended to live in a variety of sweet spots at the intersections of these often conflicting areas of focus. As I left the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, behind the wheel of a Starlight Blue MINI Paceman Cooper S ALL4, I wondered just where on that multi-axis spectrum of MINI-ness this particular car would land. For MotoringFile, this would be our second time behind the wheel of MINI’s larger 2-door. Gabe drove the R61 back in November of last year. You can find his thoughts here, but this time around it was up to me and the beautiful island of Puerto Rico to see what MINI’s new slope-backed 2-door was all about.

It must first be understood just exactly what the Paceman is. Or rather, what MINI intends it to be. To think of the Paceman as simply a 2-door Countryman would be a significant oversimplification. In truth, while the cars share footprint, chassis and power train, from the A-pillars back, the Paceman is a wholly different car both inside and out. From its sloped roof, to its flared hips, to its standard 19″ wheels and its wedged belt line, the Paceman is making a significant visual statement: “I will not be ignored.” Inside, it’s a different car from the dash backwards. It’s four different seats, and not just different upholstery. The shape, bolstering and positioning is different. The interior door and rear passenger wall panels are specific to the Pacemen both in their shapes and their details. Only one significant detail from the Countryman remains: that terrible handbrake.

In the Paceman, MINI is going for a lounge effect inside with deeply inset interior panel arm rests and four bucket seats. Overall, it’s a package heavily emphasizing the style aspect of what makes a MINI a MINI. It’s intentional. It’s evocative. Frankly, it’s a great looking car both inside and out. Those R61-specific seats are more comfortable too, making the Paceman a MINI that’s very much about experience. In my interaction with the car, the interior changes to the Paceman only really had one drawback compared to the Countryman: rear head room. MINI has dropped the rear seats down lower in the car to compensate for the Paceman’s sloped roofline, but it still wasn’t quite enough for this 6’3″ motorer. Where I can sit straight up in the back seats of the Countryman and have head room to spare, in the back seat of the Paceman, I was about 3″ too tall. It would be utterly unsustainable for anyone taller than 6′ to sit back there further than a couple blocks. On the bright side though, ingress and egress into the back of the Paceman was about on par with the MINI Clubman.

Aesthetics and ergonomics are important, but looking at a car and sitting in a car are an incomplete experience. Is there any substance to all that style? More specifically, is it any good to actually drive? In short, yes. The Paceman is very good to drive, in fact, which my co-driver and I quickly discovered as we navigated the urban streets of Ponce before winding the car up first the highway, then the narrow, treacherous mounting roads that snake into the island’s center. Here again, the Paceman set itself apart from its Countryman sibling. Equipped with the MINI Sport Suspension (standard on the Paceman Cooper S), our test car did an admirable job soaking up the rather rough roads that Puerto Rico served us. Even on the 19″ wheels (also standard on the PMCS), the Paceman aptly walked that line between comfort and road feel. Turn in was crisp, and like the R60, the R61 has terrific steering feel — better feel, in fact, than anything else MINI produces.

On the freeway, our Paceman was well-behaved, comfortable and made spirited driving easily accessible. Visibility in the Paceman was actually very good. I’d expected the sloped roof and narrower rear window to compromise the view out the back at least some, but in practical experience, I could see just fine. It’s not as good as the standard MINI Hardtop hatch, but then, what is? It’s certainly no MINI Coupe, which basically has no rear 3/4 views at all, but I digress.

Galloping down the freeway, the Paceman’s relative bulk added to its sense of forward motion. This was a car that was taking us places. Yet that bulk also hurt the car’s performance. Our Paceman was essentially as heavy a spec as one can buy from MINI. It was the All4 model, fitted with MINI’s humdrum and heavy automatic transmission, plus all the bells and whistles such as the panoramic glass roof. While hardly slow, the Paceman suffered a bit for its burden in terms of available, useful power. It’s just not as fast as it should be — not as fast as it deserves to be. Making the car put on speed wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t effortless the way say, a Cooper S Hardtop is effortless. That’s down to purely power-to-weight ratio. In the end, I found myself driving the Paceman Cooper S the way I’d typically drive a standard MINI Cooper Hardtop. Power and speed were there, but I had to wring out the motor to get them. Put 5,000+ rpms through the wheels and it’d certainly get out of its own way, just not quite with the amount of enthusiasm I’d hoped for.

This event didn’t feature the just-debuted JCW version of the Paceman, but just like its Countryman fraternal twin, the extra torque and 30 more horsepower offered in the JCW are badly needed in this car. Or, if you go the other direction (remove the All4, the heavy glass roof and the bulky automatic transmission) this car will only get better and better for every stone of weight it sheds. Yet truth be told, the power-to-weight ratio on the Paceman would prove to be my only genuine complaint, especially as the next part of our day’s journey began.

Having escaped the city, we turned off the freeway and up one of the area’s numerous mountain roads. These are treacherous paths. While brilliant in their switching back and their changes of elevation (and let’s not forget the amazing views), these roads were about a lane-and-a-half wide by typical american standards. This would be fine were they one-way streets, but they weren’t. As though blind corners on a narrow two-way road weren’t harrowing enough, these roads were often rough, devoid of guard rails or markings of any kind, and menaced by aimless populations of stray dogs, cattle, chickens and other wildlife. If I sound like I’m complaining, I don’t mean to. I do, however, wish to accurately set the stage for just what the Paceman was up against while we put it through its cornering paces. There was quite literally no room for error, and seemingly no care taken as to the specific quality of the road surface. This, on a twisting roller coaster of a mountain road. Imagine the Tail of the Dragon, at three-quarters its current width, with no markings or guard rails, and with a road surface that, in places, has potholes and cleaves to rival the worst of neglected roads in Chicago or Detroit. Yet through all of this, the Paceman performed with precision and poise.

Engineering a car to go quickly around a corner is relatively easy. Making a car go comfortably over rough roads is also a pretty straightforward proposition. Getting a car — particularly a small car — to do both? That’s not easily managed. Yet what MINI has done with the Paceman, even with the Sport Suspension and 19″ factory wheels, is make a car that manages to do both well. Our mountain route twisted like the squiggles of a polygraph, leaving no room for anything but the truth of how the Paceman handled. Around each bend, and with each quick change in direction, the Paceman didn’t feel heavy anymore. It felt planted, confident and like it was ready to roll over anything in its way. With the Sport button pushed (always push the Sport button in a MINI — it’s a rule) both the throttle response and the steering input were perfectly matched to our driving task. Nothing about the car felt laborious or cumbersome, even after later spending time in the JCW GP for comparison. The Paceman more than earned its MINI wings on that mountain road by giving me all the feedback I needed, and none of the drama I didn’t. Could I have navigated the road more quickly in other cars? Of course. Yet in the Paceman, the experience of driving that mountain road was somehow perfect for what I’d want this particular car to be. If this is my sporty, rolling lounge car, then it’s not about shaving seconds. It’s about that feeling of engagement with both the car and the road. If I simply want to go fast, I’ll ride a motorcycle.

In short, my day with the MINI Paceman was utterly enjoyable. Beyond wanting more power, the car was basically everything I’d hoped it would be. I came to Puerto Rico wanting to like this car, yet not knowing if I really would upon actual inspection. Yet in nearly every respect, the Paceman did not disappoint. It’s better looking in person than any photograph of it I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasize this enough. There are details about this car that just don’t seem to work when you see them in 2D, yet in the flesh, it’s simply a lovely car. Throughout, there are dozens of key details to not just set this car apart, but make it special. It has a particular Paceman-ness that’s difficult to describe without naming the laundry list of little things that the MINI design team has done to make this car special.

As I try to put my finger on exactly what the Paceman is, I keep coming back to this idea of refinement. What we have here is a small, 2-door car. In fact, it’s nearly identical in size and weight to a VW GTI. At first blush, what’s to set it apart? It’s got available all-wheel-drive and a glut of available creature comforts. That’s something, but not particularly exciting. No, I think it has to come back to that sense of care — that injection of art and passion into a car that would otherwise be, well, just another VW GTI. To say that it’s “better” than a GTI would simply be inflammatory and not particularly useful. It’s certainly different, and perhaps that’s what makes the Paceman so remarkable. It’s a really interesting mix of otherwise familiar elements. It’s a Countryman underneath, yet it’s somehow so much more than the R60 in terms of aesthetics, poise and …yeah, I keep coming back to refinement. This is a car MINI could have done on the cheap. It could be identical to the Countryman inside. It could have the same tail lights. It could have the same boot lid. Yet it doesn’t. It’s its own car — a new expression of what a “big” MINI can be, and I can’t help but say that this time they’ve finally got it right. They’ve really done it well, this car, and not for any one reason. No, they’ve done it well because the MINI design and engineering teams have quite transparently cared intently about this car — about its details. It’s built on the foundation established by the R60, but it’s been refined. It’s been clarified — infused with better ingredients for a more full-bodied aroma. Hang on, now I sound like a coffee commercial.

All I can say is that the MINI Paceman, like the JCW GP, is a car aimed squarely at fans of the MINI brand. I know that sounds like heresy for many MotoringFile readers, but bear with me. Where the GP (and I’d also contend the Coupe, Roadster and all of JCW) exists to swell the arteries of MINI fans focused on performance, the Paceman’s appeal has a different aim. The R61 is aimed straight at the heart of people who love the MINI style — at people who revel in that sculpted, European aesthetic. Does that make the Paceman more of a lifestyle accessory than a car? It could have, if MINI hadn’t been very, very careful with it. Truth is though, the Paceman has as much performance, and as much economy as it needs to properly carry a MINI badge in my opinion. It’s still an intersection of those key MINI criteria. It’s just heavier on the style end. It’s also just heavier, but fantastically so. This is a car that would be a pleasure to own. It’s a pleasure to drive, a pleasure to look at, and a pleasure to ride in. It’s something special, and frankly, in JCW spec it’d be everything some MINI fans are really looking for.

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Written By: Nathaniel Salzman

  • John

    Great review and writeup, Nathan. You have a great writing style that I always enjoy reading.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=760993825 Larry Simpson

    With the Paceman Weighing more then the countryman, and still having the same fuel system as a Countryman. This beast range will be limited by its tiny 12.4 Gallon Tank. Expect 280 to 300 miles. Unless MINI Wised up and put in a larger tank or equivalent to the R56. Nice write up Nathan, Im sure they will sell. Just wish they would listen to owners and the owners want to be able to drive there MINI’s with out having to stop at a gas station every 280 Miles.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Smith/1742553353 Mark Smith

      I’ve gotten more than 300 miles out of a tank in a Cooper S Countryman FWD coming back from MINI of Baltimore County to my dealership MINI of Fairfield County. MD to CT. In spite of the smaller tank if you drive one of these properly they are pretty efficient.

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        Same. I got well over 300 if highway miles were involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scamper Scamper Robinson

    AKA the Pontiac Aztek of the MINI world. Once you see that, you can’t unsee it. (I was going to compare it to Sloth from the Goonies, but I actually think Sloth was rather sweet.)

    • GoRixter

      Exactly!!!

  • http://www.twitter.com/eselqueso eselqueso

    As a fan of the MINI brand, the Paceman does not hit me squarely. It may have sculpted european flanks but it doesn’t look anything like a MINI should. At least it’s its not as bloated as the Countryman, but still, euuugh. I’ll happily stick with my R53

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Yet that’s kind of the point. Not all MINI fans want exactly the same thing.

    • piper

      That’s the keyword — “bloated!”

  • eEighty8

    No frameless windows?!?!

  • MichaelB

    I still think that comparing the MINI (Paceman to 2dr GTi/Countryman to 4dr GTi) to the GTi is like comparing Apples to Oranges. They’re very different cars with very different specifications…

    That being said – my GTi is being replaced by a Countryman in 2 weeks…

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Absolutely. I don’t really mean to compare those two head-to-head in every respect, but I wanted to put the size of the car into perspective. Their footprint and curb weight are nearly identical. A lot of people seem to think that the R6X cars are gigantic and they’re just not. Their design proportions tend to make them appear much larger than they really are. In fact, the #1 complaint MINI USA gets about the Countryman is that it’s not big enough. I wanted something tangible to ground that perception back to reality. I don’t think anybody would argue that the two-door GTI is “huge” by any stretch of the imagination.

      • Jan Wojcik

        The car you drove is probably closer to the Golf R in function and price than the GTI.

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    FYI folks, I neglected to mention the rear headroom in the Paceman (or lack of it, rather), and that’s been added into this review in the third paragraph.

    • John McLauchlan

      At 5’11”, my head touched the roof when seated in the back seat of the Paceman. Keep that in mind if you plan to have adult passengers sitting in back.

  • Jan Wojcik

    Sounds interesting…. I am waiting for the local dealer to get one so that I can drive it. Concerns revolve around issues mentioned (gas mileage, range, lack of power) and my own concern regarding the inability to fold the rear seats flat, making our GS that accompanies us everywhere difficult to place. I really want AWD (my DD is an A4) and yet i was hoping for something more akin to a Golf R …. but we will see. Have any vids?

  • Jan Wojcik

    …BTW; those 19 in rims are a $1750 option, they are not standard. Pity that they didn’t go wider than 225 cross-section on those Pirelli run-flat.

    It would have been nice if they either offered the SD motor or the BMW 2 liter motor out of the 328i rather than the same motor that powers the Countryman.

    What kind of gas mileage did you see on your ride?

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      They are standard on the Cooper S Paceman (which is what we were driving), but not on the Cooper Paceman. It’s the first time MINI has offered a wheel that big as standard, so they made a big deal out of it during the press presentation. Rightfully so, as it’s the size wheel that belongs on that car.

      • Aurel

        I agree … anything less than the 19″ wheel makes the car look completely different and certainly not as slick and “complete” … nice writeup!

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I wasn’t the only one driving the Paceman, and over the course of the day I drove several, so I wasn’t able to really keep track of meaningful mileage. Expect it to be more or less exactly the same as the Countryman.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I’ve double-checked the Configurator and it looks like there is a disconnect between what MINI was telling us on site and what’s made it onto their site. We’ll reach out and see if we can’t figure out what’s what. However, the 19″ wheels are what were on both of the Paceman that I drove, so that’s worth keeping in mind in terms of what I experienced with both the comfort and handling of the car.

  • m8o

    I for one have fingers crossed hoping the new 2.0L mill becomes as powerful AND efficient as BMW’s N20 and it makes its way into the Paceman [or Countryman] JCWs; I don’t fool myself into thinking it would ever be put into an ‘S’ model. (BMW, just use the dang N20/N26 in these already!!!)

    I just did my first real roadtrip in my ’09 JCW driving from NYC to Stowe VT and I wouldn’t want to settle for any less power-to-weight ratio. The JCW on the road is right where I’d want it while being balanced to not be too much so that it gives me economy too.

    Am I really in the minority in this regard? I must be because BMW/Mini doesn’t seem to every want to give it to me. I’m heartened to read Nat is somewhat likewise in that thinking, tho to what degree I cannot attest.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I think that if AWD spreads throughout the MINI lineup like we’re expecting it to in the next generation cars, then we’ll definitely see higher output engines coming to MINI. That said, I doubt it will ever be enough power to make absolutely everybody happy. If they could put just enough power in the Paceman to make it feel more like a Cooper S Hardtop, I think that’d be good enough for me.

      • Chilly

        Wow, hold on a minute. Nathaniel, are you saying you expect AWD to be offered on the F56? If so, do you have more details?

        Thanks for the excellent write-up.

        • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

          We’ve been reporting that for some time now. We don’t have official confirmation, but even MINI USA people are very conspicuously talking around the subject. Specifically, it’s their pat answer when asked about more horsepower in the future. Market demand for AWD is very high and likely not going to change. Given that the F56 is sharing a flexible platform that will underpin a number of cars from both MINI and BMW (including future versions of the Countryman and Paceman and numerous x-drive equipped future BMWs), it’s no longer a matter of CAN they add ALL4 to the smaller MINIs, but rather, WILL they. My prediction is that we’ll see ALL4 come to the smaller cars and with it, more horsepower in the JCW range when ALL4 is equipped. That’s purely speculative at this point, however.

  • Ed

    Great review. I enjoyed your comment about the “intersection” of different attributes.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Thanks, Ed. Every time I think about car shopping outside of MINI, I always struggle to find cars that hit those intersections as well as MINI does. Few ever do.

  • adsf

    The most beautiful car since the R53, however, the GTI is still the better buy. -an r53 owner

  • charlie

    Great Job nathaniel ! awesome read ~ Motor on from MPLS

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Thanks Charlie! Winter’s almost over!

  • Chilly

    Nathaniel,

    When I checked out the Paceman at a recent Auto show I noticed how the back of my legs kept catching the door sill as I exited. Did you notice any such problem?

    Thanks.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      I didn’t have any problems at all getting in or out of the front seats.

  • piper

    I do not like the car. It looks like a mini Evoque. Moreover, MINI needs to audition for “The Biggest Loser.” The entire lineup is FAT. MINI once stood for economy, space efficiency, and sporting performance when Cooper added his two tweaks worth. The cars are also too busy looking inside and out.

  • John McLauchlan

    Nathan, thank you for another thoroughly enjoyable review. Was looking forward to this report ever since your return from PR. I saw the Paceman in the metal last weekend, and it is stunning in person (in a good way).

  • http://www.facebook.com/taiyo.nakashima Taiyo Nakashima

    Cut the roof, drop in N20 or N26 and some 250+bhp, and it will be my dream car. Still holding onto my R52 + JCW… Though really tempted. If I had kids R61 will be my next car!

  • http://twitter.com/davidrperry david r. perry

    what’s the iPad running in the second-to-last shot?

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      That’s not an iPad. It’s a spiral bound notebook with the day’s route maps in it.

  • ie

    Great assessment of the Paceman! I love it and have waited for this car for a long time. The S is just too much. The paceman cooper is the one with all the style.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      It’s true. It won’t win any races in that trim, but it’ll still be a comfortable car with a ton of style.

  • Michael Roth

    Does anybody else think the crease in the door and the black trim treatment detracts from the side view?

  • http://www.lifeinthewest.ca/ DisQusteve

    I had one out for a few days Presently own a 2009 MCS…. my wife sat in the back of the Countryman, she complained….no support and could not get comfortable, same in the front but the dog was on her lap, 42 pounds…..she never complained in the MCS, so I JUST BOUGHT AN UPGRADE….2013 JCWORKS…. OH MY LOOK FOR ME….SILVER WHITE, RED ROOF and MIRRORS, fully loaded. PICK up on May 18th, my wifes birthday, mine is on the 27th….. driving it in to YYC from YVR….Vancouver…THANK YOU MINI YALETOWN……


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