Right now, there are more than ten different types of Mini to choose from, all of which build on that now iconic shape of the original 2001 launch model. The latest, the Mini Paceman, definitely falls into the "Mini that isn't mini" category. Designed to bring Range Rover Evoque style driving and interior space while being as compact as possible, it is an interesting idea.
Prices for the Paceman start at £18,975, which put it in line with the top end of the three-door hatch market. Really though, it is hard to think of a car with which to compare the Paceman. The closest we can think of is a souped-up Fiat Panda, a car we love. So can the Paceman put a smile on our face? Or is it a step too far for Mini?
At first glance, the Mini Paceman isn't that much of a looker. It has a bulky rear end and raised suspension which make it look like a conventional Cooper has made babies with a monster truck. In reality though, this is a car which is a lot less offensive than some of the other vehicles in the Mini range. It is a lot more of a looker than the Clubman, for example, and also has a more interesting design than the Countryman, both of which are the closest comparable vehicles in the Mini range.
We like the sloping window line, which gives the Paceman a sporty look. We also enjoyed the dual exhausts, which sat on the back of the Paceman we tested. The large chromed Paceman text on the back however is something the car could do without. Mini has done some good work trying to style the Paceman so it doesn't look like a Cooper in need of a diet, giving the car a bulky front end that is certainly eye catching. The horizontal rear lights also add to the sportier feel of the car and we much prefer them to the conventional Mini lights, which are starting to look a touch cheap.
Inside, Mini's alternative approach to design continues. Things haven't changed much here from the traditional Cooper, so you still get that premium feel, big centre-mounted speedo and set of aircraft-style control switches. It has worked well for Mini in plenty of cars previously and the same applies here. It also makes a change to the traditionally dull interiors of small SUVs and family orientated hatchbacks. Special mention has to be given to the centre guide rail that runs throughout the car, we love how you can slide things like cup holders back and forth. Those oval interior wraps around each door handle are also very cool indeed.
Sadly this is where the Paceman falls short, if only because the regular Mini is so strong. It suffers from the sort of bouncy raised up feel that things like the Fiat Panda give, yet retains the sport suspension and tight pedal feel that you find in other Coopers. The result is a car that sort of feels mashed together, providing great visibility and ease of use, with a firmer ride and a pedal and gearbox feel that isn't suited to its size.
Motorway stints we can see as a particular issue and its here that we take the most fault with the Mini. Simply put, it's just too noisy for a car of this size and price. Opting for something bigger like the Paceman, buyers are going to be expecting a nice and easy motorway cruiser, but the Cooper S we drove just didn't deliver.
Body roll can be forgiven in part due to the raised chassis, but we just feel like Mini has tried to take the best from the Cooper and put it in something bigger, rather than take a different approach to handling altogether.
That said, the 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine in the Cooper S we drove still turns out 184hp and a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds, so it isn't exactly slow. In fact, punch the throttle a bit and you get a decent amount of poke from the Paceman, but hit the corners and you soon remember just how big it is and how raised you are. We didn't get to test the conventional 122hp Cooper Paceman unfortunately, but this could end up feeling like a slightly more balanced ride, simply because it has less grunt to get you between corners quicker. It may also be more quiet on the motorway.
There is no doubting that the Paceman is a more functional car than the Cooper, nor that it provides a lot more fun than the Countryman, while still giving a decent amount of interior space. To us, it feels like a good halfway house for families who want something fun to drive about, minus kids, on the weekend.
The boot is big enough to hold 1080-litres, which when compared to say a VW Golf, which has a 1023-litre capacity, means the Paceman makes more sense. It is a touch larger than a normal three-door family hatchback, while having a raised driving position like that of say a Range Rover Evoque. This means it is easy to park, visibility is good and it eats speedbumps for breakfast. The boot hatch is also nice and low, so getting shopping in and out shouldn't be problematic.
Rear leg room is good enough for anyone up to around 6ft, while the front passenger should stay nicely comfy on long journeys. The Paceman also benefits from having door-mounted window controls, rather than in the centre console, which is handy.
Our car also came with the dash-mounted Mini Connected system. This adds a screen to the centre of the speedometer from which you can do all sorts of clever things. Having spent a good while playing with it, those who enjoy in-car technology should definitely tick the box for it on the options list.
It is very impressive, provided you have your iPhone hooked up to it. You can do things such as see your Facebook, send tweets, browse music, see messages and even check the speedometer and get reports on your driving style. Mini has done a great job taking the traditional in-car hi-fi experience one step further and while it's not the easiest to understand in terms of menu layout, the functionality is great.
The Mini Paceman is a strange car. A juxtaposition of everything that is good about Mini, with some of the day to day liveability of a bigger three door hatchback. The problem is in the finished result, not in the ingredients themselves. The engine is great, but then its loud on the motorway. The rear legroom is good, but then the car is more than 4 metres long. The list goes on. In the end it just depends how badly you want a Mini and how fussy your kids are.
We don't think there is enough space to play with here for those with bigger families and if it is just the two of you, then go for a regular Mini as you will have more fun. If however the space and flexibility of the likes of a Range Rover Evoque or even the Mini Countryman tickle your fancy, then perhaps the Paceman is the car for you.