Standard equipment across the range is good, and in keeping with the Paceman’s premium position. Every model has air-con, powered door mirrors and front sports seats, but as ever with a Mini, the personalisation options are what really make the car: there’s a whole host of them, so you can make your Paceman very much your own.
There’s no doubt that anyone who considers buying a Paceman will do so because they like the way it looks. Effectively, it’s a three-door coupe-like version of the Countryman, but it’s much more than that. It looks far more sleek, from its chrome-trimmed hexagonal grille to its long doors and blacked-out pillars that give the impression that the roof is floating. The roof itself slopes down to the rear end, which looks unlike any other Mini’s, thanks to its horizontally arranged lights and nameplate.
Unfortunately, there is nothing inside the Paceman to distinguish it from other Minis, apart from the higher driving position it shares with the Countryman. Like every Mini, it has a huge central speedometer, inspired by the original Mini. However, many of the switches are fiddly to use and tucked away low on the centre console in front of the gear lever. It’s distinctive and stylish, for sure, but pretty poor in terms of ergonomics.
As we say above, we’ve only driven the Cooper S version of the Paceman – the second fastest model in the range after the John Cooper Works model – and its performance is excellent. Admittedly, it doesn’t respond very well at low revs, but above 2000rpm, it pulls strongly and keenly right through the rev range, hitting 62mph in 7.5 seconds. The main problem is a lack of refinement, with the car generating too much wind noise at speed.
There are no great problems in the front of the Paceman, with enough room for a couple of six-footers and a wide range of adjustment on the seats. However, it’s not nearly as good in the back: for a start, it only has two rear seats, and it’s tight for both head- and legroom. Anyone over six feet tall simply won’t fit. To make matters worse, the boot is also quite awkward to access because the lights intrude on the opening and the tailgate doesn’t open very high. The boot itself has a reasonable 330-litre capacity, but although the two rear seats fold down individually to extend the space, they don’t sit flat when folded.
The price of the Paceman suggests it should have something of a premium feel over the rest of the Mini range, but the materials don’t bear that out: there’s a lot of hard, scratchy plastic on show. Also rather worrying is the fact that Minis tend not to do very well in reliability surveys, generally finishing a little below average.
Ride and handling
We have to temper the criticism that follows with the caveat that we have only driven one version of the Paceman in the UK – a Cooper S fitted with optional 18-inch wheels. It’s not a great combination, as it leads to an over-firm ride that becomes genuinely uncomfortable at times, with lumps in the road thumping up through the steering wheel. To add to the disappointment, the steering provides very little feedback, and although the body roll is well controlled, the lack of side support in the seats means you sway around a lot if you take any corner at all ‘eagerly’.
Compared to the Countryman, on which the Paceman is based, this looks a dear car – and the Countryman is hardly good value to start with. Nevertheless, the car has decent running costs, and despite the strong performance, the Paceman provides good economy. The petrol-engined Cooper and Cooper S both average more than 45mpg, while the diesel models average more than 60mpg. Company car users will be attracted to the Cooper D, which has the lowest CO2 emissions in the range – 115g/km – and everyone will benefit from good retained values.
The Paceman itself has not been rated by Euro NCAP, but the Countryman achieved a five-star rating in 2010. Standard kit across the range includes six airbags (with curtain airbags that cover the front and rear), stability and traction controls, as well as ISOFX child seat attachments and a tyre-pressure warning system.
The Paceman is an exercise in seeing how just how far the Mini brand can stretch. It’s quite a tall order to justify the Paceman when it costs more than the Countryman, but offers less space and practicality. Ultimately, it will probably boil down to style: if you like the way it looks, you’ll put up with its shortcomings.