Driven: 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman All4
By John Beltz Snyder
March 19, 2013
—Ponce, Puerto Rico
So what exactly is the Mini Paceman? Is it a coupe version of the Countryman? Is it a bigger, more comfortable version of the hardtop, with the option of all-wheel drive? The answer is yes.
The Paceman could also function as the Mini for the driver who likes the idea of what the brand stands for, but wants something that isn’t such a huge divergence from the more mainstream cars they’re used to. We found this out when we traveled to Puerto Rico to test out the Cooper S and Cooper S All4 versions of the Paceman.
The interior of the Paceman is comfortable even to look at. Our Cooper S came with thick leather seats that looked inviting in both form and texture. They followed up on this visual promise with a supportive, form-fitting contour of soft leather that held us in place throughout our many miles of driving on twisty mountain roads. The cloth seats we saw in some of the examples on hand was done in a not-too-loud plaid that we found both attractive and funky, though we wouldn’t recommend pointing them out to Volkswagen GTI drivers.
Other interior features felt mostly familiar from other Mini models, with some changes. It still has the big speedometer on the center stack, which also encompasses the nav screen. The infotainment system is operated with the small joystick just rear of the gear selector. The window switches have been moved from the bottom of the center stack to the doors. Push/pull shift paddles are mounted on the steering wheel, along with buttons for cruise control and audio.
The rear bucket seats mirror the pleasing contours of the front. Mini claims it was going for a lounge-like design in the rear, and we have to say it accomplished what it set out to do. The roof angles down toward the back of our head, but we didn’t have a real problem with headroom. Legroom is decent, especially if the front passengers are either short or at all accommodating. The molded side panels include armrests that were placed perfectly. It’s a little cozy back there, and while two adults probably won’t be complaining about comfort, claustrophobia may get the better of them as the miles pile on.
The ride is fairly comfortable, too. The suspension in the Paceman is firm enough to be worthy of a car wearing a Mini badge, but it is definitely not punishing. Even on rough, pitted roads, most of the shock was absorbed, while all the proper information was still sent to the seat of the pants. It is a good balance of premium feel with sporty intentions, and it won’t compress your spine the way smaller Mini models can.
The steering in the Mini is also quite appropriate. Even in normal mode, it feels responsive, and inspired confidence in back and forth cornering. We seriously did a lot of rapid transitions (even dodged a few chickens) in this thing, and it never fell out of step. It lacks a little bit of feedback and is a bit more isolated than the hardcore feeling of smaller Minis, but it makes sense in the Paceman. It is a compromise for the larger car targeted toward more mainstream audience that will likely buy it. It doesn’t kill the fun; it just dials down the involvement. It also means that the steering wheel won’t jerk to either side when the front tires hit a bump mid-corner. We like that.
Our drive time was mostly in the All4 version of the Cooper S Paceman, but we did get some seat time in the front-drive version. We didn’t really notice a difference in grip levels, but we didn’t have a chance to test it out on anything other than dry, paved roads (nor did we care to go careening over the edge of the mountain). The All4 system, though, will surely appeal to buyers in the snow belt, and its availability may just be what gets otherwise reluctant would-be owners into the driver’s seat. As for the actual merits of the All4 in the Paceman, we’ll have to wait until we can test it on our home turf.
In normal driving in the Puerto Rican hills, there was just a hint of lag in the lower reaches of the rev range, but once the turbo built up pressure, there was no more hesitation. The Paceman pulled hard uphill and out of corners, and we had no trouble making short work of the brief stretches of straight road we encountered in the mountains. Thankfully, the brakes were firm and effective. We were never sure when we’d encounter a stray dog or enormous truck around any of the blind, narrow corners on our drive.
In Sport mode—activated by a toggle switch at the bottom of the center stack—the steering is tightened up, and feels quite a bit heavier and sportier. Feedback isn’t increased, but the correlation between input and output feels more direct, and you become more a master of your machine. Throttle response sharpens in Sport mode, too, allowing you to get on the power very quickly when you exit a corner or decide to overtake.
Left to its own devices, the automatic transmission did a fine job of sorting out the gears, even in the tricky terrain of Puerto Rico. Only once or twice did it hesitate to downshift when climbing a steep grade, but it corrected it quickly enough that no casual driver would really take notice. In manual mode, we used the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to hold onto higher gears, and this fixed things. Also, with Sport toggled on, the automated box never found itself straining in the wrong part of the rev range.
And not all our miles were driven in the twisty mountain roads. We drove the Cooper S Paceman for a long stretch of highway back to the airport in San Juan. There, it felt quite well composed, and tracked well at high speeds. It was pretty quiet in the cabin with the revs steady in the lower ranges, and we were able to enjoy unimpeded conversation. The audio system was pretty nice too, and the music that came through the speakers sounded clear and rich. We could definitely see ourselves living happily with this Paceman on a day-to-day basis.
The Paceman starts at $23,900 for the Cooper model, including the $700 destination charge. This features the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter inline-4, producing 121 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. With an automatic transmission, it’ll do 0-60 in 10.8 seconds. With the manual transmission, you can get that down to 9.7 seconds.
Opt for the turbocharged Cooper S like the ones we sampled in Puerto Rico, and you’ll be paying $27,500. The Cooper S All4 begins at $29,200. With 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, the automatic version scoots to 60 miles per hour in 7.3 seconds. The manual transmission (which we didn’t get the chance to try) can get this down to a claimed 6.9 seconds.
Those who want the sportiest version of the Paceman will have their eye on the John Cooper Works model, which begins at $36,200. With 208 horsepower on tap and 207 pound-feet of torque, it’s the fastest Paceman, capable of 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. The straight-line acceleration, though, isn’t the only thing it has going for it. The JCW comes standard with the All4 four-wheel-drive system, as well as a lowered sport suspension, 18-inch light-alloy wheels, and an aerodynamic kit. If previous JCW models are any indication, this will be the Paceman you want if you’re going to be taking your car to the autocross on the weekends.
There’s a question likely on a lot of people’s lips when thinking about this car. Does the world need a Mini Paceman? The answer is quite obviously no. Mini probably doesn’t even need it. Does that matter? Not really. There are a lot of things—many of them automobiles—to which the world ascribes value despite being unnecessary. Some things have value simply because they’re unnecessary (who doesn’t love a little luxury?). Surely, Mini could continue to chug along directing customers into either the hardtop or into the Countryman. Some of those buyers—though they could be happy with whichever other choice they made—would opt for the Paceman were it available, as a nice spot in between the others. Mini is happy to accommodate those folks, especially if having that option draws more people into the family. As car lovers, we don’t see anything wrong with that. As discerning citizens who see the value there, and who also happen to have driven the Paceman and enjoyed it, we applaud it.
2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman All4 6AT
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 1.6 liters, 24v
Output: 181 hp/240 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 7.6 sec
Weight: 3260 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 25/31 mpg
Base Price: $30,240