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2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman
Rocky Mountain Review
By Dan Poler

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 MINI Paceman S may be thinking that the Paceman doesn’t sound like a great car, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman Review
By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Start with wildly popular MINI Cooper. Add more space, a higher ride, a couple more doors so as to be courteous to the passengers in the rear seat, and an innovative barn-door style rear hatch. That gets you a Countryman. Now, take the Countryman platform, keep the size, but delete the rear passenger doors, barn doors for the back, a center rear seat, and drop the roofline about an inch and a half – What we end up with is essentially a vehicle that looks not unlike the MINI Cooper we started with, although built to about 125% scale. Welcome to the Paceman.

It’s important to note that while the sheetmetal looks like the quintessential vehicle to which we’ve become accustomed over the past decade-plus, not much remains of MINI’s British heritage. Even the frame sticker on a MINI these days notes “MFG BY BAYERISCHE MOTOREN WERKE AG” – As BMW owns the MINI marque, really what we’ve ended up with is a BMW wedged into a British-style design, built in Graz, Austria. This can lead to a somewhat disconcerting feeling, as if the Paceman has two personalities. Familiar design and touches of the original MINI on the inside, but instruments right up to and including the familiar BMW amber glow are classic BMW.

On the outside, the Paceman really does emulate an upsized MINI Cooper. It’s hard to see the distinction between the Paceman and the original article unless viewed side-by-side, but the Paceman carries subtle design differences, such as restyled headlights and taillights that give the Paceman away. There are also not-so-subtle differences that we can’t claim to be fans of, such as the somewhat garish chrome surrounding headlights and taillights, and the “PACEMAN” designation in big bold chrome letters traversing most of the rear hatch.

Inside, the Paceman is surprisingly spacious, at least for the driver and front passenger – the vehicle comfortably accommodated a six-foot-three passenger, a feat probably not as likely in the typical MINI Cooper.

By virtue of being a Paceman and not a Countryman, this vehicle has two individual rear seats rather than a bench in the back, with a nifty rail between them to accommodate interchangeable accessories, such as a pair of cupholders. Truth be told, although theoretically we’re losing capacity for a fifth occupant, three across will never work well in practice in such a small car, so we prefer the Paceman’s setup of two individual seats as a nice nod to reality. The back seat is still quite cramped and although accommodating of car seats and children, it’s unlikely that adults will be happy spending much time here.

While comfortable and reasonably spacious, we found the driver’s seating position to present something of a visibility challenge. Across a range of heights of drivers, no one was able to position themselves perfectly – in particular, the top quarter of the tachometer and the bottom quarter of the passenger side mirror would be cut off by the steering wheel and the passenger side door, respectively. Since the cluster holding the tachometer and other basic instrumentation adjusts up and down with the steering wheel adjustment, no amount of adjustment of the driver’s seat was able to address this.

Instrumentation and controls for driving are generally good, clear and easy to read, with the classic MINI center-mounted speedo also replicated digitally in the tachometer cluster right in front of the driver. We liked the funky chrome switches separated by small barriers for secondary controls – it’s a neat and distinctive touch.

What we didn’t particularly care for is the navigation and entertainment setup. Owing to BMW’s ownership and influence, MINI uses a system clearly descended from BMW’s iDrive – but where iDrive has matured over the last several years to become snappy and easy to control… MINI’s implementation, not quite so much. MINI’s setup is astoundingly confusing and difficult, with even simple operations such as saving a radio preset or switching between them taking multiple operations of the small joystick mounted between the driver and front passenger’s seats.

We felt the overall setup to be needlessly complex, particularly so in such a small car where a touchscreen would be easier to control and well within reach. We’d even go so far as to say we recommend purchasing a MINI without the Nav Pack option so as to reduce the potential for a dangerously distracting situation while driving.

On the highway and around town, the Paceman feels generally good to drive. At highway speeds, downshifts are quick and precise for easy passing, and the 181 horsepower 1.6-liter turbo 4 feels well suited to the application.

The Paceman is, however, plagued by some turbo lag when first put into motion. It takes a little getting used to the throttle – at first, starts are herky-jerky as the driver feels the need to overcompensate for the turbo lag. We did find the vehicle somewhat noisy at highway speeds.

And then there’s the suspension. Firm. Very firm. Maybe the firmest we’ve ever experienced. The Paceman bounces around at highway speeds, and it can be a somewhat nerve-wracking experience to hit a pavement seam at highway speed and feel the car jump several inches side-to-side as the vehicle reacts.

At this point you may be thinking that the Paceman doesn’t sound like a great car. We’re complaining about the infotainment setup, the turbo lag, the suspension. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the shortcomings we’ve discussed, what truly sets this car apart becomes immediately apparent the second you find a twisty country road and flip the “SPORT” switch to tighten up the throttle and steering.

Out here, the Paceman is transformed. With its ALL4 full-time all-wheel drive and 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with W-rated Pirelli P ZERO rubber, the Paceman simply becomes one with the asphalt in a way few other cars can match. There is no hesitation, no shakiness in this environment.

The Paceman sticks to the road and just begs to be pushed, making for an utterly exhilarating driving experience – the shortcomings on the highway are a small price to pay for the fun to be had on the back roads.

All told, we can’t decide whether the MINI Cooper S Paceman gets our recommendation. It won’t be a high-volume seller both in contrast to its sibling the Countryman and to the larger market as a whole; day to day practicality – and an eye-popping as-tested price approaching $40,000 – may dictate that we look towards that Countryman, or perhaps a more traditional compact crossover like the Kia Sportage, for substantially less money.

On paper the Sportage isn't a terribly different a vehicle, still powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, it carries just a two-inch longer wheelbase – albeit closer to ten-inch longer overall length, but also brings with it greater adaptability for day-to-day use through its substantially larger interior, better power-to-weight ratio, although with slightly lower gas mileage (2 mpg).

But the fun of flinging the MINI around corners and through twisty canyons is an intangible that we can’t place a value on – and just so much fun, you’ll need to drive it and decide for yourself.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

Base Price: $23,200.00
Price as Tested: $39,800.00
Engine Type: Turbocharged direct-injected 16-valve 4-cylinder with Valvetronic
Engine Size: 1.6-liter
Horsepower: 181 @ 5,500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 177 @ 1,600 RPM
Transmission: STEPTRONIC 6-speed shiftable automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 102.2 / 162
Curb Weight: 3,210
Pounds per HP: 17.73
Fuel Capacity (gal): 12.4
Fuel Requirement: Premium unleaded
Tires: Pirelli PZERO run-flat; 225/40WR19
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson Strut / Multi-link
Drivetrain: ALL4 full-time intelligent all-wheel drive system
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed: 23 / 30 / 26
Base Trim Price: $28,500.00

Options and Charges

Cold Weather Package: $750.00 (Power folding mirrors, heated mirrors and washer jets, heated front seats)

MINI Connected with Nav Pack: $1,500.00 (Voice-command, MINI connected, comfort Bluetooth and USB/iPod, smartphone integration, Real time traffic information, MINI navigation system)

Premium Package 2: $1,250.00 (Dual pane panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control)

19-inch alloy wheels Y-spoke silver: 1,750.00

STEPTRONIC automatic transmission: $1,250.00

Comfort access keyless entry: $500.00

Xenon headlights: $500.00

Satellite radio w/ 1-year subscription: $250.00

Harman/kardon premium sound: $750.00

White turn-signal lights: $100.00

Starlight Blue paint: $500.00

Carbon Black Gravity Leather: $1,500.00

Delivery: $700.00

Price as tested: $39,800.00