I’m probably not the only one to struggle to keep pace with the stream of new Mini models.
But I must admit that the new Paceman Cooper S is the Mini I’ve most enjoyed driving as it has become all grown-up, almost normal car-sized, yet retaining the Mini characteristics of sharp handling and enthusiastic acceleration.
The Paceman is a throwback to the Countryman, and both share some parts with the BMW X1, but whereas the Countryman is an SUV the Paceman is a 3-door coupé for city-slickers.
The difference lies in the styling as although it retains the bulbous nose of the Countryman, the Paceman has a coupé-style roof which slopes down to the rear, reminding one of the Range Rover Evoque. Not very practical, though, I found, as this limits head space for passengers in the rear, a case of form taking precedence over practicality.
It certainly is an eye-catching vehicle with the name Paceman garishly emblazoned on the boot. With the exception of the coupé-styling, the Paceman is essentially a Countryman with the same functionality – it’s a coupé on a raised suspension.
The Paceman’s available in all-wheel drive as well but the car on test here is the two-wheel-drive version with a six-speed manual transmission.
The cabin has a solid feel to it, with the doors making a satisfying “thunk” when being closed and the general feeling is that of a larger vehicle. The cream leather sports seats are among the classiest we’ve seen and lend an upmarket feel to the cabin.
The seats in the rear are individual bucket seats, essentially the same as up front, making this a pure four-seater. The rear seats also fold to enlarge the boot space from 330 litres to 1080 litres. There is no spare wheel, as the Mini uses run-flat tyres, freeing up extra space in the boot.
A rail down the middle between the seats has cupholders for rear passengers and can also be used to place small objects such as sunglasses. Changing mood lights – our test vehicle was in a funky mauve colour – light up the railing and the door lining at night, creating a fun ambience which would appeal to the younger market. But oops, the rail – like so many of the other nice-to-have features – is an optional extra that comes at a price.
Other optional extras we liked on the test vehicle include the arm rest, the 19” alloy wheels, glass sunroof, Park Distance Control, Bluetooth and Mini Connected.
The familiar large dial in the centre of the dash provides a wealth of information and functions such as vehicle information (journey computer etc), Mini Connected with USB port, Office (with your contacts) and telephone (Bluetooth). The toggle switches for the windows are now on the doors where they belong, unlike in other Mini models where you had to fumble to find them in the centre console.
The 135kW on call with the force-fed 1.6-litre engine is familiar to Cooper S drivers, with a liveliness well beyond its capacity despite the increasing girth of the Mini. Floor the throttle and the Mini squirms with some torque steer as it heads for the horizon like a home-sick angel.
And to liven things up a Sport Button – another optional extra – tweaks throttle response and steering without being overly noticeable, making driving in this mode more relaxing than in some rivals with Sport mode. But some would prefer a more noticeable response when engaging the Sport mode.
Our fuel consumption of 9.2l/100km on a combination of city driving and open road was heavier than the 6.6l/100km figure cited in the brochure for this type of driving. Gear shifts are precise and there’s no chance of grating or missing a gear when shifting fast through the cogs.
Handling is crisp, although not quite in the same league as a standard Cooper S due to the Paceman’s bigger size and weight, and higher ground clearance. But it remains predicable, throwing no sudden surprises at you. The 19” optional wheels our test car was shod with were eye-catching, but gave a harsh ride on some surfaces, and the standard 18-inch wheels are probably a better option.
Service intervals are determined by the onboard computer and can be as much as 25 000km. The Paceman comes with a 2-years unlimited mileage warranty and a 3-year/75 000km motorplan.
Think of the Paceman Cooper S as a shrunken BMW X6. Nobody would call it cheap at R360 988, but it does enable you to stand out from the herd while offering the endearing Mini qualities of pace and handling, but now with some added space up front.