Just when you thought BMW had run out of mix-'n-match variations on the Mini theme, they've come up with a seventh model, the Paceman, a clever look at making the original two-door, four-seater layout a bit more versatile - and giving it a distinctive, rather continental look at the same time.
What they've done is to slope the roofline in what BMW calls a helmet roof (a signature feature of 1960s coupé designs from both Amedee Gordini and Guy Ligier) and taper the greenhouse slightly towards the rear, which combines with the long doors to give the Paceman a stretched, coupé-style profile.
But the big deal is at the back, where a full-sized tailgate replaces the traditional, tiny Mini boot-lid under a fixed rear window - which means that, if you fold the individual, lounge-style rear seats flat, you can actually get a month's shopping or a flat-pack from Ikea in there.
And that, says BMW, is enough to qualify the Paceman as a Sports Activity Coupé, a baby SUV if you will - especially as it's the first two-door Mini to be available with all-wheel drive. It also means that the Paceman becomes the first Mini ever with horizontal tail lights.
FOUR INDIVIDUAL SEATS
The interior trim has also been shifted upmarket, with a horizontally structured instrument panel backing up the traditional large centre speedometer, three-dimensional door trims stretching into the rear compartment and the switches for the electric windows now in the door trims rather than the centre console.
The two individual rear seats provide a lot more lateral support than a bench seat can, while cut-outs in the backs of the front seats give rear-seat occupants a bit more leg-room - always a weak point on the Mini.
A shorter version of the Countryman's multipurpose centre rail is standard, while the full-length rail is available as an option.
Thanks to better use of volume, the boot of the Paceman will take a creditable 330 litres even with the rear seats in use, expanding to more than a cubic metre (1080 litres, to be precise) with the rear seat backs folded.
Standard trim includes air conditioning and radio/CD player; options include xenon adaptive headlights, rain sensor, parking sensors, an electrically operated glass roof, satnav, a Harman Kardon sound system and internet connectivity.
NUTS AND BOLTS
The Mini Paceman will be available in South Africa from the second quarter of 2013 as either a 90kW Cooper or a 135kW Cooper S - with a 160kW John Cooper Works in the pipeline.
A six-speed manual 'box is standard across the range, with the option of a six-speed auto transmission.
The naturally-aspirated Cooper is rated for 90kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250, taking the Mini to 100km/h in 10.4 seconds (11.4 with auto 'box) and on to 192km/h - or 184 for the self-shifter - at a cost of six litres per 100km (7.2 on the auto) and 140g/km (auto 168 g/km) of CO2.
The Cooper S with twin-scroll turbocharger, direct fuel-injection and variable cam timing and lift is tuned for 135kW at 5500rpm and 240Nm from 1600-5000rpm (260Nm with overboost).
BMW quotes 0-100 in 7.5 seconds (automatic: 7.8 seconds) and a top speed of 217km/h (212km/h with auto 'box), while warming the planet to the tune of 6.1 litres (7.1 with auto 'box) per 100km and 143g/km (166 with auto box) of CO2.
ALL-WHEEL DRIVE AND SPORTS SUSPENSION
The Cooper S Paceman is also available with Mini's All4 all-wheel drive system, which uses an electromagnetic centre differential to distribute drive seamlessly between the front and rear axles.
In normal driving situations up to 50 percent of the engine is sent to the rear wheels, rising to as much as 100 per cent in extreme conditions, such as on mud, ice or snow.
The control electronics of the all-wheel drive are integrated directly into the dynamic stability control unit, enabling drive to be distributed between the front and rear axle as and when required, in a matter of milliseconds.
The Paceman comes with lowered sports suspension as standard, running MacPherson struts and forged cross-members at the front, and a multilink rear axle. An electronic differential lock is standard on the Cooper S, optional on the Cooper.
Also standard are electric power steering with servotronic function, dynamic stability control with traction control, 16” alloys for the Cooper and 17” rims for the Cooper S - 18 and 19” alloys are available as options.