First Drive : MINI Paceman

David Ross, Honest John

You have to admire the MINI brand. What started out as the ‘new’ MINI back in 2001 has expanded into a range of models including the Clubman, the Roadster and the Countryman. The latter raised a few eyebrows when it was unveiled and hasn’t proved universally popular among the critics, while public opinion seems divided. But as part of BMW, it’s obvious MINI was never going to be content with just one model.

And now amazingly MINI is launching its seventh model. Called the Paceman it’s a sort of coupe-like three-door version of the Countryman. You’d think that already existed – it’s called the standard MINI – but apparently not. That said the Paceman is notably larger than a MINI hatchback and almost as long as a Volkswagen Scirocco.

Sadly it’s not much of a looker. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the Paceman is unlikely to be viewed by many as a handsome car. It has the same front end as the Countryman with the big headlights and high bonnet, but it’s very different at the back with a sloping roofline and – for the first time on a MINI – lights that stretch horizontally rather then vertical. It’s certainly an interesting take on the MINI style but compared to the standard hatch it looks bulky and bloated.

There’s better news inside though. The Paceman continues with the unique MINI interior design with that nice touch of retro about it. The huge dinner plate-sized speedo dominates the cabin and if you choose the optional sat nav system this is where the screen is located. It’s a nice design touch but in reality you’re more like to use the digital speedo displayed in the rev counter on the steering column.

The circular design theme extends throughout with elements like the round air vents and door handles. The quality of the materials used is of a good standard but there are a few areas which let it down like the door tops and if you prod the centre stack around the air conditioning controls you’ll find it flimsy. Not what you’d expect on a supposedly ‘premium’ car.

On the plus side there is good room for the driver and front passenger, particularly in terms of elbow space. However the back is more cramped while getting to the rear seats isn’t that easy, although it never is with a three-door car. In the back you’ll find reasonable head room but the same can’t be said for legroom which is limited. MINI says there’s the same rear space as the Countryman but in reality it’s considerably less.

There are two individual back seats divided by MINI’s central rail system which includes a series of cup and sunglasses holders that can be moved along. Again it’s a neat design but not that practical and there’s no three-seat bench option. The boot is a decent size though and with 330 litres it has more luggage room than most small Fiesta-sized hatchbacks plus the back seats fold forward.

MINIs have always excelled when it comes to handling and the Paceman does carry over some of the traits of the hatchback. There’s the same responsive and quick steering along with the nicely positive gear change from the six-speed manual gearbox. There’s also plenty of front end grip too so you can happily throw it into corners with plenty of confidence. It’s certainly a car you have have fun in

The ride is pretty firm, as you’d expect from a ‘sporty’ coupe, and at times it’s somewhat unsettled. As standard MINI has fitted the Paceman with the sports suspension from the Countryman, along with a 10mm lower ride height and you certainly notice it. You can however opt for standard suspension and ride height as a no cost option. If you want comfort this is the better choice.

The Paceman range features the familiar MINI engine line up. There’s the Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D which are all powered by a 1.6-litre engine. The Cooper SD gets a 2.0-litre diesel with and 141bhp. ALL4 four-wheel drive is also available on all models bar the Cooper plus there’s a JCW version of the Paceman in the pipeline.

If it’s economy you’re after then the Cooper D is the model to choose. We weren’t able to test this but if the Countryman is anything to go by, the 110bhp unit should offer decent performance and good pulling power. But the best part is an official economy figure of 64.2mpg with CO2 of just 115g/km. Not all the engines are as efficient though and choosing an automatic gearbox severely hampers economy. Available on all engines, the six-speed automatic makes economy drop dramatically and CO2 rise accordingly. A surprise given most modern automatics are now more efficient than their manual equivalents.

We got to drive the Cooper S in standard front-wheel drive with the six-speed manual. It’s a great engine and perfectly suited to the MINI image. The turbocharged unit has plenty of zest and pulls well from low revs too so you don’t have to work it hard to enjoy the performance. On paper it will do 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds and it feels suitably nippy. It will happily rev up to the red line but remains refined and never sounds stressed. There’s a nice exhaust note too although it does pop and burble when you come off the power, even if you’re just driving gently, which soon becomes annoying.

The Paceman is a bit of an odd one. It’s not clear who it’s aimed at or who the typical buyer will be. Then again the same was said of the Countryman and there are no shortage of those on the roads. The MINI image counts for a lot and it’s this that will have much appeal. It has plenty of MINI character about it and although the Paceman is not especially attractive, it’s good to drive and more practical than a MINI hatch. However, for our money we’d stick with the better looking and cheaper standard MINI.

Keith Adams


  1. Before the inevitable deluge of negative comments (although I see one has already sneeked through) – I rather like it. I also like the way MINI/BMW has realised that with minimal investment it can spin another variant off the MINI platform to boost sales and profits and secure employment. Before someone inevitably says whats the point of this car – thats the point of this car!

  2. MINI is a British success story, albeit, to my regret, under non-British ownership, and any model that strengthens that must be good. BMW wouldn’t have launched this variant if they didn’t feel there was market for it. Apart from the MG badge being applied to somewhat down-market, and sales wise apparently unappealing, Chinese cars, MINI is the last remnant of the BMC empire and has enabled Cowley to remain open as a major employer and world class manufacturing site.

  3. Regarding comments 2 & 3 – I can’t help but agree with the general tone. Yes, MINI has been a huge success and ultimately a large part of Rover as it was in 2000 still exists.

    Still sad though that there is no British ownership and that there is so little of the Mini concept in MINI.

    As comment 1 – I hardly think the Paceman (PacMan as I once called it!) is pretty either. Still, I’m certain BMW have done their homework, know what they are doing

  4. I don’t know what the economics of these low volume niche models are to produce, though I can see people buying it for the novelty factor…

    Not my favourite MINI variant, I like the Clubman, the Countryman is ugly, but is selling like hot cakes so BMW know what they are doing.

    Isn’t this the 8th model incidentally, with the ClubVAN the 7th?

  5. I like it all apart from the side windows at the rear, why are they blacked in so much?
    Keith I like your avitar, any chance of a bigger version?

  6. I rather like it too, a cheaper alternative to the Range Rover Evoque?

    Like the MINI Countryman it should sell well in the USA and fund future developments of new MINI models and variants, including hopefully the ‘Rocketman’ MINI Mini city car.

  7. Before people start saying British jobs saved etc….. Isn’t this built in Austria alongside the countryman maxi?

  8. If anyone is going shopping at Morrisons i can recommend Black Bomb cheese of the self service deli counter-wonderful stuff.

  9. @17, David Dawson1,

    I’m wearing ill-fitting off-the-shelf reading glasses from ASDA.

    I’ve just cleaned the lenses, and yup, the Paceman is still prettier than the MG3.

    Which is a bit like saying that a weeping bedsore is more delightful to the eye than a gangrenous amputee leper’s legsocket…

  10. @19 Ha ha!

    It’s certainly better looking than the Countryman, but the front end is still around about as ugly as it’s possible to make a car. Comparison with the MG3 is difficult, as they are both very nasty for different reasons. However, the Paceman looks like there is some limited styling merit, while the MG3 has none.

    To say that it is a challenger to the Evoque is optimistic indeed.

    I still hold out hope for the new R56 MINI when it’s launched next year; I hope that it can get back to somewhere near the desirability of the original R50 / R53 when it arrives. Fingers crossed!

  11. @12 Leslie

    That’s what I thought. This will have no benefit to Cowley, apart from bringing in some £££’s to BMW’s coffers

  12. To my mind it looks like a updated Austin 1300 2 door circa 1970! Sadly it lacks the style of ADO16 or the interior space. I think they should stop with these marginal versions which are not really mini’s at all. The countryman has all the style of an Austin 1800, yet the basic Mini still looks great. How about the Riley elf version we were promised by Autocar 3 years ago – a luxury version would go down well in China. Then why not a proper ADO16 replacement to take on the Golf and called Maxi – one of the few genuinly good marketing names that Lord Stokes came up with – the name was great the original car was not!!

  13. I, personally, find the whole MINI range consists of cartoon parodies of the original. Whilst on the M6 the other day, however, my wife’s comment summed up a lot of “ordinary” peoples attitude to this range. We passed a Countryman (probably the ugliest of the bunch), her comment? “Ooh! I like that, nice colour”. If I wasn’t nudging 80mph in the wet at the I probably would have hung my head in shame!

  14. Here in the US none of the MINI variants (hatch, cabrio, countryman, clubman) have their name on the back – just a MINI badge – is that not the same in the UK?

    And – I bet this blob will sell.

  15. Chris Baglin’s comments made me chuckle, and this car does bog all for British jobs except for at the dealers and at the PDI centre in South Yorkshire. The Cowley staff should be concerned at all this outsourcing BMW are doing, it isn’t as if Cowley isn’t big enough to cope. This ugly POS will appeal to DINKis (double income, no kids), who clearly think that they will look stylish, when in reality, they will look like complete prats, with more money than braincells

  16. Chris Baglin’s comments made me chuckle, and this car does bog all for British jobs except for at the dealers and at the PDI centre in South Yorkshire. The Cowley staff should be concerned at all this outsourcing BMW are doing, it isn’t as if Cowley isn’t big enough to cope. This ugly POS will appeal to DINKis (double income, no kids), who clearly think that they will look stylish, when in reality, they will look like complete prats, with more money than braincells

  17. I stupidly purchased a Mini from new in 2010,and managed to live with it for just over 2 years. My new car is Japanese. No rattles, creaks.
    Mini is not that well built, not comfy, rattles/creaks etc. The best is mine was going rusty in 3 doors. replaced under warranty.
    I/We fall under “DINKS” and hell no would we buy another one.

  18. Not a big fan of these more far-out MINI derivatives.

    For me, the standard hatch, Clubfoot and roadster are all nice, characterful cars. The bigger models are too bloated for my tastes.

    I’m sure it will sell, but perhaps MINI can work on styling and packaging more in the next generation.

    I love my 6 month old Cooper by the way – incredible chassis.

  19. @26 Yorkiebusdriver

    To be fair, Cowley is full (blame BAE for selling off most of the site). There’s no danger to the existing workforce – Cowley is the main base, with the old DAF plant in Holland becoming the overspill plant, replacing Stehr

  20. @34
    ‘I love my 6 month old Cooper by the way – incredible chassis’
    Thats a tad old fashioned, even the original was a monocoque
    and I supect so is the current one, which means there is no ‘chassis’

  21. Don’t see the craze for everything to be an SUV. If it is to be a coupe hatchback, make it a coupe hatchback. Same with most of nissans output these days.
    It is a german-austrian success story, with token work from the English engine plants and keeping bmw dealers in armani suits.

    I fall into the “DINK” (or is that DRINK) category, so mock away yorkshirebusman – we have a 99 Honda and an 05 catD Hyundai, if that makes us yuppies, so be it.
    Would not have one of these about me.

  22. I do not know that girl on the picture. (probably a famous British pin up) But I thik at the time were that picture was taken the British car industry was in a better condition.
    I was the last days in GB to collect a classic Rover and I have seen only one new MG6 on the road but four MGb´s. Two new Jaguars XJ, three Bentleys, two Lotus and 9 Aston Martins (two were Toyota).
    The only new Brit built cars I have seen in a bigger amount were exept the Japanese cars some Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
    Poor country when I will remember at my first stay in the early 1990´s were so many Rovers, Austins and Jags,…. were on the road.

  23. “Sadly it’s not much of a looker”

    That has to be the understatement of the century. The thing is absolutely hideous!

  24. Simon_H – November 10, 2012
    “Ah, the new 3-door MAXI.”

    No the Maxi fastback.

    I think it’s an acquired taste. Very much a marmite car.

    Not for me, overpriced and somewhat impractical. I’m not quite sure who they are after but good luck to them.


    I’m waiting for a new Renault 4 or if they can’t deliver a Panda or Nemo.

  25. @38
    You are actually wrong, the British Car Industry is far healthier than the 1970’s probably because it is all now under foreign ownership where they invest in the future of their company and develop new cars which customers actually want to buy.

    For the first time since 1976, the UK exports more cars by value than it imports – amid supposedly the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

    “The previous peak for UK car production was back in 1972, when the industry sold 1.9m cars. Such has been the intensity of new investment that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is confident this record will be surpassed within three years, assuming there is no meltdown in the eurozone.”

  26. It is nice to here that the british car industry will make many cars but would the people in Britain not more proud if that cars which were produced had other names than Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Tata, Proton,…..
    In Switzerland we were pround to make IWC, Rolex, Breitling… and not Casio clocks.
    Casio were good watches but they were not our identity!

  27. @44
    MINI, Jaguar, Land Rover, Range Rover, MG, Rolls-Royce, Bentley are all still British names and manufactured in UK…..just foreign owned by BMW, Tata, etc who seem to invest for the long term plan.

    ie. it took BMW 10 years of investment to make the MINI marque a success again in a new market sector (now being copied by other small car competitors), previous British owners like BAe were only interested in a 5 year plan max. before selling out for a quick profit……..

  28. I like it especially from the rear view but the radiator grille is unattractive. Would have been nice if they had brought back the MAXI name

  29. Horrid! Spent a fair bit of time at the weekend in MINI dealerships, partner took plunge and ordered a Cooper D. Sat in the Countryman and inside, apart from the horrific airplane style handbrake, was quite nice and very similar to a MINI, however, from outside, it’s bloomin awfully proportioned. And it’s nothing to do with Britain so people cannot even play that card, it’s not even built by MINI.

  30. Another cheap (bet it cost less to develop than marketing research..)way to add a model to the portfolio. It doesn’t seem to bring anything to the brand nor harm it, really, but apart from the 3 compact and the Touring in the 70’s, rarely has bmw put a foot wrong… These were cheap variations of well established models, these had the advantage to offer practicality at least but I’m sure bmw still made a profit off them!!

  31. I love the MINI brand but this Paceman, along with the Countryman is absolutely foul to my eyes.

    I’m not sure what they’re trying to achieve with this model.

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