It’s raining in Coconut Creek, Florida. Hard. The kind of rain that shows up as a big purple blob on satellite weather maps. The kind that makes the inside of your car sound as if you’re taking flak in a WWII fighter plane. The kind that wakes windshield-wiper manufactures in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if this is a terrible day to test out MINI’s new sport ute the Cooper Paceman or the best day possible. I mean, the Paceman is supposed to be sort of an SUV-type thing, so a little (okay, a lot) of rain should be a good thing, right? I guess we’ll find out.
For those who don’t know, the Cooper Paceman is a two-door MINI representing their second foray into the world of higher ground clearance. And, apart from the two-door vs four-door setup, it’s not that different from their first, the MINI Countryman, at least on paper.
They both come in non-S, S and John Cooper Works variations. They both come with MINI’s ALL4 all-wheel-drive system as an option. They both have 102.2 inch wheelbases. They both have an interior center accessory rail with wacky LED color-change lighting. You get the picture.
I’ve driven the Countryman in pretty much every variation out there, non-S, S, JCW, whatever. It’s pretty good. In the case of the JCW ALL4, it’s great. So, is the Paceman good enough or different enough from the Countryman for MINI to justify adding another car to, what some consider to be, an already bloated line? Is there anything more to the Paceman than what is on paper? That’s what I’m standing in this absurd amount of rain to find out.
The vehicle before me is a front-wheel-drive Light White 2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman (or Paceman S). I didn’t know you could get lighter than white, but whatever. It’s an S, so that means this particular Paceman has a turbocharged 1.6 liter inline four-cylinder engine good for 181 horse and 177 pound-feet of torque. This is the same engine MINI puts in all of their S-level cars. It’s incredibly efficient (29 mpg combined) and usually provides enough power to have a little fun. In the case of the Paceman S, it will propel the mini-SUV to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds with a six-speed manual and 7.4 with a six-speed auto and hit a top speed of 128 mph. This one has a six-speed auto trans with adorable little paddles behind the three-spoke steering wheel and a shift lever that looks like a helmet.
The Paceman S starts at $27,500 with a fairly decent amount of kit, but you can easily option the hell out of it into the mid-$50,000s. The one we’re driving today is modestly accessorized at $33,350. In addition to the standard features, our Paceman S has:
- Black Headlamp Housings with White Turn Signals: $100
- Sport Package (18″ 5-Star Double Spoke Black Wheels, Bonnet Stripes, Xenon Headlamps): $1,500
- Auto Dimming Rear-View Mirror: $250
- Automatic Climate Control: $500
- Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof: $1000
- Harman Kardon Sound System: $750
- Two-PartCenter Rail: Included
- Multi-Function Steering Wheel
- Carbon Black Leatherette Interior
- Piano Black Interior Trim
- Seven Airbags
- Runflat Tires
Personally, I like heated seats, but that’s not a big option in Florida. Speaking of seats, the Carbon Black leatherette is actually quite nice. It looks more than sort of like leather. I’ve spoken to some people who like it more than the leather since they say it doesn’t get as hot in the sun. This car, and all Pacemen, have two bucket seats upfront and two in the back. The ones in front are comfortable and have good bolstering for your thighs and back, as do the ones in the back.
The front seats have adjustable positioning, height, seat-back angle and severity of lumbar support. But, that’s about it. To get the right driving position, you need to make use of the tilt and telescoping steering wheel. There’s no power adjustments which means there’s no memory. So, you have to re-adjust you seat and re-find your position whenever anyone else drives your car.
There is a surprising amount of leg room in the back. Rear head room, at only 37 inches, is a bit low if you’re above 5’10”. I’m 6’1″, so I had to slouch to fit. If you need it, the back will fit two adults in a pinch. I get the feeling the rear seats are meant more for dogs, purses, shopping bags and kids or to fold down for more cargo storage. With the back seats folded down, maximum cargo capacity is a massive (and unbelievable) 38.1 cubic feet (13.5 with the seats up).
Not normally a big part of my usual road tests, I can, with absolute certainty, attest that the MINI Cooper S Paceman’s windshield wipers (both front and rear) and window defoggers (both front and rear) are stellar. With the amount of humidity in the air and the amount of rain hitting the windows, I had no problem seeing where I was going or where I’d been. The automatic climate control works well too. The inside quickly cooled to a brisk 68 degrees from the ambient 80.
Whenever I drive a MINI automatic, I chuckle at the gear selector’s racing helmet design. It’s the kind of quirky addition that makes a MINI a MINI and not just another small car. Squeeze the helmet’s visor, put the Aisin transmission in drive, and you’re off. Today, the road is slick. Very, very slick. Hit the go-pedal too hard and the power going through the front wheels will have a bit of an issue getting to the ground. The front wheels will spin for less than a second until the traction control can intervene. I can see where the ALL4 would come in handy.
Once you’re moving, though, it’s hard to upset the MINI Paceman S’ sport suspension without being really irresponsible even in the tightest of turns. In the rare (or not so rare) case that you are (or I am) irresponsible, the Paceman S is very easy to get back into line with a quick blip of the throttle and a bit of counter-steer.
Where the Countryman S drives more like a bigger car and less like a go-cart than the regular MINI Cooper S. The Paceman feels lighter than the Countryman. More nimble. It feels more like a MINI, eventhough, the Paceman S weighs about the same as the Countryman.
Acceleration is good, even in this abysmal deluge. Braking, too. The gear shifts in drive are quick and smooth. Put the car in Sport and it shifts later in the RPM range for better power delivery. The steering is stiffened in Sport, too. Surprisingly, the Sport mode actually feels sportier. It’s kinda’ nice. If you really want control, the paddles offer fast shifts at your command. Unlike most cars where one paddle upshifts and one downshifts, each MINI paddle does both. Pull for down and push for up. Why don’t more cars do that? It makes so much sense.
After this test of the MINI Cooper S Paceman in rain that would make Noah nervous, I can attest that it operates very well in less than ideal conditions. I am honestly rather impressed. I wasn’t expecting to say this, but there is a place in the MINI line for the Paceman. It drives better than the Countryman and has way more room that the Cooper or Clubman. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s just right. It is the Goldilocks MINI. Now, where’s my umbrella?