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The Mini Paceman could very well be an attempt to capture the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised -- those who consider the Mini Cooper and Clubman too small and the Countryman a tad too square.
Yes, the Paceman is a two-door derivative of Mini's off-roading Countryman, but it has a different look and feel to go along with a likable, almost naughty personality. It is like the relationship between the BMW X6 and X5. It also arrives in two very different flavours.
You see, the base Mini Cooper Paceman uses a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque which, quite frankly, equates to yawning performance. The good news is the Mini Cooper Paceman S earns a turbocharged version of that engine. It ups the ante to 181 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque.
The unspoken bonus is in the turbo's overboost mode. When it goes into overboost, the torque actually rises to 192 lb.-ft. for up to 10 seconds. This does not sound like a lot of time, but from a practical standpoint, the extra torque is there whenever the driver needs it. The proof of how well it comes together is in the acceleration time.
The Paceman S boasts an 8.1-second run to 100 kilometres per hour when teamed with the automatic transmission, a huge improvement over the base car's leisurely 11.5 seconds. More importantly, it delivers its much crisper performance without killing the fuel consumption -- the base car has a combined rating of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres; the Paceman S consumes 7.7L/100 km. Considering the latter has all-wheel drive, that number is a pittance. Real-world testing pegged the Paceman S at an average of 9.7L/100 km, which was better than expected, given the workout the turbocharger received during my time with the car.
The Paceman is available with six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions. The former is good, the latter is better, as it and the engine seem to work with much more harmony. Purists may scorn the notion of not stirring a Mini's gears, but the automatic has paddle shifters and is not a pain in stop-and-go traffic.
Then there's the S's all-wheel-drive system. ALL4 is a full-time system that uses an electromagnetic coupling to distribute power front to rear. Under normal driving conditions, the power is fed through the front wheels. If slippage occurs, ALL4 can send up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels.
However, as with the turbocharged engine, the all-wheel-drive system has an unspoken advantage. Tying ALL4 into the electronic stability-control system makes it proactive, so the redistribution of power begins before the wheels are allowed to spin. From a practical perspective, the system is completely seamless, so the driver remains unaware of its action; only the lack of any drama on an icy surface gives the game away.
When it comes to handling, the Paceman S is all Mini. Yes, it rides on a longer wheelbase, it's wider and stands taller, but that does not detract from its road manners in the least, especially when wearing its large P225/45R18 tires. The feel and feedback afforded by the steering is precise (it darts into a corner without feeling like the driver has lost it) and the suspension is compliantly comfortable, even as it dials out unwanted body roll.
All of which means the response to driver input is sharp and predictable. It left me with a cheese-eating grin when driving normally, and it is an absolute hoot when the tone of the drive is cranked up a notch or three.
Inside, the Paceman is Mini-certified. This means toggle switches galore, a tachometer mounted atop the steering column and a large, centrally mounted speedo -- but there is an annoying digital readout set below the tachometer. I ended up sticking some black electrical tape over it during my time with the car.
On the test car, the main speedo also housed an infotainment system that looks after the audio, phone and setup functions and the navigation system. Sadly, it is operated via a spindly controller mounted down low between the front seats. I could live with that, but not the dim nature of the screen. In bright sunlight, it tended to wash out.
Slide rearwards, which does require a little athleticism, and there are two comfortable seats with decent legroom -- the Paceman is a four-seater. Behind that, the cargo capacity rates a generous 330 litres with the seats upright, and 1,080 litres when they are folded flat. The only nit is that the opening is pinched at the bottom, which limits the size of the box that will slide in. For most eventualities, however, it is more than up to snuff.
This is a Mini that will hold four adults comfortably without giving up anything in terms of its fun-to-drive character. It really is a blast to drive.
So what's the hitch? Ultimately, it could be the price that dissuades many prospective punters. While the Paceman starts at an entirely reasonable price, it gets expensive if you want some of the little extras. Still, if you have the disposable income, it's a wonderful ride.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013