Out on the street.
It’s a coupe.
It’s a hatchback.
It’s Paceman, and according to MINI, the “world’s first Sports Activity Coupe in the premium small and compact segment.”
Well, that may be what they call it but I call it the world’s best example of thinking inside the box which is what the MINI is – a box.
That is how the Mini (as it was spelled before BWM bought the company) was conceived and why the MINI (BMW spells it all in upper case today) continues to be one of the world’s most recognized shapes.
But as Porsche has found with the 911, you don’t mess with an icon.
You’ve got to hand it to the people at MINI. They have created niches within a niche and all of them are popular.
Today the MINI is offered as the original three-door hatch followed by the Coupe, Convertible, Clubman (wagon), Roadster, Countryman (minivan/CUV) and now the Paceman for the seventh model in the lineup.
I don’t really know how to take the Paceman. It is a three-door version of the Countryman five-door but, believe it or not, it looks somehow different.
It could be the squashed down roofline a la Range Rover Evoque or the truly huge rear taillights that are a complete styling departure from all the MINIS that have gone before.
But I think it is the absence of the rear two doors and high shoulder line that does it.
One thing for sure, each time I stopped on the road, someone would comment on how sharp it looked, the majority being men in all ages groups eschewing any thought I had of this being more attractive to women.
And there is literally nothing like the interior and instrumentation to be found in any other vehicle anywhere.
Based loosely on the primitive controls in the first Mini (got to keep that DNA, don’t ya know), the dashboard is dominated by a centre instrument the size of a dinner plate that is a combination of analog speedo, digital segmented gas gauge and the audio system that is part digital but with manual knobs for tuning and selection.
Mounted directed on top of the steering wheel shaft is a another round combo gauge about the size of a saucer with analog pointer for engine revs and digital for driver information such as the odometer.
One throwback to the first Mini is toggle switches found below the centre gauge and another set at the top of the windshield.
Back when the Mini was introduced in 1959, Morris/Austin wanted to keep costs down. When it came to switchgear, there were all kinds of toggle switches left over from Spitfires and Lancasters laying around so they were snapped up as surplus and found their way into the Mini.
There are two full adult seats in the back but, frankly, they are only for occasional use.
There is one engine, a 1.6-litre four-cylinder offered in three states of tune all running on premium. On the base MINI Cooper Paceman it produces 121 hp and 114 lb/ft of torque.
The Cooper S Paceman ALL4 tested here and the topline John Cooper Works Paceman ALL4 are both equipped with all-wheel-drive, thus the ALL4 designation.
The Cooper S (as tested) and John Cooper Works both have twin turbo versions of 1.6-litre with 181 hp with 177 lb/ft of torque and 208 hp and 192 lb/ft of torque respectively.
Everyone talks about the gokart-like handling of the MINI and it is quite true of the non-AWD versions.
Paceman still handles but you have to remember the overall weight (3,260 lb) and added AWD complexities are there for another purpose and that is grip in the kinds of weather conditions we Canadians get.
And that sure proved out during my week with the Paceman.
I remember last year driving to Niagara Falls in a John Cooper Works with summer tires during a late dump of snow in April. It was white knuckles all the way.
Not so this time.
I woke up one day this year to 10 cm of wet snow on the ground and five cm more on the way.
The permanent AWD system in the Paceman can route up to 50 per cent of grip to the rear on adverse conditions.
Backing out of the driveway with snow up to my ankles was shutting off the traction control (so it won’t kick in if wheel spin was detected).
All I had to do was reverse onto the street and then motor off in second through the deeply rutted tracks in the snow.
Prior to the storm, I went to lunch with two great friends I worked with some 30 years ago.
On the highway I had a far better chance to see what the Paceman could do besides cleave its way through snow.
The turbo versions are available with the $990 Sport Package, which includes the sport suspension and the “Sport Button.”
The button is actually a toggle. Flip it and the engine mapping is changed, the suspension tightens up and the steering becomes tauter.
I could feel the change in the engine immediately by the sound and the steering wheel became firmer.
At a steady 100 km/h toggling from Sport to normal saw a 400 rpm drop in engine speed and the steering wheel loosened up slightly.
When you consider the $2,500 Sport Chrono Package on a Porsche 911 does essentially the same thing, $990 is a bargain.
But the MINI Cooper S Paceman is not all that cheap. Starting at $31,200, the Paceman tested here with a boatload of options checked in at $38,185 not counting the $1,655 shipping fee.
I don’t know how many Pacemen you’re going to see on the road, but when you do, it will definitely stand out in the crowd.
Paceman not only defines the owner, but it celebrates being a little different and in a cheeky package.
Yes, there is something to thinking inside the box.
MINI Paceman Cooper S ALL4 2013
Body Style: Three-door compact CUV
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive.
Engine: 1.6-litre DOHC twin scroll turbo inline four-cylinder (181 hp, 177 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: Premium, six-speed manual 8.1/6.4/7.3L/100 km city/highway/combined; six-speed automatic 8.7/6.5/7.7L/100 km
Cargo Volume: 300 litres behind second row seats, 900 litres folded
Tow Rating: NA; max payload, 385 kg; max roof load, 75 kg
Price: Base, $31,200; Premium Package, $1,990; automatic transmission, $1,300, as tested price including other optional trim packages, $38,185 not including $1,655 shipping fee