Posted Nov 23rd 2012 12:00PM
Introducing the Sport Activity Coupe
Recently we had a chance to test the entire MINI JCW lineup at Mosport giving us a rare chance compare everything back-to-back. Absent was the Countryman JCW but we drove that soon thereafter in addition to the Cooper S version way back when it debuted. We had a solid grasp of their 5-door model and were eager to see how it was going to translate in to the MINI Paceman resting on the same chassis. While the Countryman left something to be desired in both JCW and S iterations, it seemed the platform needed attention to extract the hardcore athletics needed to honour these nameplates.
Despite is presence in the market, the Clubman is one of our favourites and we wanted to see how the Paceman would build on the configuration. We also needed to pin down some MINI Brand Managers to question them on why this vehicle had been conceived and if it's actually cannibalizing sales other models. The Paceman shares the family face of the Countryman and offer all kinds of room inside but would these qualities hurt it or help it?
Related Gallery2014 MINI Cooper Paceman
Although one can't tell at first glance, you'd think the Paceman is actually more compact than the Countryman, well it's actually the opposite. At 162 inches, the Paceman has a slight edge on the 5-door but the height is reduced by 40mm, part of that is the sleeker silhouette, and part is lower sport suspension. The similarities stop there in this all-new shell but why do we feel like we have seen this kind of offering before?
During a discussion at the launch, others seemed puzzled as to what Paceman competitors there are. Well, it hit us immediately when we saw the profile of the car – it was strikingly similar to the Range Rover Evoque. While they may not butt heads dollar-for-dollar with a $10-grand spread, they are certainly residing in the same tiny configuration sector – the 2-door compact sport-ute. This notion of a 2-door SUV certainly nothing new with legacy models like the Toyota 4Runner and RAV4 or even Ford Explorer Sport and Jimmys that can trace their roots back to full size truck-based SUVs such as the Broncos, Ramchargers and Blazers - the granddaddies of the concept.
What we have here with the Paceman is a niche that might just be coming into fashion. MINI is calling this the Sports Activity Coupe (SAC) that might possess some of the drawbacks of a coupe like hard to reach seat belts or ingress and egress but compensates with plenty of space and style. It is a coupe according to MINI but it is also is a 2+2 at that. We're not sure that the Paceman (and Evoque) alone will spark up a movement but it has to start somewhere. Even the aforementioned lineage of SUVs themselves started off as a brave few truck-based models and grew into a craze that lasted decades spreading all the way to manufactures like: Lamborghini, Bentley and most famously Porsche, of which the Cayenne is the best selling model.
While the Evoque is certainly not the most practical of vehicles out there, the Paceman would have to nail that aspect to attract buyers. MINI already has a brand-driven group of followers that will sacrifice space and practicality for style and fun-factor. However, would the Paceman be able to appease that hip-urban market by offering the practical angle, with high dose of style or lose buyers to other brands?
At one point during the launch we sent a photo to our associates back home. They only responded with "why?" Well that was a focal point of our mission to get to the root of where this model fits and how much was too much for the MINI lineup. Firstly, the Paceman will be in the neighborhood of $2-grand above what you would dish out for a current model Countryman ($31,150 and $32,400 for the ALL4). And since the Countryman now has bench rear seating, you are getting one less occupant and the unorthodox aluminum utility rail in it's place for the Paceman.
Curiously, BMW pulled the same stunt with the X5 versus X6 as if to have buyers mantra becoming; who cares if we're being impractical, we're stylish, okay no, were kinda practical but don't forget stylish. With the cost to hop on the Paceman train projected just over $33K, the Countryman might remain the clear choice of practical brand-loyal MINI'ers with those added doors, cargo and one more seat. So the Paceman will definitely have to er, outpace the Countryman to give buyers added excitement behind the wheel in excess.
Our Cooper S Pacemans were powered by the same 1.6-litre turbo motor found in all S models. At 181hp, it's no slouch at least in the FWD trim since we haven't tested the ALL4 because it wasn't available yet. We know how to squeeze the most juice of these cars, and it didn't take much to get comfy with where the lofty 5,500 rpm peak power was. The torque is rated at 177 lb-ft apparently from 1,600 up to 5,000 rpm and we found the brief overboost feature of 192 lb-ft to be most enjoyable to blast past slower traffic. The Cooper S Paceman will run 0-60mph (96 km/h) in 7.5-seconds but the non-turbo 1.6L motor in the base model runs 10-plus.
Our route went around dramatic cliffsides and mountain roads around the coastal areas of Mallorca. On this tiny Spanish island, the Paceman feels huge versus all of the other traffic consisting of microscopic European compacts and likely had the most horsepower there too. Power is a relative term though, and you have to keep the RPMs up there to keep the momentum in this second largest car of the MINI lineup.
True to form, we put all the horsepower to good use. Sport mode was selected (now located on the lower centre console). The Sport mode flipped on the sharper steering, throttle response and improved exhaust note complete with an abundance of crackling backfires scattered about our drive. The conditions were a bit unusual with variations of temperature, hunidity and damp pavement around every other corner. The unusual climatic conditions coupled with dirt on the pavement made for interesting moments but even if the car understeered, it could be reeled back in with the throttle and the Electronic Differential Lock Control reading where you want to go and providing brake steer. We were able to get the tail end around ever so slightly on sharp corners and we've always loved that characteristic about MINI products.
Although, the Paceman is a decent handling car, we feel that the 205/55R17 Pirelli run-flat tires leave a sizable portion of handling left on the table. A 225 on an 18-inch wheel would have been better suited for a vehicle of this proportion and a curbweight of 1,374 kg (3,030 pounds) add 25kg (55lbs) for the six-speed automatic. Still, for a hefty MINI (with three adult men in it) it corners relatively flat and we weren't being tossed around with excessive body roll. But go-cart-like handling billed in the press materials is a bit of a stretch. It is certainly more capable than the Countryman due in part to less weight, lower centre of gravity, stiffer suspension and a more rigid chassis.
On the road, the Paceman is both comfortable and civilized. The long-ish wheelbase seems to eat up road imperfections despite rural routes that were both narrow and far less than ideal. A section of roadway on our 122 kilometre journey was wide enough to maybe fit two horse and buggies on a good day. However, the Paceman was able to nail rough patches and even carve up eroding apexes with no ill handling effects. The car was also fairly quiet doing it because it was mostly the howl of the engine that the driver hears as opposed to road or wind noise.
Since we have tested a load of MINI product since inception, we're at home with what we'll be facing when we step inside one. The familiarity leaves us torn, like that uncle you see once in a while who is lots of fun but wears the same clothes all the time. However, MINI has shaken it up a bit by moving the window switches to... wait for it... the doors! And they even went with a traditional switch, not some joystick toggle contraption like the Countryman. This freed up some real estate in the lower console hooped toggle area with more logical choices in there like 'Sport' and 'DSC' controls.
Space is well managed in this design without all of the negative coupe-like qualities. The entrance and exit of the rear seats isn't really challenging at all. We had a nearly 6-foot passenger back there having to hop in and out during photo opps and he also had ample headroom back there with the cut-outs. The rear seats garnered no complaints and the front seats were supportive and easy to live with on our day with the Paceman. Cargo wise, we stuffed three bags back there with ease but would likely have to flip down the rear seats to accommodate all the luggage we arrived with. The cargo area goes from 330 litres to 1,080 when the rear seats are flattened.
Since the Countryman accounts for a large portion MINI sales now, we might have underestimated how well it would do in the market. We expect the Paceman to cash in on some of that unexpected following but wonder if this larger coupe should have come first since it is closer to MINI's lineage?
Either way, MINI is looking to flesh-out the lineup and appease more buyers over a longer span so that they don't have to head to another dealership. We think at $33-$35K, it plays the stylish, functional Sport Activity Coupe roll very well and considering the configuration it is almost alone in the approach. Dare we say we understand this move by MINI more so than other models and it will be interesting to see in Spring 2013 how the Paceman vies for sales versus its less nimble and awkward older brother, the Countryman.
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Dave Pankew / AOL
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