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2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle

Larger, sporty Paceman serves as utility vehicle for loyal Mini drivers.

PALMA, Mallorca ? The track width of the new Mini Paceman is identical to the previous Countryman?s: a press kit detail that rose unbidden from my subconscious as we squeezed our way through the narrow corridors of this tiny Spanish island town.

Mere inches from crumbling yellow-stone walls on one side and rows of tiny Meganes and Twingos pressed nose-to-tail on the other, we at last emerged onto the roadway to Andratx in the Sierra de Tramontana mountains.

The winding roads, bereft of guardrails and often abutted right up against the mountainside, certainly provided a variety of driving conditions to gauge the new Paceman?s roadworthiness.

Having recently driven the Mini Countryman, I expected it to be more of the same ? minus the extra set of doors ? but the Paceman?s standard Sport suspension place the Paceman head and shoulders above its roly-poly stablemate in the handling department.

So, who the heck buys a bigger Mini in the first place ? isn?t that just a contradiction in terms?

Not if you ask head of Mini Engineering, Dr. Oliver Friedman, who says that the larger platform was created to reflect the changing needs of their customers ? many of whom have a long relationship with Mini, but now require more room. The Paceman is a more ?muscular interpretation of that derivative.?

When asked which vehicles Mini sees as competition, or more precisely, which ones are winning over customers with their expanding lineup ? Dr. Friedman hesitates. ?The Paceman doesn?t have any real competitors, maybe the (Range Rover) Evoque as far as emotional elements go? but ?Mini always has to be the smallest in its segment.?

Clearly, it?s worked for the Countryman, which is now the second-best selling Mini in Canada, right behind the Cooper hatchback. It?s the utility vehicle for those who don?t want to drive an SUV. And now the Paceman, which Mini has dubbed the SAC, or Sports Activity Coupe, brings more style and sportiness to what we probably should refer to as a niche, rather than a segment.

Reflecting the coupe?s sportier dynamic, Friedman said they decided it was ?better to position it with Sport (suspension)? across the model range.

So then, is the Paceman merely a more ?evocative? Countryman?

Not exactly. It?s more than just a Countryman with fewer doors. From the A-pillars forward the sheet-metal?s identical, but it?s a tiny bit longer. It rides 40 mm inches lower ? some of which is due to the Sports suspension setup, but the seating is accordingly lower to accommodate the dwindling roof line.

Despite the compromised ergonomics of accessing it, rear seating space is identical to the Countryman?s. It is, however, separated into two seats, rather than a more accommodating single bench (not that I?d want to be a third person crammed back there). It?s a bit of a stretch for the front seat passengers to lean back and grab their seatbelts, and at one point our Mini PR guy in the back had somehow managed to hook up mine with his.

The front seats are comfortable, but too flat for ?spirited? driving without much bolstering to prevent you from sliding.

Anyone who?s driven a Mini will be familiar with the Paceman?s gigantic art-deco-meets-country-store-grain-scale centre Speedo and other than more conventionally door-located window switches, the layout is the same. There?s an easily accessible rear ?boot? with 330 L of cargo space and overall volume is 1,050 L.

The drivetrains will be direct carry-overs from the Mini lineup: the familiar Cooper 121 hp 1.6 L and the as-tested Cooper S with turbocharged 1.6 L putting out 181 hp and 177 lb.-ft. ? which increases to 192 lb.-ft. during overboost. There?s an available 6-speed automatic transmission, but the 6-speed manual, aside from being a lot more fun, offers better fuel economy. That quick burst of energy during overboost is a most welcome feature ? it saved our bacon during a stretch of fast highway with little notice of our upcoming exit.

Over the cobbled city streets and rough mountain pavement, we noticed a fair bit of road noise from the Pirelli Cinturato run-flat tires, but the car itself seemed devoid of the rattles which helped spoil the Countryman experience for me.

The two-door structure is inherently stiffer, which is immediately apparent on the road. It?s far less ?wafty? than the Countryman too, thanks to its 10 mm lowered stance and stiffer suspension.

Content to trundle along at low r.p.m. on the highway, the Paceman really hunkers down in the corners ? something we appreciated once we hit the twisted mountainous roads.

The electromechanical steering is typical Mini, it has great turn-in which sharpens measurably once the Sport mode is activated. Selecting Sport also quickens the throttle response and alters the exhaust note whose blatts and burbles echoed delightfully through the mountain tunnels.

The brakes work well ? which we discovered rather abruptly when a kid goat scampered off the rocky mountain hillside and directly into our path. There was no discernible fade after more than two hours of descending the steep circuitous roads that led down from the Sierra de Tramontana and back into the village.

While pricing should be available closer to the spring launch date, the Paceman is expected to cost slightly more than the Countryman, while offering similar fuel economy. An ALL4 all-wheel-drive version will be offered for the Mini Cooper S Paceman.

More practical than the Mini Cooper Hatch, the Paceman offers better driving dynamics than the Countryman ? and seems to have hit the compromise sweet spot.

2014 Mini Cooper S Paceman

PRICE: TBA but probably in low $30,000 range

ENGINE: 1.6L four/1.6L direct-injection turbo four

POWER/TORQUE (hp/lb.-ft.): 121/114; 181 /177 (192 overboost); 208/192 (207 overboost)

FUEL CONSUMPTION: 6.1L/100 km combined

COMPETITION: Ford Focus ST, VW Golf R, Range Rover Evoque

WHAT?S BEST: Lively handling and cheeky styling

WHAT?S WORST: Expensive

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Available with ALL4 AWD, a boon in our winters

Travel for freelance writer Lesley Wimbush was provided by the manufacturer. Email wheels@thestar.ca

  • 2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle
  • 2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle
  • 2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle
  • 2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle
  • 2014 Mini Paceman Cooper S: Maximizing Mini?s muscle

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