Lounge rear seating in a Mini seems as outrageously fanciful as race-car buckets in a Boeing’s business-class cabin.
But this is the company’s claim, that the new Paceman seats four – two up front with lounge seating for two in the rear.
Mini marketers’ choice of the word “lounge” flies in the face of the common impression that anyone required to ride aft in a regular Mini Cooper risks calloused knees and a bad hair day, if not a twisted ankle and a kink in the neck.
Ah, but the Paceman, the seventh model in the BMW subsidiary’s ever-expanding roster, differs in size and intent from the Mini they call the hardtop.
Paceman is a based on the four-door maxi-Mini, the Countryman, introduced with great success in 2010. But with two doors rather than four and a roofline that swoops low at the rear, the Paceman sports urban attitude compared to its country cousin.
Room to lounge? Climb in and judge for yourself. The rear seats are individual buckets separated by a rail-like mounting system for positioning cup holders, iPods and so on. It’s noteworthy that the Countryman originally was configured as a four-seater, but now is marketed as a five-seater with a conventional rear bench (rear buckets remain optional), positioning it as more family car, the Paceman more youthful.
Legroom is adequate for a six-footer, as is head room. A two-pane sunroof brightens the interior. Arm rests recessed into the sides of the car make the most of the space. Hand grips above the side windows come into play when the Paceman driver gets frisky.
The cars provided for evaluation here are all Mini Cooper S ALL4’s (signifying all-wheel-drive). They start at $31,200 at Canadian Mini dealers – pricier than the Countryman, $29,900 with the same powertrain.
Paceman starts at $26,800 with front-drive and a less powerful engine. For perspective, the Countryman base is $25,500, the basic Mini Cooper hardtop is $23,950.
Lounging aside, the place to be in the Cooper S Paceman is still the driver’s bucket, just as it is in smaller Minis.
The Puerto Rico’s Ruta Panoramica winds and writhes through the rain forest like snakes in a pit. The road is rarely straight. That is its charm as you soon realize you only need to aim the Paceman and it follows your eyes. This maxi-Mini points-and-squirts in much the same manner as the original Mini – BMC rather than BMW – that began defying centrifugal force in 1959.
If this is driving as therapy, and I believe it is, do note that marital partners’ reactions along the way could require more conventional therapy. The Paceman thumps over broken pavement. The ride is firm even in smooth going. The sport suspension tuning and reduced ride height compared to that of the Countryman might shake up even the steeliest spouse.
The combination of all-wheel-drive and automatic transmission contributes strongly to the package. The Paceman stays slotted while accelerating hard out of corners as front-wheel-drive shifts to all-wheel-drive system within a tenth of a second of sensors’ tracing lack of grip in the front wheels, eliminating understeer.
The transmission can be left in ‘D’ mode without slowing progress. The pro-active driver, however, can select manual shifting mode and employ either rocking the gearshift fore and aft or working the steering wheel’s paddle shifters – thumbs pressing down from above for down shifts or fingers pressing up for upshifts – with gratifying results.
As for practicality, folding the lounge seats creates 1,080 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded forward. Space becomes an issue with four seats occupied, though; there’s only 300 litres capacity, hardly enough for toothbrushes and shampoo.
The Paceman does combine practicality and pizzazz more creatively than any other Mini. Credit BMW for developing the range far beyond English visionary Alec Issigonis’s original flying brick. (British Motor Corp. did try with the 1100 and Maxi, but failed to expand the franchise as BMW has.)
Mini management plans to increase the lineup to as many as 10 distinct vehicles. The newcomers are likely to be Paceman/Countryman-based. Assembly of these larger cars is reportedly switching next year from a Magna-owned plant in Austria to an independent operation in the Netherlands, closer to Mini manufacture in England. Selling more maxi-Mini models would be a Dutch delight for BMW, even as mini-Minis are revamped starting the same year, likely busying production in Oxford.
Larger convertibles? Mini-pickups? We’ll see. But if the Paceman tells us anything, it is that whatever is coming, they’ll necessarily be strong personalities, as was the first Mini more than half a century ago.
2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman ALL4
Type: Two-door hatchback
Base Price: $31,200; as tested includes automatic $1,300, other options not specified
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged, direct injection four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 181 hp/177 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic capable of manual shifting
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.5 highway; premium gas
Alternatives:Volkswagen Golf R, Nissan Juke