Mini continues to carve niches within niches. The small company offers essentially two products in the United States, each broken into as many body-style variations as Mini can dream up. With the Paceman, there is now one more.
Essentially a two-door version of the Countryman SUV, the Paceman joins the hardtop hatchback, which begat a convertible, coupe, roadster, and stretched Clubman. We recently caught up with the Paceman at a recent multi-manufacturer media event outside New York City.
The Paceman sits as high as the Countryman and offers the same all-wheel-drive system, but comes wit a lower roofline, especially in back. It has just two doors and a hatchback like the basic Mini, with sleeker lines. The additional ride height makes access easier. Unlike the Mini hardtop, the Paceman's two rear seats are only somewhat habitable by adults, if not exactly comfortably. At 6 ft., 1 inch, I found my knees crammed into the hard plastic seatback of the front seat. Unlike the Countryman, the Paceman doesn't offer a five-passenger configuration.
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From the start, the Paceman is wicked fun to drive, gripping the road like rubber cement, but the ride can be a little rattling at times. Mini has improved some of the controls in the Paceman and Countryman for 2013, moving the window switches to the doors, for example. It may seem a small thing, but the more conventional controls make a big difference. Visibility forward is not too bad for the driver. But the sloping roofline can hinder the rearward vision, and kids likely won't be able to see out from the second row.
In the end, the Paceman is much more livable than the Mini Hardtop, though it takes a significant hit in fuel economy. Unfortunately, by comparison, its price is jacked up as much as the suspension. It starts at $23,900. Adding virtually any options, including any paint color other than white quickly ratchets up the price.
Once you move to the all-wheel-drive Mini Cooper Paceman S All4, the price bumps up against $30,000. And Mini's option sheet and custom touches make it easy to spend $40,000 on this car. For the money you could buy any number of really nice upscale small SUVs that drive nicely, ride better, and are much easier to live with, like the Acura RDX, BMW X3, or a loaded Ford Escape. So at that price, the Mini's "cute" factor had better go a long way.
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