- Unusual design, packaging
- All-wheel drive available
- Turbo models offer fun performance
- Function suffers from form
- Rear seat space is punitive
- Can get pricey very quickly
The 2016 Mini Cooper Paceman family is a fun small car limited by its packaging, for those who want extra style without extra volume for carrying people or stuff.
The 2016 Mini Cooper Paceman has four seats, two doors, and a liftgate, which might make sound similar to the original Mini Hardtop that's now in its third generation on the U.S. market. But it also offers all-wheel drive, giving it something of an off-road vibe. In fact, the Paceman is essentially a two-door version of the larger four-door Countryman, the closest Mini gets to a genuine crossover utility vehicle.
As a middle ground between the larger Countryman and the smaller Hardtop, the rakish lines of the Paceman make it a tallish hatchback with a coupe-like profile that will turn some heads. While it has the Countryman's nose, there's all-new sheet metal from the windshield back, and it cuts a very different profile than the small-SUV character of its bigger brother. The downward slope of the roof enhances the hatchback's emotion-driven style, as do a set of flared rear fenders that give it a powerful stance—even though its primary drive wheels are up front.
Inside the not-all-that-large cabin, you'll find the quirky design and decently high-quality materials typical of recent Minis. The ergonomics of the dashboard are also marginal at best—a failing Mini has addressed in the third-generation Hardtop, but not the older Paceman, now in its fourth model year. Gauges and switches aren't always where you expect them, though once you figure out how to operate them, they're readily at hand.
The Paceman shares the same engine lineup used in the previous-generation Mini Hardtop, meaning the base car gets a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4; the Cooper S Paceman goes up to a 181-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4; and the highest-performance model, the John Cooper Works Paceman, is fitted with a 211-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four. Every version comes standard with a 6-speed manual gearbox, but a 6-speed automatic transmission is an option on Cooper and Cooper S models.
As in the Countryman, front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive can be specified as a $1,700 option, though only on the Cooper S model. It's standard on the John Cooper Works model. EPA ratings are 27 mpg city, 32 highway, 29 combined combined for manual front-wheel-drive variants with the 1.6-liter engine, or 23/30/26 mpg in the Cooper S Paceman with all-wheel drive. Premium gasoline is also recommended for all Pacemans.
Space for passengers and cargo is hardly abundant in the Paceman, though the front seats are spacious, offering room for those more than 6 feet tall. You may be able to fit 6-footers in the back, barely, but they'll find knee and head room to be painfully limited—in part because of the descending roofline, which cuts space in the rear seat against that of its Countryman counterpart. Fold down the rear seats, and the Paceman offers up to 38.1 cubic feet of space. With the rear seat up, though, there's only a sliver of space for small bags or gear in soft cases. In other words, it's a car that most buyers will use as a two-seater.
On the road, the Paceman's controls—brake, gas, and steering—are immediate and direct, evoking the legendary Mini "go-kart" feel. Compared to the latest Hardtop, which is still smaller, those reflexes in the Paceman are a bit dulled. Credit more weight, a higher ride height, and slightly more plush ride characteristics—at least in the non-John Cooper Works models.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have published any crash-test scores for any Paceman model, likely due to its low sales volume. The IIHS rates the similar four-door Countryman "Good" in every category, its top rating, including the tough small-overlap front-crash test. The NHTSA hasn't tested the Countryman since its launch.
While the base price of a Paceman starts under $25,000, the prices rise quickly as you add more performance, more features, and more factory- or dealer-installed personalization options. One fully-loaded Mini Cooper S Paceman John Cooper Works Edition we tested in 2013 carried a bottom-line sticker of a breathtaking $45,000—and we suspect the limited number of Pacemans at dealers will likely be more on the pricey end of the scale.
At those prices, it's moved from an unusual but affordable hatchback into the realms of premium luxury sedans. While it offers neither the power nor the refinement of luxury sedans at that price, the design, fun, and function of the Paceman will still attract a few buyers who love it for exactly what it is. We'd look for one at the entry-level end of the spectrum.