2016 MINI Cooper Paceman

8.6
2016 MINI Cooper Paceman

The Basics:

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.

The 2016 Mini Cooper is as cheeky as its retro style implies—and its three-cylinder engine is a charming surprise.

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.

Buying Tips:

The 2016 MINI Cooper Paceman starts below $25,000, but if you go for the turbo (more fun) and handfuls of features and personalization options, you can end up looking at $40,000—even before the hot-rod John Cooper Works models.

Other Choices:

  • 2016 MINI Cooper Countryman
  • 2016 Ford Fiesta
  • 2016 Ford Focus
  • 2016 Mazda MAZDA3
  • 2016 Subaru WRX

Reason Why:

The 2016 Mini Cooper Paceman has very few direct rivals. Its combination of sport, design, available all-wheel drive, and three-door body aren't directly comparable to any other car on the market. But a number of front-wheel-drive small hatchbacks—and their higher-performance variants in particular—offer many of the same qualities and often better packaging. If you must have all-wheel drive, Subaru has a number of offerings that compare favorably, though they lack the style and panache of the Mini brand. Even smaller than the Paceman, the Ford Fiesta hatchback is a blast to drive even before you get to the Fiesta ST hot hatch, with taut handling, its own quirky style, and some premium features—but more competitive prices. The larger Ford Focus is even better value for money than the Fiesta, not to mention roomier. And its Focus ST hot rod model outdoes even the top of the Paceman range in performance. The Mazda 3 is all about driving enjoyment too, though the back seat its current generation isn't particularly useful for a five-door compact. Among Subarus, all of them with all-wheel drive standard, the Impreza has stodgy lines but offers excellent value for money. Its XV Crosstrek model morphs the Impreza hatchback into a small compact crossover, and has been hugely successful. And the Impreza's boy-racer WRX version is newly refined while retaining all the old pavement-storming capabilities of its predecessors. Any of these Subarus can make strong value propositions for the cash-conscious buyers who have to have foul-weather capability.

The Bottom Line:

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.

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