The Paceman lies in a space between expectations. Too large to be a proper MINI and too small to be a truly utility-focused vehicle. That’s what I heard time and time again from friends and bystanders during my week with the R61 MINI. It’s got two doors in the space of four and it’s got mass in places that MINI’s historically haven’t had it. Yet why do I like it so much?

In my first two drives in the car I’ve come away impressed with its MINI-like performance characteristics, interior accommodations and surprising boot space. In many ways this is the car that rights some of the Countryman’s wrongs. The Paceman sports improved handling characteristics, thanks to subtle suspension tweaks. It has improved looks, thanks to the added dimensionally of the rear flanks and sloping roofline. These improvements, plus interior trim upgrades, all add up to a greater good.


Yet, it’s still just a two door version of a four door car. Why? What’s the point? In short, it’s hard to make utility cool in the present. It’s nearly impossible to create a timeless, modern day classic like a Defender 90 or CJ, right? True, and that’s thanks mostly to safety legislation. Thankfully MINI didn’t actually try to cross that terrain with something like a production version of the Beachcomber concept. It would have ended up half-baked, thoroughly compromised and a comical shadow of the original idea. Instead, MINI twisted the dial towards “cool” with stylistic ingredients that have been working for cars for 100 years. They lowered it, added a sleeker roofline and gave it a visual stance no MINI has ever had.

Our Paceman test car was the 181 hp Cooper S ALL4, shod with the optional 19″ wheels and crucial sport suspension. Having spent a year with an All4 Countryman, stepping into the Paceman was like seeing an old friend who’d lost some weight and gained some style. It was a refreshing blend of familiar — subtle yet noticeable improvements, plus outright surprises. When I last drove the Paceman, I was in Mallorca, Spain. There I drove the front wheel drive Cooper S on some amazing coastal roads. I was thoroughly impressed with how the car felt noticeably more alive than the All4-equipped Countryman. Credit less weight and less drive-line loss in the simplicity of the front wheel drive. The other big difference between the two Paceman was that our current test car was equipped with MINI’s aging six-speed Aisin automatic.


The six-speed auto was introduced in the summer of 2004 with the R53 and R54 (the Cooper S Hardtop and Convertible). At the time, we called it adequate. Nine years later that adequate has become far less-than-adequate. Shifts are quicker, and the then terrible shifting logic has gotten better, but the newest generation of eight-speed and nine-speed automatics found in other contemporary sports cars make the Paceman’s unit feel ancient in what it offers in terms of performance and efficiency. Sure, casual drivers won’t notice, but if you’re reading this review, you’re probably not one of those.

Luckily, the Paceman has a very good six-speed manual transmission offered as standard. With clutch feel much-improved over the early Countryman, it’s the only transmission I can recommend in either car for the enthusiast driver.


So for our test car, the automatic definitely sapped some of the “feel” from the Paceman. However that wasn’t the only thing that eroded some of the MINI-ness. As much as all wheel drive sells cars, I can’t help but feel it’s wasted 90% of the time it’s added to a car. Unless you live in a place with serious winters, front wheel drive and proper all season (or better yet snow) tires should suffice in most situations. Skipping the ALL4 option gives you 154 lbs back, along with more acceleration, better braking, tighter cornering and more miles per gallon.

In the right spec, I really like the Paceman. On the press launch in Spain I especially loved the feel of the car, along with its stellar looks and very usable utility. It’s a completely unique offering in the marketplace, and is really quite endearing to live with day-to-day.


For me, it’s the little things where the Paceman excels. Yes, the doors are long, but they offer surprisingly good ingress and egress into the backseats. Once you’re back there the two bucket seats offer comfort not found in any other MINI — including the Countryman or Clubman. Then there’s the boot. It’s surprisingly large and offers all the practical benefits of any hatch I’ve ever driven, yet with far more style.

Finally, there’s the build quality of the Paceman. We don’t talk about it much these days because in many ways the R60 has been too boring to discuss in this regard. They’re screwed together too well for it to be an interesting topic. In the case of the Paceman, the fit and finish is even better.


Despite all of these plusses, initial sales are showing that the general public either just doesn’t understand the point of this car, or they don’t know it exists. To me, that’s a shame. Surely poorly spec’d demo cars and a lack of marketing are to blame for some of those sluggish sales, but perhaps the biggest factor is the price. As is customary, BMW has given the two door version of a four door car a premium price to position in the marketplace as a premium product. The problem is that the MINI brand doesn’t really support that line of thinking as well as say BMW or Audi. Therefore, a lot of consumers who have initial interest in the Paceman leave the dealership scratching their heads at a price that seems at least $5,000 too high.

MINI never wins on spec’s and they never win on price. They always win on the full package — on the experience of a car. As a premium product, every MINI in the product range requires a purchase decision that looks past the spreadsheets and horsepower numbers for the car to make sense. The decision to purchase a MINI almost always comes down to delight. Buying a Paceman is no different. With style, performance and brand cache, that’s a different kind of value. It’s a value that can’t be measured in horsepower-per-dollar.

It’s likely that the Paceman’s lack of sales success will hurt the car’s reputation. That’s a shame, because in the Paceman we finally have a crossover that actually feels like a MINI. For me, the Paceman works as advertised —sportier than the Countryman, with more utility and a higher seating position than the hardtop. For all the things this car is, and all the things it is not, the Paceman slots nicely into the MINI line-up.