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Thoughts on the Mini Paceman

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The new Mini Cooper, originally released in 2001 by BMW and started the premium retro small car trend we’ve come to love as drivers. The Mini has always been a particularly feminine car and the variations such as the convertible haven’t helped. Mini has expanded their lineup to include the estate car style Clubman, the 2 seater roadster (and convertible version) as well as the four door Countryman version. In order to appeal to a manlier audience the company has released the Paceman. Coming in at around R400,000 with a couple of options boxes ticked it’s not cheap but it does fit the typical “yuppie-mobile” stereotype.

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Last week I had the pleasure of driving the Paceman at the Joburg launch and while I only had about 30 minutes in the car (and about 15 driving) here are my two cents:

The Mini Paceman is a strange mashup between the original version of the car and the Countryman. Essentially it’s the raised platform of the Countryman (including the two seats in the back and front rather than the bench seat in the back of the original version) as well the two doors of the original model. What this means is you get a weird combo between coupe and 4X4. The result is that it looks a little similar to a Mini Range Rover Evoque. This is thankfully a great combination and the car is beautiful with typical Mini flair. The swooped back gives the car a reasonably large boot for a Mini and gives the car some visual “junk in the trunk”. Don’t get me wrong, the boot is still tiny but it’s bigger than the Cooper where you can basically fit a laptop bag in and not much more.

Inside the car is typical Mini with the massive dial in the center with the speedometer and other info such as the screen with the Mini version of i-Drive. In front of the steering wheel is the rev counter and on the wheel itself is a wide array of buttons for the multimedia system.

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The seats themselves are extremely comfortable in the front however due to the downwards swoop of the roof the back seat was fairly uncomfortable for a just under 6-foot person such as myself. Being two doors you’ll also have to move the front seat forward to enter the rear. There are only two seats in the back with a center console stretching to the back of the vehicle. If you’re a single person or a young couple this isn’t a bad choice although I wouldn’t want to be the sucker in the back on a long drive or even if the passenger up front is tall and needs to put their seat back. I must be honest, I was getting quite uncomfortable in the back; almost to the point of disliking the car. Then, I had the pleasure of driving it.

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The Paceman comes with two models: the basic 90KW 1.6 liter Mini engine as well as the Paceman S, the 135KW turbocharged version that I drove on the night. Once you get behind the wheel of a Mini you realise the appeal, especially with the “S” branded models as it totally takes off when you put your foot down. Driving the Paceman is a great experience with brilliant steering response and excellent, consistent power delivery at your fingertips. It’s comfortable as well as sporty depending on your preferences. There are little quirks such as mood lighting that you can change although the real appeal for me is the 0-100km/h in 7.5 (7.8 for the auto) seconds.

The problem with something such as the Paceman is that it’s got a pretty wide array of competitors. First off you’ve got the new Audi A3 hatchback that for many is the benchmark but does seem somewhat bland in comparison. You’ve also got the new Mercedes A-Class and the BMW 1-Series but for me, the biggest competitor is the original Mini Cooper S.

You see the kind of person that needs a bit more space and practicality will probably buy a Countryman with its four doors, reasonably boot size and interior similarities. The Cooper S is smaller with the same engine meaning speed and is about R100,000 cheaper. Compared to the Audi, Merc and even stablemate BMW the Paceman oozes class and style while still maintaining nothing else its rivals can: fun.