2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman is overpriced departure for BMW brand

The 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman arrives in

The 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman arrives in a confused state. Essentially, it is a longer -- by 1 foot, 4 inches -- and more expensive version of the two-door, four-passenger Mini Cooper. (Credit: SHNS / BMW)

In human terms, the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman would be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

The all-new Paceman is the latest offshoot of the Mini revival under the ownership of Germany's BMW. It started in 2001 with the Mini Cooper, a modern rendering of the beloved British Mini of the 1960s to 2000. A small box for four with front-wheel drive, the current car actually is closer in size to the larger Austin and Morris 850 models of the era.

With BMW engineering expertise, along with very un-German trendy accessorizing and marketing, the modern Mini became a runaway sensation and a solid contributor to BMW's bottom line.


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Like the original, the new Mini did not idle. Different versions spun off periodically to the point where customers now can choose from among 22 distinct models, including a small SUV (the Countryman) and high-performance John Cooper Works variants.

The Paceman arrives in a confused state. Essentially, it is a longer -- by 1 foot, 4 inches -- and more expensive version of the two-door, four-passenger Mini Cooper. That results in more generous backseat space, although to make anyone comfortable the front seats still need to be moved forward and any backseat passenger taller than about 5 feet 9 inches must scrunch down.

It's actually rather easy to crawl into the backseat, because both front seats slide far forward. But they do not have a memory setting, so they must be readjusted every time. At 12 cubic feet behind the rear seatback, the Paceman has more than twice the cargo space as the base Mini Cooper.

However, it also weighs about 400 pounds more, so the standard 121-horsepower engine doesn't cut it. As a result, the Mini folks promote the S version, which comes with a turbocharged 181-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It also can be ordered as an ALL4, which is Mini's designation for full-time all-wheel drive.

The test car was an S with ALL4, equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, which made it easier to drive but not as entertaining as it would be with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Transmissions aside, the most notable characteristic of the Paceman S is its sporting orientation. The handling is precise but the suspension system and tires are so stiff that the Paceman S has a molar-rattling, punishing ride on all but pool table surfaces. Contributing to the harshness are low-profile run-flat tires that are made of a hard rubber compound.

So the Paceman S should be thought of more as a sports coupe than a Mini Cooper or a reasonably practical hatchback. It should be considered in the company of other sport hatches like the Volvo C30 T, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and the Nissan Juke and Juke Nismo.

All of these cars are of a similar size and weight, with similar interior space and similar power trains. The big difference is that the Paceman S is way more expensive.

The tester had a starting price of $29,295, or thousands more than the competitors. When all the options were added, the test car had a bottom line sticker price of $39,895. That included the automatic transmission, leather upholstery, navigation, panoramic glass sunroof, automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio. But there was no backup camera and the front seats had only manual adjustments.

Moreover, the Paceman belies its athletic intentions with front seats that lack lateral support for spirited driving. It also displays a combination of British eccentricity and German complexity that intersect at a point somewhere between awkward and annoying.

An odd shaped button on the automatic transmission shift lever operates clumsily, and the parking brake handle has a counterintuitive T shape. To simply tune the radio nearly requires postgraduate training. Adjusting the front seat backrests requires a tight reach between the seats that endangers fingernails and knuckles. The optional panoramic sunroof has a cheesecloth-like shade that does little to block bright sunlight.

Some of the controls also appear to be double jointed. If you simply touch the start button to shut off the engine, the accessories stay on, so you must punch it a second time. To avoid that, you have to hold the button in. And if the doors are locked, two pulls of the door handle are required to open the door.

There still are old-timey British toggle switches overhead and on the center stack. But at least the power window controls have been conveniently moved to the front armrests.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman ALL4.

Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 181 horsepower.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

Overall length: 13 feet 6 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 87/12 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,260 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $29,295.

Price as tested: $39,895.

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