2014 Mini Paceman's style, practicality make it BMW division's best car yet

Expected at dealers in mid-March, the new Mini Expected at dealers in mid-March, the new Mini John Cooper Works Paceman vehicle, unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is a larger version of the SUV-coupe the company first introduced in Los Angeles two months prior. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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They might all, literally, be Mini, but BMW's Britain-based division is expanding in a big way. The latest edition is the Paceman, which is a two-door hatchback (based on the Countryman four-door model) that arrives this spring.

Where the Countryman appears as a conservatively styled wagon, the Paceman's sportier looks hint at its more playful nature around town, on the open road, or over rougher terrain with its available all-wheel-drive.

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    The Paceman and Countryman share the same basic dimensions, but the tough-dude front- end design of the Paceman includes a grille that makes the vehicle look as though it's frowning at the world. Perhaps a case of sibling rivalry over the Countryman's two extra doors is affecting its mood. Other distinctive characteristics encompass teardrop-shaped taillights and rear fenders bulge out slightly from the quarter panels.

    You would think the Paceman's sloping roofline and liftgate would adversely affect stowage space. Surprisingly, that's not the case, with the Paceman surrendering only about six percent volume with the rear seats in place and about eight percent when they're folded flat.

    The interior includes four adjustable bucket seats - also adapted from the Countryman - that are especially attractive. Of course the Mini's signature round dash gauges are very much in evidence, although not quite as in-your-face as those installed in the basic Mini Cooper or Mini Clubman. Rumor has it the next-generation Mini will adopt a more conventional layout, which would likely be a step in the right direction.

    What is decidedly non-conventional is the Paceman's illuminated center-rail floor console to which you can attach a cell-phone base, cup holders, sunglasses case and other accessories.

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    Under the hood it's a case of if you've seen one Mini you've seen them all as the available engines are offered in all seven Mini body styles. The base Cooper's 1.6-liter four-cylinder makes 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, while the optional turbocharged 1.6 in the Cooper S ups those numbers to 181/177.

    At the pinnacle of Paceman performance is the JCW (John Cooper Works) edition. For this model, the turbo 1.6 has been tweaked to produce 218 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. All engines are available with six-speed manual transmissions or optional six-speed automatics with manual shift function.

    For the all-wheel-drive option, called ALL4, the system's center differential directs 100 percent of the power to the front wheels, but can send half of the torque to the rear when tire slip is detected. All4 is standard with JCW models and is a $1,700 option on the $27,500 Paceman Cooper S. The front-drive Paceman starts at $23,900.

    According to Mini, the base model will make it to 60 mph from a standing start in 9.7 seconds. The Paceman Cooper S slashes that to 6.9 seconds (7.2 for the ALL4) and the JCW comes in at about 6.5 seconds.

    Those numbers are impressive for such small-displacement engines driving packages weighing between 2,900 and 3,200 pounds. Also impressive is the little hatchback's fuel-consumption estimate of 27 mpg in the city and 35 highway (base 1.6). Note that all Paceman engines require more expensive premium fuel that negates some of the perceived efficiency.

    All Pacemans (Pacemen?) arrive with air conditioning and the usual power accessories plus a sport-tuned suspension. From that point you can select from up to seven different option packages that include a panorama sunroof, various infotainment/navigation/communications systems and a variety seat coverings and wheel types and sizes. The full-load JCW comes decked out with dual exhaust and distinctive interior/exterior color, body and trim treatments.

    The Paceman's unique mix of sporty style and practicality, with an available side-order of rough-road ruggedness, makes it perhaps the best reason yet to consider parking a Mini in your driveway.

    What you should know: 2014 Mini Paceman
    Type: Two-door, front- /all-wheel-drive compact hatchback
    Engine (hp): 1.6-liter DOHC I4 (121); 1.6-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (181-218)
    Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)
    Market position: The Paceman is one of seven niche models produced by BMW's Mini division. It has few direct category competitors, but sells itself as a lifestyle choice and appeals to a more select audience type.
    Points: Similar to Mini Countryman, but far more visually appealing; Slightly less interior room than Countryman, but can still stow a fair amount; AWD option adds winter climate appeal; Power-window controls now thankfully located on door panels; Reasonable base price, but watch out for expensive option creep; Best-looking Mini since the original.
    Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
    MPG (city/hwy): 27/35 (base 1.6)
    Base price: (incl. destination) $23,900

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    BY COMPARISON

    LR Evoque Coupe
    Base price: $45,000
    High-priced, but Evoque.is the Paceman's soul mate AWD comes standard.

    Volkswagen GTI
    Base price: $24,800
    With 200 horsepower on tap, the GTI is considered a VW Golf hod rod.

    Volvo C30
    Base price: $26,400
    Good-looking hatchback is scheduled to be retired by the end of 2013. 

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