Driven: Mini Paceman

We’ve all felt it.

That ball-clenching, stomach-churning moment of turning into a corner too fast, of feeling the tyres slip, the horror of knowing you’re about to crash.

It’s not pretty, and right now, that’s what Wheels is experiencing in the new Mini Paceman.

We’re on the rain-soaked roads above Brisbane for the Paceman’s Australian launch and happily, the surrounding rainforest is so covered with mist, we can’t see what we’re about to hit.

It’s a small consolation, but then… nothing.

The car sails around the corner, the exhaust gives a satisfied fart and before we know it, we’re belting into the next sodden bend.


Minis are well known for their ‘go kart’ handling and it seems the Paceman – the seventh variant in the growing Mini family – is no exception.

Or it is?

Push the Paceman hard and a few worrying flaws begin to emerge.

With a kerb weight 335kg heavier than a base Cooper, the Paceman simply can’t match the surefootedness or agility of its smaller sibling.

So why buy one?

With a premium price starting at $35,900 for the base Paceman, and $44,100 for the Cooper S, plus the fact it offers neither the handling prowess nor the usability of other, cheaper, Minis, that’s a question we’re still trying to answer.

At its core, the Paceman is essentially a two-door Countryman. It’s built on the same compact SUV platform, but boasts sportier styling and sports-tuned suspension.

Think of it as the Countryman’s athletic cousin – a four-seat, two-door SUV that can’t go off-road.

There’s nothing new under the bonnet either. Both cars get Mini’s familiar 1.6-litre petrol, with the base Paceman offering 90kW and 160Nm. It’s a frustratingly small amount of power, with even city driving exposing a lack grunt.

The addition of a twin-scroll turbo in the 135kW/240Nm Cooper S makes it the pick of the range, yet even it doesn’t feel as rapid as you’d expect – 0-100km/h is achieved in 7.5 seconds for the Cooper S (10.4 seconds for the base Paceman).

Both cars use a six-speed manual as standard, with a 6-speed automatic a $2350 option – one that Mini says 70 percent of buyers will choose.

But don’t think the Paceman is a bad car.

Its saving grace is the way it drives. Fast, well-weighted steering makes it plenty of fun through the bends, while a well-sorted chassis ensures the handling is sticky and predictable.

The sports suspension is also a nice compromise, providing a firm but compliant ride that irons out all but the biggest bumps.

Plus Mini says buying the Paceman is not a rational choice, but one based on emotion.

And with the company hoping to move 200 Pacemans this year, at a premium price that pits it against the VW Golf R, the Opel OPC and the razor-sharp Renault Megane RS265 Cup, we can see why.

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