Pros: Excellent turbocharged engine; fun to drive; good fuel economy; available all-wheel drive; funky styling

Cons: Weak base engine; firm ride; limited cargo space relative to other hatchbacks and crossovers

What's New: The Mini Paceman is an all new car for 2013

Introduction

Allow us to correct two common misconceptions about the 2013 MINI Paceman.

The first is that the Paceman just a 2-door version of the Countryman, MINI's high-riding, 4-door compact crossover. There's admittedly a kernel of truth here, as the Paceman shares the Countryman's design and architecture from the dashboard forward. But everything else is Paceman-specific, from the rakish roof line to what MINI calls the Lounge Atmosphere 2-person backseat. And for good measure, the Paceman rides lower than the Countryman for superior balance in corners.

The second misconception is that the Paceman simply doesn't make any sense. We've seen this claim in a number of Paceman reviews, and here's our retort: Says who? If you ask us, a 2-door crossover makes a lot of sense for modern drivers. After all, just about everyone loves the elevated crossover driving position, but not everyone needs -- or wants -- a 4-door vehicle. That's the idea behind the trendy 2-door Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, and we see the new Paceman as a similarly trendy yet more affordable alternative.

Throw in the Paceman's inherent MINI goodness, from its trademark fun-to-drive character to its entertainingly enormous center-mounted speedometer, and you've got one of the coolest new cars of 2013. Don't let the naysayers dissuade you, folks; stop by your MINI dealer and give the Paceman a chance.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 MINI Paceman is a 2-door hatchback that comes in four trim levels: Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper S ALL 4 and John Cooper Works.

Standard features on the well-equipped base Cooper Paceman include 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, height-adjustable front seats, twin rear bucket seats with the Center Rail front/rear divider system, leatherette upholstery, power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic multifunction steering wheel, keyless push-button ignition, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with iPod connectivity and HD radio.

The Cooper S Paceman adds sporty touches like a turbocharged engine, a handling-enhancing technology called Electronic Differential Lock Control (optional on the base Paceman), a black mesh grille with an extra air inlet, fog lights, a rear spoiler, dual exhaust pipes and stainless steel pedals.

The Cooper S Paceman ALL 4 has all-wheel drive but generally shares the regular S model's equipment roster.

The John Cooper Works Paceman comes standard with all-wheel drive and adds a more powerful turbocharged engine, lightweight 18-in wheels, an exclusive performance suspension and various sporty styling cues inside and out.

In terms of options, MINI (like its parent company BMW) is to cars as Dell, Inc. is to computers -- you can choose all the features you like, and MINI will build your Paceman just so. Highlights, depending on trim level, include 18-in wheels, a stiffer sport-tuned suspension, xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, a 6.5-in infotainment display with available navigation, leather upholstery and a premium Harman/Kardon audio system. There are also seemingly endless potential combinations of colors, special trim items and specific wheel designs.

In our interior evaluation, we gave MINI high marks for providing standard sport seats, which means that even the base Paceman offers good lateral support. Also, you'll love the commanding driving position if you're a crossover fan; despite riding lower than the Countryman, the Paceman provides a comparably expansive view of the road. Additionally, the pedals are perfectly placed and the tilt-telescopic steering wheel is low and straight, right where your hands expect it to be.

The audio and climate controls are typical MINI fare, meaning they're laid out haphazardly and can be hard to operate without glancing down. We get a kick out of the pie-plate-sized central speedometer, though, and we don't understand why so many people deride it. Would they really prefer a MINI with a boring BMW-style interior?

It's worth noting that the Paceman pioneers a new window-switch approach for MINI: Whereas previous MINIs employed metallic toggle switches below the climate controls, the Paceman uses plastic switches mounted on the door panels. It's more intuitive if you're not used to the toggles, but it may detract from the Paceman's MINI-ness for some.

The Paceman's rear compartment has been engineered to accommodate two full-sized adults, and it does a pretty good job. 6-footers may find headroom a little tight, but legroom is good, especially by 2-door hatchback standards. The Paceman's relatively tall profile helps here, as it allowed the designers to raise the bottom cushions for better thigh support. The rear seats also slide and recline, further enhancing passenger space.

Like the Countryman, by the way, the Paceman features the Center Rail storage system, an attractive 1- or 2-piece (your choice) metal divider that bisects both seating rows and contains cupholders, a glasses-case holder and an iPod cradle. It's another cool touch in what's generally an unusually cool interior.

The Paceman's cargo hold measures just 11.6 cu ft behind the rear seat backs, but it's surprisingly useful, swallowing groceries or even weekend-getaway luggage with ease. Should you need more, the rear seat backs fold down to provide 38.1 cu ft at maximum capacity. Again, that's not much by the numbers -- Volkswagen's pint-sized GTI, for example, checks in at 46 cu ft -- but for most real-world scenarios, the Paceman's got the space, man. (We couldn't resist.)

Technology

Bluetooth and iPod connectivity are finally standard on all MINI models, the Paceman included, so that's no longer something to complain about here. In fact, we can't find much that's objectionable about the Paceman's technology roster. The biggest issue is the stereo's sound quality: The base stereo is weak and tinny by modern standards and the optional Harman/Kardon setup isn't a huge improvement.

On the plus side, there's a nifty option called MINI Connected that adds an attractive 6.5-in infotainment display in the center of that massive speedometer, as well as voice-recognition technology for various vehicle commands. Moreover, this option gives smartphone users access to an app that can integrate Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and a variety of other services

Navigation can be added to MINI Connected if you want, but if you've got a smartphone that works with MINI Connected, that means you have access to Google Maps and the like -- so you may want to avoid paying extra for MINI's own maps and directions.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The MINI Cooper Paceman has front-wheel drive except for the S ALL 4 and John Cooper Works models, which feature all-wheel drive. A 6-speed manual is standard across the lineup, while a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters is optional.

The base Cooper Paceman is powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque. This is a fun little engine in smaller MINIs, but the Paceman is hundreds of pounds heavier than a regular MINI Cooper, and that's a recipe for sluggish acceleration by current standards.

As such, we advise stepping up to the S model's turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, which cranks out 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 during temporary overboost full-throttle acceleration). Even with the Paceman's extra pounds, the little turbo four punches above its weight, and the twin-scroll turbocharger makes sure you've always got power on demand. We love the S engine's exuberant noises, too.

The John Cooper Works gets a cranked-up version of the 1.6-liter turbo that's good for 208 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque (221 lb-ft with overboost). Will you feel the difference in comparison to the regular S ALL 4 model? Yes -- there's definitely more acceleration on tap at all speeds in the JCW Paceman. Whether it's worth the extra price is for you to decide.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel-economy ratings for the Paceman mirror those of the Countryman, ranging from 26 miles per gallon city/35 mpg highway for the manual-transmission base model to 23mpg city/30 mpg hwy for the automatic S ALL 4 and JCW models (25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the manual). The front-wheel-drive S model splits the difference at 26 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the manual and 25 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the automatic.

Safety

The 2013 MINI Cooper Paceman comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and seven airbags (front, front side, passenger knee, and full-length side curtain).

The Paceman had not been crash tested at the time this article was written.

Driving Impressions

On the road, the Paceman is remarkable for how planted it feels, even when cornering at a healthy clip. Relative to the Countryman, the lower, tauter Paceman does a convincing impression of the regular MINI Cooper. It's a car you can definitely have some fun in on winding roads -- just don't forget to turn Sport mode on for enhanced steering and throttle response.

We're not as high on the ride quality, which borders on stiff, especially with the bigger wheels that come standard on turbocharged models. That's normal for a MINI, but it might be a bit much for some drivers. For this reason, we'd think twice before ordering the optional sport-tuned suspension.

Other Cars to Consider

Kia Sportage: The stylish Sportage lacks the Paceman's 2-door design and cool interior vibe, but it compensates with an excellent available 260-hp turbocharged engine.

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque: If you don't mind spending the extra coin, the baby Range Rover delivers a more upscale driving experience, although it's less fun.

Volkswagen GTI: The GTI arguably has a higher-quality cabin and it's not as quirky, in case you find the Paceman a little over-the-top.

AutoTrader Recommends

The front-wheel-drive, turbocharged Cooper S Paceman hits the sweet spot for value, performance and fuel economy. Make ours a manual with the panoramic sunroof -- that's a pretty sweet ride at a pretty reasonable price

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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