Mini Paceman: it's the Mini Major

Matt Greenop
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The Paceman's handling is up to Mini's legendary standard, even in serious dampness, but the handbrake lever is a tad Goosey. Photo / Supplied

How can you tell Mini's new sports coupe is aimed at guys? Could be the racy look. Could be the handling, especially in the wet. Or just that its size matters

They call the Mini Paceman a 'sports activity coupe'. The difference between a sports utility vehicle and an 'SAC' seems to be boot space, more than anything else. The Paceman is the latest Mini to roll off its seemingly never-ending new model roster but this time it's more than just a lick of paint and a few variations on the tried-and-tested theme of a new generation Mini. It's a variation on the Countryman, Mini's SUV released here last year.

The Countryman manages to do something quite clever - it feels like a Mini, looks strangely familiar on the inside and even from the exterior - as long as there's no point of size reference - it doesn't seem to be that much larger. But it is.

The Paceman takes the Countryman's form-factor and drops the roof at the rear, giving it a racier look and giving Mini the chance to market it with a male skew. The SUV stablemate was aimed more at mums who just couldn't let go of the brand.

While underneath it's basically the same animal, Mini has recognised that it's filling a niche within a niche and will initially bring in only the two-wheel-drive version, with a view towards the All-4 model should the numbers stack up. However, there will be a John Cooper Works (read: fast and angry version) edition further down the track.

The decision to opt out of the four-pawed model seemed a curious one when we were briefed at Hampton Downs on the very worst kind of Monday - torrential rain, howling wind and a very, very wet race circuit. But when given the opportunity to and try the vehicle in conditions not too far removed from what we should expect in the coming months, it didn't seem like such a bad call after all.

The first generation of Mini was renowned for its fear of water, but the Paceman spat it out quite happily, despite towering over the new-era Mini Coopers and Roadsters bought along for comparison.

The interior layout is fairly unique with a centre rail dividing the rear seats and some interesting tartan interior materials sorry, `hot cross' according to the fashionista. There's even a handbrake lever obviously inspired by jet planes, but you do feel less Maverick and more like a Goose when you're using it.

But it's the exterior that will win fans, sitting 10mm lower than the Countryman courtesy of the sports suspension that's offered as a standard option. It's slightly longer, the roof is much lower and has the option of either 17-inch star rims or very tasty 19-inch Y-spokes in all, it's a pretty good looking package, but whether it's going to attract the buyers from the smaller Minis remains to be seen. The rear lights have evolved: they now sit vertically as opposed to the more traditional horizontal setting, and Paceman is spelled across the boot.

Mini handling is, fortunately, retained and it still sticks like the proverbial sticky thing. Even when hitting the standing water on Hampton Downs at serious velocity the car mostly stayed on track, and when it didn't the chassis responded quickly to a bootful and tended to drive through any front-end slide and regain its footing before anything messy or upside down happened.

Power isn't up to the same grumpy levels of the JCW versions, but the twin scroll turbo helps the Paceman push out an acceptable 135kW, with a tabletop torque curve of 240Nm from 1600rpm up to near redline. This helps keep things predictable, and with a Sport button to back off traction control the car will quite happily spin its front feet out of corners without having to scrub too much speed. It worked well under the drowning 
backblocks of Hampton Downs, and on the road gives that square chassis the front-drive feeling that Mini does so, so well.

Paceman went on sale yesterday with a $53,500 pricetag for the six-speed manual and a $3000 option for those who like the car to do the shiftwork.

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