Mini had a record year here in 2012. With U.S. sales of about 66,000 cars, it would look as though its plan of constantly expanding the lineup is paying off. Interesting, though, that 75 percent of those sales came from just two models: the traditional Mini Hardtop (29,278 sales) and the bigger four-door Countryman (21,012).
That concentration of interest hasn't deterred Mini from continuing to look for a niche within a niche, sometimes answering questions we aren't sure anyone is asking, such as, "Can I get a Mini Coupe with a roof that looks like it's a Pep Boys add-on?"
But with the introduction of the Paceman, which is essentially a sportier two-door version of that four-door 2013 Mini Countryman, there are now seven Mini models (including Hardtop, Countryman, Coupe, Clubman, Roadster, Convertible), and Mini executives say there could be as many as 10 soon.
As we learned on a press introduction on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the 2013 Mini Paceman. Which brings us to the question Mini assumes some buyers must be asking: Can I get a bigger version of the Mini Hardtop that still has just two doors?
You Can Now
The central differences between the standard hardtop and the 2013 Mini Paceman are overall length (146.8 inches for the Hardtop, 162.2 inches for the Paceman), and wheelbase (97.1 inches for the Hardtop, 102.2 inches for the Paceman, same as the Countryman). This translates mostly into an increase in luggage space. With the rear seats folded down, there are 24 cubic feet in the Hardtop, 38.1 in the Paceman.
The powertrain is the same, though you can get all-wheel drive on the Paceman. The base engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 121 horsepower, which propels the 3,070-pound Paceman to a glacial 0-60-mph time of 9.7 seconds, according to Mini. Not surprisingly, there were no base models available to drive.
The Paceman S, with the 181-hp turbocharged version of that engine, reaches 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, or 7.2 seconds if you opt for the ALL4 all-wheel drive. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but the Paceman S models we drove, with both front- and all-wheel drive, had the optional Aisin six-speed automatic.
On the Roads of Puerto Rico
On the streets, which were mostly narrow, potholed mountain roads lined with suicidal stray dogs, the Paceman S was well behaved, with typical Mini precise, linear steering even though it's electrically assisted. The taut ride is punishing only on the worst roads, and even the optional run-flat tires soaked up the bumps reasonably well. The Paceman S comes with 17-inch wheels as standard, with 18s available as an option.
Weighing in at 2,940 pounds, which is slightly less than the base model, the Paceman S is light on its feet and handles very well. The longer wheelbase adds some stability, but detracts minimally from cornering ability. The S ALL4 feels heavier because it is by about 270 pounds over the regular S, but other than that, we couldn't tell much difference. Like any good AWD system, the ALL4 is transparent until you need it, and aside from slinging the car around a bit on gravel roads, we didn't.
A sport suspension with a lower ride height comes standard, but a more forgiving base setup is a no-cost option. Between this and the possible tire combinations available, Mini has essentially made the Paceman agreeable to both hard-core enthusiasts and those who want nothing more than a little extra style compared to the Countryman. We expect that even the standard setup with 17-inch tires is more than entertaining enough for most drivers.
Setting It Apart
Inside, the 2013 Mini Paceman is familiar, with one big exception: Window controls are now on each door, rather than located in the center console. Mini is convinced this is important to customers, but our long-trained hands kept reaching for the center console to raise and lower the windows.
Otherwise, instruments and controls are easily read and operated, by Mini standards, at least. The front seats were very comfortable and plenty spacious. The two rear seats, not so much: Aside from being more difficult to access, knee room is directly dependent on how tall the front seat-passengers are. Four 6-footers will not be amused, though there is ample head- and elbow room.
Like the interior, the exterior has some elements that make it stand out, namely the big chrome "Paceman" lettering across the rear hatch. This, Mini told us, is a first step toward creating some model identity. We get the feeling Mini's marketing has been designed to get customers into the showroom, where they'll then decide what Mini they want.
No Mistaking a Mini Paceman
Base price of the 2013 Mini Paceman is $23,900, which is about $1,200 more than a Countryman, though Mini says the Paceman has more standard equipment. The Paceman S is $27,500, and the S Paceman ALL4 is $29,200. There are, of course, a plethora of add-ons that can send the price to well over $30,000.
If the Paceman's goal is to provide more room than the Hardtop and be less soccer-mom-oriented than the Countryman, mission accomplished. But whether it will ultimately add much to Mini's bottom line is hard to gauge. It's a bigger, more useful version of the top-selling Hardtop, so that's good. Then again, the mini-ness of the original is often why it's so popular. Mini will soon find out if bigger is better when it comes to its fickle fan base.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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