Update: A new Paceman has been unveiled at the Beijing auto show in April 2014.
The MINI Countryman has passed through our hands on numerous occasions.
The last one was in Munich last year, when we drove the John Cooper Works (JCW) All4 version.
So, when we took the Paceman from BMW Group Malaysia, it was with some degree of familiarity.
After all, this MINI is derived from the tall Countryman. But, with a Range Rover Evoque-style roofline plus other embellishments, this is a funky new model.
It’s not the sportiest, though; the JCW variants of the mainstream MINIs are.
So what are we to make of the Cooper S Paceman?
The stretched body suits the coupe-ish appearance, unlike the MINI Coupe which looks like a chopped-up oddity.
As a brand, MINI has diversified beyond what classic Mini designer Sir Alec Issigonis could have imagined.
The Clubman, Countryman and the Paceman are oxymoronic: they are by no means mini in size. One might label them maxi-mini to straddle the gap between small and biggish.
The Paceman, a 3-door hatch, is a little longer than the 5-door Countryman, but is slightly narrower and lower.
Buying a car is not always about making practical choices. Emotions come into play and the need to stand out can be a driving influence.
While it doesn’t offer the space and practicality of the Countryman, the Paceman is pitched at those looking for a car with Countryman-size, but with a more dashing stance and those who drive alone as many of us do.
The Paceman sets out to fill that perceived need.
The front end adopts the usual MINI look, but adds its own styling.
The big headlights with chrome surrounds sweeps into the front wings, and along with the contoured bonnet, emphasise the front end.
The Paceman features a large tailgate and a lounge concept interior, offering two full-size individual rear seats. All seats are semi-leather.
Unlike the vertical design bias of the Countryman, the Paceman is given a horizontal emphasis that accentuates the width of the car.
The rear nameplate adds to that effect and it’s even copied by the latest Countryman.
But unlike the Countryman, tail lights are laid horizontally to highlight the girth of the coupe form.
In Malaysia, the Paceman is available as a front-wheel drive car (such as this test unit) and a pricier all-wheel drive JCW Paceman.
The cabin is all MINI, but with newly designed surrounds for the air vents; large circular centre speedo, with matt-finished, ring-shaped borders in Carbon Black; surrounds for the central control panel in a contrasting colour; and three-dimensional door ellipses reaching into the rear compartment.
Ambient lighting adds to the trendy decor.
A centre aluminium railing runs from the front to the rear seats, making this a four-seater. The railing is akin to a mini bar where drinks can be placed on supplied cupholders and a casing for sunglasses.
The so-called rear lounge seats add elbow and arm rests for improved comfort.
While all seats offer good all-round support, the rakish roof makes sitting in the back snug with tight headroom, requiring some dexterity in getting in and out of the car.
Window buttons are now located on the door armrests, which is more intuitive and ergonomic compared to having it as toggle switches in the lower centre console as seen in all previous MINIs.
What isn’t intuitive is the Sport Mode switch, which is a reach literally, with the driver having to peer down at the bottom of the centre dash to see whether he’s flipping the right one to get the car in a boisterous state.
The optional glass roof stretches over to second row, but only the front section can be opened.
The fabric mesh cover does little to prevent light and gobs of heat to seep in on a hot day, so be sure the air-conditioning is in working order.
MINI Connected features include Radio MINI Visual Boost with 6.5” LCD Display, a MINI Connected app for the Apple iPhone, Facebook/Twitter connectivity and Mission Control which provides amusing and useful information from the vehicle’s sensors.
For example, Mission Control offers a fun way for the driver to learn about sustainable driving techniques.
The Cooper S Paceman is powered by the Prince turbocharged 1.6L petrol engine that is used across the MINI model line-up.
The engine produces 184bhp at 5,500rpm, with peak torque of 240Nm available between 1,600rpm and 5,000 rpm. An extra 20Nm is available at overboost.
Although the Paceman and Countryman share the same engine, the more streamlined Paceman is a tad faster (7.8s vs the Countryman’s 7.9s in the 0-100kph sprint) with a higher top speed (212kph vs 210kph).
The Paceman hugged the coast as we left Petaling Jaya for Lumut during an overnight test drive.Average fuel economy is rated at 7.5l per 100km and CO2 emissions at 175g per km.
The engine proved to be relatively zippy for a 1.4-tonne car, with power delivered linearly. Step progressively on the accelerator and the mill just keeps pouring on power without hesitation.
The six-speed auto is effective in connecting the power rapidly to the front wheels, so much so that the paddle shifters are but a gratuitous feature. But they are there, if you are inclined to use them.
Cornering and braking ability are impressive, and the car felt planted even at speeds through the bends, thanks to a tauter and lower chassis.
Flip to Sport mode for enhanced throttle and steering response. Oftentimes, many a car and wannabe-racers were left at the stop lights when we floored the go-pedal as we succumbed to juvenile outbursts.
The tiller felt meaty yet comfortable to handle during the 600km long trip.
Suspension is firm bordering on hard; a jarring sensation was felt every time the 19-inch wheels connected with potholes or hit a road hump.
The cabin tends to be overly noisy when the car travels over poorly surfaced roads. At other times, the interior offers a zone of calmness during the journey.
So gun to the head, what’s it to be?
The RM289,000 Cooper S Paceman shows itself to be a capable and competent car with a sense of style about it.
But it doesn’t quite deliver on the excitement that has come to be expected of a typical MINI.
When people talk about MINI, the inevitable imagery is still one of something smaller and more agile despite the fact the BMW sub-brand has evolved to offer maxi-mini cars.
The Cooper S Paceman is up for consideration if high style and a fair amount of MINI-ness performance is enough for you.
VIDEO EXTRA: MINI shows a clip on the Paceman exploring the beauty of China