Sometimes the most rewarding times behind the wheel are when you start your journey with no expectation. This was brought to my attention after a chance opportunity to test a Paceman Cooper S came my way. Such was the enjoyment experienced I want to give the game away right at the start; the Paceman Cooper S was fantastic! Now to explain why.
To some the Paceman is a bit of an oddball proposition, and while I quite like the look I can understand why some people will never warm to it.
Inside it’s the usual MINI fare, albeit with a bit more space than is the norm. That’s not to say there’s plenty of space to spare—there’s not—but the Paceman does offer more practicality than the regular hardtop. Certainly, the driver and passenger won’t be wanting for more room and while there is an improvement in rear seat legroom it’s no limousine back there. Rear headroom, too, is compromised by the Paceman’s sleek roofline. Most passengers will make do, but if you’re well over six foot make sure you shotgun the front seat.
Similarly, the boot is much bigger than we’re accustomed to for a MINI, but again, it’s not going to be a class leader.
Around town I was surprised, amazed in fact, at the ride quality. The test car was fitted with 19” alloys wrapped in Pirelli run flat tyres and was running sports suspension as well. Except for extreme bumps on the road that would upset any car the Paceman Cooper S was never harsh and rode with a smoothness and surety that MINI’s engineers can be justifiably proud.
Okay, the Paceman Cooper S is not perfect, with its taller ride height it will get a bit floaty the more you demand of it. This is especially the case at higher speeds. But if you drive the car within its limits you’ll be amazed at what it can do, rather than what it can’t.
I was forced into accepting this conclusion after dealing with the Paceman’s 6-speed automatic transmission. While it would be easy to bemoan its inconsistent results in manual mode while exploring the car’s limits, that would deny its perfectly acceptable qualities in most other circumstances. Off the line the 1405kg Paceman Cooper S is swift and leaves nothing wasted, the transition through the gears is smooth. Even throttle response is better than you might expect. You get the feeling every one of the 135kW and all of the 240Nm of torque offered from the 1.6 litre turbo four are waiting for your right foot to snap them into action.
Back to the auto transmission, the ability to quickly switch into manual mode using the steering wheel paddles is one worth using as required. Although, I dislike the setup that requires a thumb push back to drop down a gear, it just doesn’t feel right and is counter intuitive to the way you hold the wheel. Of course, you get used to it with time, but I didn’t like it.
When Sport mode is activated if you leave the auto to its own devices it generally reacts well. Kick down is not overly harsh or slow to arrive and upshifts are timed just right more often than not.
The Paceman Cooper S turns in well, its steering is sharp and late adjustments, within reason, won’t send you into the bushes. Although, it’s worth noting the more natural steering feel experienced in the default setting works much better than the heavier and artificial feeling discovered in Sport mode. Like its more credentialed hardtop sibling you can trail brake the Paceman quite deep into corners without ruining your day. In fact the brakes have a nice progressive feel to them, which adds to the car’s impressive list of talents.
No review of a MINI can ignore its pricing. And this heavily optioned Paceman Cooper S carried a price tag on the wrong side of $60,000. As I always say, buying a MINI is an emotional rather than a rational decision. If you make your decisions from the head you will find more compelling options out there. But if you are willing to let your heart decide I’d be surprised if two or three years later you regretted your choice.
To conclude I have to take you back behind the wheel. You need to drive the Paceman within its limits, which can be found with a degree of composure. So long as you don’t overestimate its abilities you’ll be rewarded by the Paceman’s surprisingly capable chassis. MINIs have always been about the driving experience and while the Paceman Cooper S might not look like what people expect from a MINI, it sure does drive like a MINI. And, most importantly, it was a lot of fun.
Thank you to Rolfe Classic MINI Garage for their assistance.