The Mini Cooper Paceman does not look like a typical small cross/utility vehicle. It has two doors instead of four, and it smacks you in the face with its styling rather than blending in with the scenery.

Like the humor of Britain’s Monty Python comedy troupe of the 1970s, the design is provocative, deliberately offbeat and not for everyone.

It is based on the auto maker’s popular 4-door Countryman CUV, but aimed at a more affluent, style-conscious consumer: A buyer who wants something sporty but needs a bigger vehicle than the pint-sized 2-door Mini Cooper hardtop.

To underscore its nonconformist bent, one of Mini’s new advertising tag lines is, “Why be normal?”   

Why indeed. Mini has been dumbfounding critics in the U.S. since 2002. That’s when it first introduced the tiny Mini Cooper hardtop to American roads when giant SUVs ruled.

Most observers thought the B-car was too small and pricey for the U.S. Initially, the brand was hoping for 20,000 sales annually, says Mini USA sales spokesman David Duncan. Instead, the car was an instant hit and so far has spawned six variants based on two platforms, and more are coming. 

Mini sold a record 66,000 vehicles last year and predicts continued incremental gains for the foreseeable future, thanks to the addition of the Paceman, a commercial-van version of the Clubman, the John Cooper Works GP (a special limited-edition Mini hardtop) and another low-volume model.

The small-car segment is the largest it has been in the U.S. since 1993, and overall, U.S. buyers are very concerned about fuel economy, one of Mini’s strongest selling points, says Patrick McKenna, manager-product planning and motoring events. Mini currently has 115 U.S. dealers and will add 15 more this year, he says.

Even so, Paceman sales expectations are modest. McKenna says the hardtop and Countryman accounted for 75% of deliveries last year, and the Paceman is expected to share the remaining 25% of the sales pie with the other seven Mini models available this year.

WardsAutohas learned that down the road, U.S. Minis will be offered with BMW’s new 1.5L 3-cyl. engine as the most fuel-efficient option. A small BMW diesel engine also is expected to be offered on the CUV platform.

Even though the Paceman is based on the Countryman, Product Manager Chris Potgieter emphasizes the CUV is not just a Countryman with two doors.

The most notable design feature is the wedge shape created by the roof raking steeply downward from the A-pillar while the beltline rises sharply for a sportier look than the Countryman. The rear taillights and other styling cues also are significantly different.

Inside are two relatively wide rear seats and restyled door panels that provide what Mini calls a “lounge atmosphere.” 

The standard Paceman comes with a sport suspension, adding to the performance-oriented image. Like the Countryman, all-wheel drive is available.   

Primary competitors are the Nissan Juke, which also pushes the styling envelope and starts at about $20,000. Mini says the other prime competitor is the luxurious Range Rover Evoque Coupe, which has a base price around $45,000.

Paceman prices range from $23,900 for the 121-hp front-wheel-drive base model to $36,200 for the AWD John Cooper Works version, including $700 dealer delivery charges. Options easily take the JCW model past $40,000.

WardsAutodrove FWD and AWD versions of the 181-hp Cooper S Paceman at the press launch earlier this year, plus we recently tested the JCW version on the pothole-infested streets of metro Detroit as part of our Ward’s 10 Best Interiors testing.

Mini’s 1.6L turbocharged Prince engine has not changed much since it won a Ward’s 10 Best Engines award in 2011, and that is not a bad thing. It sounds good, produces a hefty 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) of torque beginning at just 1,600 rpm and gets excellent fuel economy of 26/32 mpg (9.0-7.4 L/100 km) city/highway, beating both the Juke and Evoque.

The JCW version is even better, making 208 hp and 207 lb.-ft. (280 Nm) of torque with only a slight fuel-economy penalty.

The boosted Paceman gets high marks for its strong performance and precise handling but also proves itself a good commuter in inclement weather. The ride, while firm, is less bone-jarring on rough pavement than car-based Mini models. The FWD Cooper S accelerates to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.9 seconds, with AWD adding just 0.3 seconds to acceleration. The JCW version is slightly faster.

Overall, traditional Mini fans will find the CUV less nimble than car-based Minis, due to the bigger, heavier CUV platform: almost 3,000 lbs. (1,361 kg), or 3,210 lbs. (1,456 kg) with AWD.

However, the auto maker says the main reason consumers do not buy a Mini is because it simply is not big enough. The Countryman and Paceman solve that issue. Since its introduction, the Countryman has become Mini’s second most popular vehicle after the Cooper hardtop.  

We did not test the naturally aspirated model, but it surely is less fun, with a 0-60 time of 9.7 seconds and only 114 lb.-ft. (155 Nm) of torque, especially when compared with the base Juke sporting 188 hp and 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) with similar heft.

The Evoque coupe is equipped with an even stouter 2.0L turbo engine that makes 240 hp and 251 lb.-ft. (340 Nm), but the vehicle weighs 3,900 lbs. (1,770 kg). Even though its engine is the strongest of the three, its additional bulk holds acceleration to 60 mph to 7.1 seconds, a tad slower than the Paceman.

Inside,WardsAuto testers are impressed with the Paceman’s build quality and excellent fit and finish. A new interior door-panel design includes window controls on the armrest. This will please shoppers new to the brand, yet irritate Mini aficionados, who expect window switches to be in the traditional location on the center stack.

The quality of the interior materials and finishes is first rate, and the nicely textured instrument panel cover receives lots of compliments. The brown, lounge-leather upholstery gets especially high marks.

On the downside, our taller editors find the rear seat a bit cramped and the thimble-like human-machine interface awkward to use. And, nice as it is, few see the Paceman’s interior seriously challenging the lavish cabin of the Range Rover Evoque, a 2012 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors winner.

Worst of all, the $47,000 price tag on our totally loaded JCW loaner for Ward’s 10 Best Interiors testing is tough for even the most ardent Mini fan to swallow.

Despite the quibbles, several editors pronounce the Paceman their favorite Mini. It’s big enough to be a practical daily driver yet designed to stand out. What’s more, a nicely equipped Cooper S Paceman can be had for well under $30,000.

As Monte Python’s Eric Idle sang in a famous scene we’d rather not describe here: “Always look on the bright side of life.” The Mini Paceman helps us do just that.

 

’13 Mini Paceman
Vehicle type Front-engine, FWD 4-passenger, 2-door small CUV
Engine 1.6L turbo gasoline direct-injection DOHC 4-cyl.
Power 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) @ 1,600-5000 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 77 X 85.8
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Transmission 6-speed MT
Wheelbase 102.2 ins. (259.5 cm)
Overall length 161.8 ins. (411 cm)
Overall width 70.3 ins. (178.6 cm)
Overall height 59.9 ins. (152 cm)
Curb weight 2,940 lbs. (1,334 kg)
Base price $26,800
Fuel economy 26-32 mpg city/hwy (9.4-7.1 L/100 km)
Competition Range Rover Evoque; Nissan Juke
Pros Cons
Precise handling Exterior design
Punchy, efficient engine Pricey options
Exterior design Tight back seat