2013 MINI Paceman John Cooper Works: We Ask 'Why?'

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2013 MINI John Cooper Works Paceman ALL4, New York City

2013 MINI John Cooper Works Paceman ALL4, New York City

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Every once in a while, we end up driving a car that leaves us utterly confused.

The 2013 MINI Cooper Paceman John Cooper Works ALL4 we drove for a day last week is one such vehicle.

It's striking, but far less functional than the MINI Countryman from which it's derived.

The handling is decent, but hardly a cut above every other hot hatch on the market.

It's small, but doesn't get particularly good gas mileage. The EPA rates it at 26 mpg combined with the automatic we had (27 mpg with a six-speed manual).

Over 132 miles, mostly above 50 mph, we got 26.6 mpg according to the Paceman's trip computer.

And it's shockingly, breathtaking expensive: $45,000 for the one we tested.

Which leaves us asking, Who exactly is this car meant to appeal to?

Fewer doors, less practical

The 2013 MINI Paceman is essentially a coupe version of the MINI Countryman. The Countryman is a crossover that's a whole car class larger than the classic "new" MINI Cooper sold here in two generations since 2001.

A MINI product executive told us years ago that the MINI Countryman would be the car that turned MINI profitable in the States.

And, frankly, we understand the Countryman: It's a subcompact crossover, with optional all-wheel drive, that takes the MINI brand into more practical, family-friendly territory than its previous lineup of hot-hatch minicars and convertibles.

It's far less clear, however, that families (or anyone else) were lining up at MINI dealers saying, "Gosh, if only there were a less practical Countryman with fewer doors, then we'd sign the papers today!"

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman ALL4

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman ALL4

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Two-person hot hatch?

We see a fair number of Countrymen on the roads; we've yet to see more than a single Paceman, aside from our own.

It's a four-seater, with the rear seat containing a hard piece in the middle that prevents anyone sitting there. The rear space is tight, though once they get in, two adults could sit back there. If they had to. For a short while.

But for all intents and purposes, this is a subcompact three-door hatchback that's better used by two people who keep the rear seat folded flat.

It's fairly tall, seats two comfortably, has MINI styling, and--especially with the optional John Cooper Works performance, suspension, and styling upgrades--competes in the hot-hatch category.

Arguably, it might be compared to the Fiat 500 Abarth minicar, the MazdaSpeed 3 compact hatchback, and the compact Volkswagen GTI, (the grandaddy of hot hatches in this country).

The MINI Paceman offers optional all-wheel drive, which none of those other models do.

Likes & dislikes

Lest we seem to be overly negative, there were a few things we liked about our test car:

  • Our black-and-red Paceman attracted attention, and although it's unconventionally shaped, we rather liked its aggressive look.
  • The seating position is upright, so the Paceman doesn't feel small.
  • The gauge and switch placement is better than in other MINIs. (That's not saying much, since the MINI approach to ergonomics is apparently to toss every switch or dial over the stylist's shoulder, and install them wherever they land.)

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman ALL4

2013 MINI Cooper S Paceman ALL4

Enlarge Photo

Then there's the rest:

  • The interior surfaces are almost uniformly hard plastic, which is fine in a $20,000 car but ...
  • The large wheels and low-profile tires made the car skitter disturbingly on broken pavement, of which New York and New Jersey have their fair share.
  • Try as we might, we couldn't find a USB port in 5 minutes of looking, so we gave up.
  • The central speedometer, a stylistic nod to 1959, was useless--we just focused on the numeric speed displayed inside the tachometer in front of the driver.
  • Our MINI Paceman had a bottom-line sticker price of $44,900. No, that's not a typo: This is a $45K subcompact car.

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