MINI Introduces the PACEMAN

Gary S. Vasilash

While some OEMs talk about developing vehicles for the whitespace between segments, MINI is finding niches that others don’t seem to perceive.

Way back in 2002, MINI managers and marketers pulled out their spreadsheets and calculators and reckoned that in the U.S. market they’d be able to hit sales of 20,000 per annum.

Things didn’t go as planned.  Last year they sold 66,123.

Of course, they started with one model.  The Hardtop.  Which continues to top its sales.  Funny thing about that car, notes Patrick McKenna, MINI manager of Product Planning and Motoring Events (and clearly that’s a funny title, as well).  For a typical car, he –and this has to most certainly be the case for a car that (a) is small, (b) has a fanciful design, (c) is a two-door—says that it is usually described by a sales cycle that resembles an inverted V.  Year two is when it hits its apogee.  Then down it goes until it is gone from the market.

But for the second-gen Hardtop, the R56, something unusual happened.  The first year out, they sold 30,752 cars.  The second year, they hit the peak, at 36,888 units.  By 2009, it was down to 28,121.  But then the anomaly.  For 2010, 2011, and 2012, the sales were 29,658, 28,067, and 29,278.  In other words, the sales plateaued.

Convention was subverted.

Which probably made the people at BMW (which owns MINI) happy.  It probably made the people in Oxford, England, who produce the MINI happy.

Another slight subversion: the proliferation of models.  With the addition of the Paceman, the company now offers seven variants.

One more thing.  Not all of the MINIs are produced in England.  The Paceman (R61) and its platform mate, the Countryman (R60), are produced at the BMW plant in Steyr, Austria.

The Countryman (the fourth MINI iteration) is positioned as being something of what is in BMW-speak a “sports activity vehicle.”  Think of it as a small crossover vehicle.  Consequently, the Paceman, given what it is based on, is a “sports activity coupe.”  Two doors.

And while the two cars are close, there are dimensional differences, as well as the number of doors.  That is, the Paceman is 162.2 in. long, 70.3 in., wide, 59.9 in. high, and has a 102.2-in. wheelbase.  The wheelbase is the same for the Countryman.  But it is ever-so slightly different in terms of the other dimensions—161.8 in. long, 70.4 in. wide—with the exception of the height, which is 61.5 in.  Remember, the Paceman is designed to be coupe-like, so part of its design difference is a roofline that sweeps back and downward toward the standard rear spoiler.

The front end of the car is unmistakably MINI, with the upright hexagonal grille flanked by the large headlights that are pulled back into the front shoulders. Around back there is a change for MINI.  For one thing, the taillights have a horizontal orientation, not the vertical that is characteristic of the other models. For another thing, the letters PACEMAN are positioned just below the MINI badge; it is the first in the line-up to have a rear nameplate.                                

Inside the four-seater, the variations on a circle—including ellipses and arcs—abound.  A design change that MINI partisans will probably find as profound as the nameplate is that the window controls are located in the door trim, where the window controls are generally found in vehicles that aren’t MINIs. (Historically the switches are low on the centerstack.)  One interesting aspect of the interior is the positioning of the front seats, which are slightly elevated compared with those in the rear; the objective here is to provide greater outward visibility for those in the front.

Because this is an “activity coupe,” it is available with an all-wheel-drive system, ALL4.  This system uses an electromagnetic center differential.  Its control electronics are integrated with those of the car’s dynamic stability control system.  Depending on tractive conditions, it can send as much as 100% of the engines power to the rear wheels in milliseconds.  In ordinary conditions, the split is 50/50.

There are two transmissions—manual (standard) and automatic, both six-speeds.  There are two engines, or maybe that should be one engine, but one with a twin-scroll turbo and one without.  It is a 1.6-liter inline four.  The non-turbo for the Cooper develops 121 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm.  The turbo in the Cooper S develops 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque between 1,600 and 5,000 rpm.  That version that kicks in during hard acceleration that briefly boosts the torque to 192 lb-ft between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm.

And while the foregoing all holds, there is another version of the Paceman, one that is a limited-edition model: the John Cooper Works Paceman.  It, too, has a 1.6-liter inline four.  But its turbocharged engine produces 208 hp @ 6,000 rpm, and its ordinary torque output is 192 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm.  Use the Overboost and it kicks up to 207 lb-ft at between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm.  The suspension is lowered by 10 mm, and there are aero-effects abounding.

There will be 2,000 of these cars built.  Numbers 1 to 500 are destined for the U.S.