The Mini Paceman is a new three-door version of the Countryman that's been extensively restyled to give it a sportier look.
The Paceman sits closer to the road and is fractionally lighter than Countryman, while the suspension has been retuned to deliver more responsive handling.
The model range includes the 184bhp Cooper S tested here, the 143bhp diesel SD and the 112bhp standard diesel.
Mini is aiming the Paceman at buyers who like the style and sportiness of the standard Mini hatch, but need more rear space.
The restyle is pretty extensive compared with the Countryman; the two cars share the same bluff-fronted nose, but the Paceman's roof and tailgate are noticeably more raked, giving it a look that's reminiscent of the three-door Range Rover Evoque.
The Mini Paceman's raked roof makes it look decidedly Range Rover Evoque-esque
The Paceman's roofline is four centimetres lower than the Countryman's – in part because the whole car sits one centimetre closer to the ground – although Mini says that there’s only a one centimetre reduction in headroom to achieve this rakish look.
Mechanically the new car is identical to the Countryman apart from the lowered suspension and its retuned springs and dampers.
We drove a disguised prototype model ahead of the Paceman's winter 2012 on-sale date.
What's the 2012 Mini Paceman like to drive
A back-to-back drive with a Countryman Cooper S instantly revealed the Paceman’s more agile handling and firmer ride. Ordering it with the biggest alloys on offer is probably not a good idea, given that they’ll make it even stiffer.
The Paceman corners a little more consistently than the Countryman; its steering is less prone to suddenly turning light mid-bend, and there's less body roll.
That said, if it’s excellent handling you’re after, the smaller Mini hatch is more accomplished.
The Paceman corners well, but the Mini hatchback is more fun to drive
In other respects the Paceman Cooper S is much the same as the Countryman Cooper S; the 1.6 turbo engine takes too long to come alive below 1500rpm, but delivers brisk acceleration beyond that.
The gearchange is a little stiff and visibility to the rear is limited due to the shallow rear window.
Wind noise is surprisingly prominent at 60mph+, but for all its faults, there’s no denying the Paceman’s quirky charm – especially because it comes in a wrapper far more attractive than the Countryman.
What's the 2012 Mini Paceman like inside?
The Paceman’s interior is identical to the Countryman’s up front, save for the much longer doors, which are rather cumbersome to handle if the car is on a slope.
In the back you’ll find a pair of individual bucket seats with Mini’s aluminium accessory rail threading between them.
Getting in isn’t too difficult with the tilt-and-slide front seats, but reversing the process is more of a challenge. Rear space is adequate unless you’re over six foot, and the boot is as confined as it is in the Countryman.
Despite the raked roof, rear headroom is adequate for all but those over six foot
The Countryman’s somewhat scattered controls are slightly improved following the migration of the electric window switches and central locking control to the doors from the centre console, but the geography of this quirkily appealing cabin still takes some learning.
The standard of finish is good but not great, with too much hard plastic compared with a VW Scirocco.
Should I buy one?
Many will love the distinctive style of this new Mini variant, and jump at the chance to have the sporty three-door look in combination with a roomier interior.
The trouble is, the Paceman is neither as good to drive, nor as refined, as the standard Mini hatch, and it will cost significantly more than the Countryman despite the lower door count. You have to pay for its style.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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