Mini Paceman Cooper S: A thoroughly modern Mini

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Photos by Catherine Pattison

Pulling up pretty much anywhere in the punchy-looking Paceman during our days together resulted in a small gaggle of admirers crowding round for a closer look.

Their common refrain: ''Is it really a Mini?''

Well, yes it is, but it is also a radical departure from the gawky but functional small cars our parents puttered around in during the 1960s. The two-door Paceman shucks off those cute curves and opts instead for a dramatically raked roofline and sports a square, toughened jaw in the front.

A dad dropping his daughter at kindergarten at the same time as me, remarked that his parents had bought one of the first Minis more than 50 years ago and he always remembered the wire baskets on the sides of the doors. Taking a peek inside the Paceman, he was struck by the interior's futuristic fit-out.

Running between the two front and two back seats is a two-part centre rail that houses a strip of lights that change colour every few seconds. Although I'm sure their disco-funky functionality is to highlight the way to get a seatbelt clip in, they doubled as ideal bribery tools for getting reluctant kids into the car.

While car seats did fit admirably into the back sport seats and the surprisingly roomy 330 litres of usable boot capacity (or 1080 litres with the rear seats folded) accommodated a week's worth of groceries, my hunch is that the Paceman is not really targeted towards those of us pottering from kindy to supermarket to home.

Its peppy 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and it crouches with intent over its 18-inch alloys. Producing a top power output of 135kW, with 240Nm of torque, the Paceman has the fun-to-pedal factor, more suited to those who don't have littlies in tow.

Tactile, responsive steering mitigated the rough ride quality on our region's coarse-chip roads.

A couple of clever design touches include a case for sunglasses between the front seats and dual cup holders up front and between the rear seats.

A retro round theme extends externally from the dual headlights, inside to the enormous speedometer, rev counter and fans. My only quibble was the controls for the air-conditioning system and the switches for traction control and sport suspension were tucked away, low down behind the gearstick, so that accessing them was slightly tricky.

While the kindy dad recalled his father forked out about £140 for his Mini back in the day, today's Paceman will set you back $53,500 without the options, which tack on another $5800 for leather, 19-inch wheels and a few more cosmetic enhancements.

Only the Cooper S variant is available in New Zealand and while the Paceman may well be filling just a small niche, it was a mighty nice, not-so mini Mini to hang out with.

Mini Paceman Cooper S: A thoroughly modern Mini
At a Glance
Mini Paceman Cooper S

From $53,500

For: More space and performance than the average Mini.
Against: Hard ride quality and difficult-to-reach switches.
Verdict: A fun big little car that will appeal to Mini lovers who want a roomier car with more power. 

Engine:
1588cc four-cylinder, twin-scroll turbocharged in-line petrol engine
Max power 135kWf @ 5500rpm
Max torque 240Nm @1600-5000rpm

Transmissions:
Six-speed manual

Brakes and Stability Systems:
ABS, DSC, DTC and EBC

Wheels, tyres:
Alloy wheels, 225/45 R18 tyres

Fuel and Economy:
Petrol, 6.1 litres per 100km on combined cycle
Capacity 47 litres

Dimensions:
Length 4115mm
Width 1786mm
Height 1522mm

RATING (4/5)