"You take care of your life & family and we'll take care of your car."
Mini has become one of autodom's foremost illusionists, using essentially the same silk handkerchief and top hat to conjure up new tricks, each a variation on its predecessor, each a surprise. Since its 2002 revival, BMW's Mini subsidiary has expanded its model menu steadily, repurposing the basic elements. Thus the current lineup represents two versions of one basic front-drive architecture and three versions of one engine across a range of seven models, with more on the way.
The 2013 Mini Paceman is the latest addition to the family, and it's another indication that the product planners don't feel constrained by definitions. The dictionary says that mini refers to something small of its kind. The revivalist BMW Mini of 2002 was certainly small, but it was almost two feet longer, a foot wider, and nearly a thousand pounds heavier than the original Mini Cooper.
This may have mattered to purist devotees of the original 1960s Mini, but it didn't matter to those who flocked to the BMW sequel, a jaunty three-door hatchback that was distinctively cute and very entertaining to drive.
However, when BMW began expanding on the theme, literally, with Minis that weren't quite so mini, many of those who bought the three-door versions became purists in their own right, haughtily dismissing the variants as heresy. (The reaction is similar to the response of Porsche 911 owners to the company's introduction of the Cayenne SUV.)
By that reckoning, the Paceman could be viewed as one of the more heretical of the variants. It's based on the same foundations that support the five-door Countryman, Mini's version of a small scale crossover SUV, and while it's not quite as tall and has only three doors, it is nevertheless substantially bigger than the basic three-door hatchback, which is now known as the Mini Hardtop.
While this may provoke disdain from the latter day purists, to those who harbor no preconceptions the Paceman may well look like the perfect Mini. It successfully expands the dimensions of the basic Mini Hardtop without spoiling the smaller car's distinctive proportions, its front end styling is unmistakably Mini, the increased size yields a corresponding increase in interior volume, which pays off in a back seat that is actually habitable by people, rather than just parcels.
Another plus: like the Countryman, the Paceman offers the option of all-wheel drive (Mini calls its system All4), the only two Minis with this feature.
Other elements of the Paceman powertrains are tried and true. Engine choices boil down to a 1.6-liter 16-valve four-cylinder in three states of tune: naturally aspirated in the base version, turbocharged in the other two, sending power to the front wheels via either a 6-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic. The All4 option is offered only with the turbocharged engines.
Increased dimensions add up at the scales, and with a minimum curb weight of 2940 pounds, the non-turbo version of the 1.6-liter is a little anemic towing a Mini as big as the Paceman. The Paceman S gets a 181-horsepower turbocharged version of the engine, which generates enough thrust to produce respectable acceleration, and there's also the John Cooper Works (JCW) edition, raising the output ante to 208 horsepower for about $5000, roughly $158 per pony.
In addition to more interior volume, increasing the practicality index versus the basic Hardtop model, the Paceman's furnishings are high quality, and like the rest of the Mini family the inside story blends design elements from the 1960s with contemporary features such as navigation and contemporary telematics, as well as sporty bucket seats.
The latter day Mini has thrived on its brash individuality, but the trait that sustains its popularity is an exceptionally high fun-to-drive index. Although the Paceman weighs in about 400 pounds heavier than the smaller Hardtop, driver gratification is still a strong suit.