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A Fun Slant on Driving

2013 MINI Paceman

It’s never not been fun driving a MINI, but I have to admit I was a little nervous this time around. I’d only seen the new MINI Paceman in photographs, and that roofline looked just too low for a six-foot-tall guy to comfortably get into without chiropractic help.

But when I arrived at Towne MINI last Saturday (in a drenching rainstorm) I was pleasantly surprised to find that the slanted roofline, while really there, is a bit of an optical illusion. While the roof has a definite rearward downturn, the bottoms of the side windows have a rearward upturn, giving the Paceman that chopped look from the pages of a 1950s Hot Rod magazine.

When I opened the door, I slid right in and was greeted with tons of headroom, even with the optional sunroof (often a gobbler of head space, especially in small cars). Everything looked familiar: the huge speedometer located in the center of the dash, the tachometer squarely in front of me, and the one gripe I have about MINI dashboards, the low HVAC controls. Even with my long-ish arms it’s quite a reach to adjust the temperature or change the direction of the interior airflow. I imagine that over time you get used to where everything is, but it’s always going to be a long reach.

There’s another little lever down there among the low-hanging HVAC knobs and dials: the sport driving mode control. I’ve experienced this on other cars, where the differences were rather subtle; but when I set the switch to the “on” position, there was an instant change in how the car drove. Everything seemed to respond quicker—the throttle, the steering. On those back roads of Clarence it was just the ticket. Now if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business of writing-up test drives over the years, it’s the unwritten code that says if you’re reporting about a MINI, you simply must mention its “go-kart handling.” So there, I’ve said it. But only because, well, it handles like a go-kart. A go-kart in sport mode, yet.

I mentioned the front seats, and the relative ease of getting in, but you should also know that the back seats (there are two—one for each passenger) are also habitable. It won’t be easy (for the driver or the left rear seat passenger) for anyone climbing in the back if the driver’s seat is occupied, but that goes for many two-door cars. And as small as the Paceman is, there’s still a luggage compartment behind the rear seats capable of holding the weekly shopping or the weekend’s going-away bags. A large opening hatch at the rear makes for easy loading.

The base Paceman comes equipped with a 1.6-liter, 121-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, attached to a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic, like that on the test car, is available for an additional $1,250. Standard is front-wheel-drive; an all-wheel-drive system is also available, just like that of the four-door Countryman, on which the Paceman is based. There are also Cooper S, Cooper All 4, and John Cooper Works variants of the Paceman available. The base test car’s pricing started at $23,200. It was also equipped with the cold weather package ($750—heated power folding mirrors, heated washer jets, heated front seats); the premium package ($1,250—sunroof, auto rain sensor, auto headlights, auto a/c); metallic paint ($500), and a front seat center armrest ($250). I guess I have a problem paying almost $28,000 for a car and finding out the armrest was that much extra.

But the gripes are small, while the fun factor is large. As always.

More info at:

Jim Corbran, Automotive columnist for Artvoice. Read You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and check the YAK blog daily on AV Daily.

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