Amazing But Beware
Steve Schaefer, Thu, 20 Mar 2014 02:23:36 PDT
The Paceman, MINI's new three-door hatchback, is based on the Countryman four-door small crossover SUV. The Countryman arrived several years ago, and is a slightly larger car built in Graz, Austria, instead of in England, the home of Minis since their birth in 1959. The Paceman drops two doors, and sacrifices some practicality, but it retains that handy hatchback.
I hungered to test a Paceman, but my week with the new MINI was not entirely blissful, as fine as the car is.
For one thing, the Paceman is significantly larger than the familiar hardtop. It's 5.4 inches longer, 5.5 inches higher, and 4 inches wider, on a 5.1-inch larger wheelbase. It weighs 400 pounds more, too. So, you can't expect as nimble handling as the original hatchback.
My tester had the turbocharged engine, as a Cooper S, so there were 181 horses on tap. I think the 121-horsepower standard engine might be a bit overworked in this 2,940-pound vehicle. My test vehicle had an automatic transmission, which, while quick and efficient, was not as much fun as rowing through the gears of a manual.
The EPA gives the Paceman with turbo engine and automatic a rating of 23 City, 30 Highway, or 26 mpg overall. I averaged 25.2 mpg, surprisingly close to the EPA's number. The green scores are 5 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas, better than average, but not as good as the hardtop, which boasts 6 for Smog and 8 for Greenhouse Gas, along with 29 City, 37 Highway, 32 Combined fuel economy with a manual.
MINI's quick steering and feeling of control were all there, but I discovered a few annoyances, too. With the car's upright windshield, the regular sunvisor covers just the front section of the side window. However, the special left side visor MINI supplies shades only about an extra inch or two of window. Also, I was unable to fold the rear seats flat. My bass fit in there fine, but if I were sliding boxes in it would be disappointing.
MINI interiors are fun to look at and well made, but sometimes frustrating to use. I do enjoy flipping the toggle switches for things like the lights and sunroof, but the playful, Disney-inspired cockpit puts lots of tiny buttons low on the center panel. You have to look away from the road to use them.
There's a little joy stick controller in the floor-mounted center console for selecting radio stations or making climate control adjustments in the dash information panel. The huge, 8-inch-diameter center-mounted speedometer, to accommodate this info panel, floats it awkwardly in the center of the gauge.
On a curving back road on a Saturday afternoon, it's bliss. In commute traffic, the taller and bigger Paceman is more comfortable and has more road presence. Flip the Sport button and the steering tightens up, the shifts are delayed, and you feel even more like you're piloting a sports car.
I slammed my hand in the door one night. I later figured out that the window and interior panels are one size, but the door cut from the outside features a wide swath of two metal panels only. It tricked me.
MINI's philosophy of being "different" means you can customize your car extensively. Not only can you add stuff, but you can choose between options at no additional cost. So, besides picking different engines, transmissions, two- or all-wheel Drive and interior and exterior colors, you can select different seat fabrics, order contrasting or body-color mirrors and roof, put the Union Jack on your mirrors, add chrome trim inside and/or outside, and even change the color of your turn signal lenses.
But be careful of checking too many boxes on the order sheet. My Paceman came to $39,800. How did it get to that astounding figure? Isn't that the price of a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz?
The base price of a Paceman starts at $24,000, including shipping. That seems pretty reasonable, especially with the smaller hardtop beginning at $20,400. The turbo S model is $27,800. Adding all-wheel drive pushes it to $29,300.
The additional $10,500 comes from the Starlight Blue paint, leather interior, Cold Weather Package, Navigation System with Bluetooth, 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, Xenon headlamps, Satellite Radio, harmon/kardon premium sound system and those white turn signal lenses.
My own Paceman would include the turbo engine (S level), Satellite Radio (a virtual necessity) and the Navigation/Bluetooth system. I'd skip the all-wheel drive and the rest. That would be a $30,000 MINI, which is much more like it.
MINI is successful, and growing, and there's much fun to be had, but try to restrain yourself when you peruse the option list, and be careful when you slam the door.