WHEELS

Mini Cooper Paceman S All4: a car too ambitious, a road too bumpy

The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 is a small hatchback/station wagon, but it fails to live up to what one expects of a hatchback or station wagon.
Mini Cooper
The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 is a small hatchback/station wagon, but it fails to live up to what one expects of a hatchback or station wagon.
Posted June 16, 2013, at 7:41 a.m.
Warren Brown
Warren Brown

CORNWALL, N.Y. — The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 is a weird automobile — a small hatchback/station wagon masquerading as a sports coupe but failing in several respects where we’d want a hatchback or station wagon to succeed.

As a sports coupe it excels on well-maintained, dry paved surfaces — showing surprising gusto for something equipped with a tiny 1.6-liter turbocharged in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine — bringing smiles to the face under the right driving conditions.

But it has a short wheelbase — a center-line distance of 102.2 inches from the front to the rear wheels. It also has an admirably tight body and suspension, both perfect for racetrack handling, especially with a brake system that allows pinwheel turns via braking and turning simultaneously.

And, as supplied for this column, it rides atop optional 18-inch-diameter wheels shod with run-flat rubber, the kind of tires you’d want if you ran across a sharp spike and needed to drive another 50 miles or so to reach a repair station.

Run-flat tires, under development since the early 1930s by leading tire manufacturers such as France’s Michelin, are good at that sort of thing. Even when deflated, they can support your car long enough at speeds up to 55 mph to get you to safe harbor.

But the combination of run-flats on a car with a tight suspension and short wheelbase — on pitted, grooved and grievously pockmarked road surfaces, which seem to be common fare in the northeastern United States — is something akin to torture.

You could be a member of the tea party or the most loyal servant of the Internal Revenue Service. Ideology does not matter. After 700 miles of driving in the Cooper S Paceman All4 over jarringly rough roads, you’d be ready to endorse any national infrastructure repair plan the Obama administration came up with.

We — my wife, Mary Anne, and I — thought we had mistakenly adjusted the Paceman to its “sports” suspension setting. It comes with two — there’s also the presumably more comfortable “normal.” But for most of the journey, it turns out, we were getting brutalized on “normal.”

We were so whipped at the end of our meandering road trip, we sat on the front porch of our family home here and just stared at the Paceman S All4, grateful that it got us here, marveling over the exciting drive it provided on good roads, happy that we wouldn’t have to drive it again anytime soon.

And we were puzzled.

We’ve owned a front-wheel-drive Mini Cooper hatchback coupe for nearly nine years. We’ve been mostly happy with the thing, with the exception of a persistent roof rattle and surprisingly high costs for what we thought were routine repairs. Despite Mini irritations, we seriously are considering buying another.

The Mini is like that. It is more religion than car. Once you are smitten, you sort of stay that way.

But the Paceman S All4 is off our list. It is long enough (13 feet 6 inches) to be considered a small wagon, or even a reasonably commodious hatchback. But interior space is cluttered by Mini’s attempt to make the Paceman S All4 a small car for all people — a sports coupe with luxury pretensions, a carryall, a speed racer. Yehh!

My humble advice to Mini would be to choose one. The Paceman S All4 works beautifully as a little speed racer, on good roads. It is lousy as a carryall. It seats only four people, compared with seats for five in most cars its size. And with its split rear seats, it provides an uncomfortable ride for a long-bodied dog such as a chocolate Labrador.

We remain in the hunt for a Mini replacement — but not this one.

Bottom line: The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 is a fine little car for young, fit bodies more interested in speed and handling than they are in family transportation. On good roads, it runs with the best of them. Just keep it on good roads.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The ride is horrible on anything but the smoothest surfaces. Acceleration and handling are surprisingly good on good roads.

Head-turning quotients: It is a neck-snapper supreme — turned heads everywhere. Mini’s designers get kudos for this snazzy design.

Body style/layout: The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 essentially is an elongated version of the Mini Cooper hatchback coupe. It is a front-engine car available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Trim iterations include Base, S and S All4.

Engines/transmissions: The Paceman S All4 comes standard with a turbocharged (forced air) 1.6-liter, 16-valve in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing (181 horsepower, 177 pound-feet of torque). The engine is mated to a standard six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually is optional.

Capacities: There are seats for four people. Maximum cargo capacity is 16.5 cubic feet with all seats in place. The fuel tank holds 12.4 gallons of gasoline (premium unleaded is required).

Mileage: We got 31 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; and front and rear head air bags.

Prices: The base price on the 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman S All4 is $28,500. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $26,220. Price as tested is $36,200, including $4,750 in options (onboard navigation, power operated double-pane glass roof, premium sound system and a host of other items) and a $700 factory-to-dealer transportation fee. Dealer’s price as tested is $33,360.

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