MINI's chubby coupe gets the JCW treatment. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The MINI Paceman JCW might be the most puzzling vehicle in MINI's line up but that doesn't mean that it's not a huge helping of fun. With 218bhp and all-wheel drive, how could it be anything but? It's expensive for what it is, but it's unlikely you're neighbours will have one.
How much is too much? That's a thought that constantly nags at me when I drive any MINI model that's not a standard hatch. It's not that I have some sort of fundamental disapproval of MINI broadening its product portfolio: it's just that sometimes the theming seems a bit forced. Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of the Paceman. A coupe version of the chunky Countryman, the Paceman has struggled for sales, being probably the most esoteric model in the current MINI range. It remains a car that's tough to make a coherent case for. In which case, it might well be best to forget any notion of practicality or sense and just throw as much power at the thing as possible, which is exactly what MINI has done with this version, the Paceman JCW. It's been given a refresh and now looks to convince you that not all in life needs to be about sensible shoes.
The fundamentals first. The Paceman JCW rides on MINI's four-wheel drive platform that they dub ALL4. This distributes drive flexibly between the front and rear axle by means of an electromagnetic centre differential. The engine is a 218PS four-cylinder two-litre turbo and it drives through a lovely Getrag six-speed manual transmission. If you really want to demonstrate that you've missed the point, you can even buy a Paceman JCW with an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. It'll scuttle to 62mph in 6.9 seconds, run out of impetus at 140mph and make a fantastic noise while doing so courtesy of its sports exhaust. All-wheel drive and a buzzy turbo petrol engine is a classic formula. It's Subaru Impreza Turbo, Ford Escort Cosworth, Lancia Delta Integrale, Audi S3 stuff. It ought to work for MINI and it does, the Paceman JCW punting its 1,475 kerb weight up the road with some alacrity. There's an overboost function that lifts peak torque to 300Nm between 2,100 and 4,500rpm for short periods such as when you're flat-out when overtaking. It handles well too, the slightly lower hip point afforded by the lowered suspension making it feel less of a handful than a Countryman. The Sport button increases the steering weighting, adds a few fireworks into the exhaust system, and the throttle sharpens markedly. You probably won't go any faster, but it'll feel quicker.
Design and Build
MINI has given the Paceman's styling a bit of a work over, with this JCW model getting a horizontal radiator grill rib in red, with the John Cooper Works logo positioned on the honeycomb pattern. The aggressively sloped roof continues as before but now, there's piano black exterior trim around the lights, on the A-pillars and on the front wheel arches and radiator grille. The JCW is also offered with a contrasting Chilli Red roof. Twin-spoke burnished black 18-inch alloy wheels and LED fog lights including parking and daytime LED driving lights are also fitted as standard. The interior carries on much as before, with some additional work having gone into soundproofing this latest model. The highlight is the unusual rear seat, which has been styled around a 'lounge concept'. That might be over-egging it a bit but you do get two individual chairs with armrests integrated into the rear trim. A two-section version of the MINI Centre Rail storage and attachment system - first seen in the Countryman - comes as standard. Buttons for the windows, which have been toggle switches below the speedometer on every MINI to date, have moved to the door trim panel. A strict four-seater, the Paceman nevertheless has a practical element. Folding down the rear seats expands the rear load-carrying capacity from 330-litres to a maximum of 1,080-litres. Access is via a large and high-opening tailgate, offering welcome utility for owners who have already deliberately chosen the less practical option open to them.
Market and Model
The asking price for the manual Paceman JCW is just under the £30,000 mark - or just over it if you go for the automatic. To put that figure into some sort of perspective, Volkswagen asks just over £30,000 for its 300PS all-wheel drive Golf R and Subaru's equally potent WRX STI retails at around £29,000. The Paceman JCW is clearly off the pace if it were put up against these two powerhouses, so one has to ponder who would buy one and why? I suppose the answer to that question is someone who loves the MINI brand and the quirky interior but wants something with a bit more space than a hatch and values the inclusion of all-wheel drive. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, MINI Centre Rail between the front seats and a high-end radio system comprising CD player with MP3 capability, AUX-in socket, DAB radio, Bluetooth, five speakers and rear Park Distance Control. The Paceman's sibling vehicle, the Countryman, achieved a five-star EuroNCAP safety score and this JCW Paceman gets a solid raft of safety kit that includes daytime driving light as well as tyre pressure control on each individual tyre. Constant measurement of pressure means that the driver is given an early warning of potential loss in each tyre. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) including Electronic Differential Lock Control (ELDC) is also a standard fit item. As always with MINI, personalisation is sure to be very popular and there is an extensive choice of bonnet stripes, upholstery variants, interior surfaces and Colour Lines.
Cost of Ownership
Cost of ownership is a mixed proposition. The impressive residual figures should be taken with a dose of salt as they rarely factor in the option packs that most buyers choose. On any vehicle of this price, depreciation is always the big ticket item and the Paceman is no exception, but it should fare better than the class norm. MINI has worked at improving the car's efficiency with a comprehensive raft of measures dubbed MINIMALISM and which include Brake Energy Generation, Auto Start/Stop, Shift Point Display, Electric Power Steering and demand-based ancillaries such as the alternator. The result is some reasonable fuel economy and emissions figures. This JCW model returns a combined fuel economy figure of some 39.8mpg and the emissions of 165g/km aren't at all bad; certainly better than the 242g/km you'd get if you went for the more old-school vibe of a Subaru WRX STI.
Again, the MINI Paceman has us scratching our heads and wondering what the point is. That's not to say that the JCW model doesn't make a pleasant ownership proposition; any car this quick and capable that comes with such modest running costs has to be taken seriously. It's just that when put up against something like a Volkswagen Golf R, the Paceman JCW seems a triumph of style over substance and there are many who would contend that there's not enough of the former attribute to make it worthwhile. Let's look at the positives. It's different and it's well-engineered. It drives well and is cost-effective to run. It's packed with safety kit and this facelifted version is a better-looking thing than before, so what we have here is a fundamentally good car that's been priced beyond its talent level. Negotiate a discount on one and suddenly this most quirky of coupes makes all kinds of sense.