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2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman review: Mini trades its soul for cabin comfort

At 600 pounds heavier and more than a foot longer than the standard Mini hatchback, the new Paceman model features a roomier cabin but loses the handling capabilities that made its smaller sibling so much fun.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
10 min read

As I swooped the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman into turn after turn, window open so I could hear the tires sing their tortured song, the car repeatedly admonished me about "Dangerous cornering." At first I thought it was a compliment, but it was apparently too much excitement for the Driving Excitement feature in the Mini Connected app.


2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

The Good

The Mini Connected app brings many informative and fun connected features in to the <b>2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman</b>. The turbocharged engine delivers a good mix of economy and power. The Paceman retains Mini's unique styling language.

The Bad

The Paceman gains size and weight, sacrificing Mini's go-kart handling. The navigation system uses an odd color scheme and has limited zoom levels. The Mini Connected app only works on the iPhone.

The Bottom Line

A stylish and easy-driving car with many fun connected features, the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman works fine for mundane driving, but enthusiasts should stick to its smaller sibling.

The Mini Connected app is one of the coolest features of the Paceman, combining Google local search, Web radio, social media, and a unique connection to the car for driving enthusiasts.

However, for the Paceman, the app might have been right about the cornering warnings. Where the standard Mini hatchback was lauded from its 2001 launch for its go-kart handling, the Paceman sacrifices that attribute in favor of size. The new Paceman model, introduced at last year's Paris Motor Show, follows the lead of the plump Countryman model in its larger dimensions.

The Cooper S Paceman, Mini's bigger coupe (pictures)

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Despite only having two doors, like the standard Mini hatchback, the Paceman comes in 4 inches wider and taller than its coupe sibling, and 1 foot 3 inches longer. It seems odd that Mini would create a new model with the same basic layout of another car in its lineup, but the Paceman seems to be aimed at potential buyers turned off by the other model's small size.

The cabin of the Paceman certainly feels larger than that of the hatchback model, but despite the increased size, Mini opted for two bucket seats in the rear rather than a bench, limiting it to four passengers.

Occupancy control might be Mini's strategy to ensure that the Paceman retains some performance. This new model weighs almost 600 pounds more than the hatchback, yet relies on the same engine. Throughout the Mini lineup, all Cooper models get a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, while the Cooper S models get the much more efficient and powerful turbocharged direct-injection 1.6-liter engine.

With that engine, the Cooper S Paceman gets 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. I wouldn't bother with the non-S Paceman, as its 122-horsepower engine would likely struggle to achieve any kind of acceleration. Like the Countryman, Mini offers its All4 all-wheel-drive system on the Paceman, which might make it a more attractive model than the standard hatchback in regions with slippery road conditions.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

The Paceman is larger and heavier than its two-door hatchback sibling.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The model I tested was the Cooper S Paceman with all-wheel drive and optional navigation. Adding up all the options, some of them not "tech," the sticker price on this car pushed 40 grand, quite a lot for a Mini.

Mini Connected for iPhone only
Having previously tried out the Mini Connected app in another car, I was eager to use it again in the Paceman. Beyond its more useful features, I had found Mission Control, which activates voices representing the car and its engine, hilarious. But I hadn't seen the Driving Excitement feature before, and it proved the most compelling during my time with the car.

Mini uses a standard cabin technology package across its lineup, so you can get Mini Connected in any model. The package adds an LCD to the center of the big, dinner plate of a speedometer in the center of the dashboard, along with a simple joystick controller behind the shifter. Navigation is an add-on for the Technology package.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

Mini hasn't caught up with parent company BMW, which ditched the Y-cable for iPods a couple of years ago.

Josh Miller/CNET

Unfortunately, the Mini Connected app only works on iPhones, and the phone has to be plugged into the car. Worse, Mini still uses a Y-cable for iPhones, an adapter with a 30-pin connector on one end and USB and 1/8-inch audio plugs on the other. Of course, iPhone 5 users will also need a Lightning-to-30-pin adapter.

With this whole rig assembled, and the Mini Connected app running on my phone, I could select a globe icon off the Paceman's elliptical cabin tech menu and see a big list of Mini Connected features, topped by Driving Excitement. Driving Excitement's main screen rated my acceleration, cornering, and braking performance. For cars equipped with Mini's manual transmission, it also rates shifting, but this Paceman was an automatic.

Along with gaining levels as I gained experience in each area of driving, the app also awarded badges for different achievements. I earned the Catapult badge for a good zero-to-60-mph run. There were also badges for visiting sites in the U.K. and Paris.

And I thought it would reward me for driving fast through the turns.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

The Mini Connected app's Driving Excitement feature rated my performance, and awarded me the Catapult badge for a zero-to-60-mph run.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Paceman didn't feel much like the Minis I was used to when I took it at speed through a turn. The wheel was responsive, although it lacked much in the way of road feel. According to the specs, the car has a sport suspension, but sharp turn-in made the outside front corner plow downward. There was no flat rotation, the Paceman tending to feel like any other random car on the road, giving a bit of outward lean through the turns. Unlike the standard Mini hatchback, I wouldn't expect the Paceman to perform well on an autocross course.

With the app's ultrasensitive turn monitoring, I thought I would never earn the cornering badge. By luck, I ended up on a narrow mountain road, two-way but lacking a center line, forcing more care as I drove through multiple blind turns in a row. That enforced caution led to the Mini Connected app rewarding me with its Curves Straightener badge.

In cross-purposes to Driving Excitement, the app also has its Minimalism Analyzer, an eco coach encouraging economical driving.

Social updates
The app's Twitter and Facebook feeds are kind of useless, in that the display posts clipped versions of each update, and it would be dangerous to read them while driving. The car can read the updates out loud, but I didn't find it very listenable due to all the links and other characters the computer voice enunciates. The pace is also very slow.

More useful is the fact that I could post updates to Facebook and Twitter from templates. When I had a destination programmed into navigation, one template would actually post my destination and likely arrival time, very useful for keeping friends informed as to when to expect me.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

The Paceman trims Facebook updates to keep drivers from getting engrossed in their feeds.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Google local-search feature also interacted with the navigation system, so that I could enter a search term and get a corresponding list of nearby businesses. Choosing a search result, I could tell the navigation system to calculate a route. The rotary alphanumeric input made searches somewhat inconvenient. Voice command for this feature would have helped.

The navigation system itself is pretty weak. Mini chooses an odd color scheme, with lime-green roads on a gray background. The maps aren't big on detail, and zoom in to a minimum scale of 400 feet, which makes it difficult to pick out individual street names. The next level up is 800 feet, then a quarter mile.

I like that the system includes traffic, and gives detour options for bad traffic conditions. But the route guidance is also subpar. Although it shows turn graphics for surface streets, it didn't give me anything for freeway junctions beyond voice prompts saying, "Bear right," or "Bear left." It didn't even read out street names for its voice prompts.

Antarctica online
Mini Connected includes a few music options, even showing its Web Radio and Dynamic Music features in the Paceman's radio and media source menus, respectively. Web Radio, which joins HD Radio and satellite among the Paceman's broadcast sources, let me browse through a fantastic selection of online radio stations from around the world. I could listen to folk music from a station in Antarctica or Top 40 being played out of Estonia. The interface made it easy to save stations in a favorites list.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

You can save favorite radio stations from around the world with the Web Radio feature.

Josh Miller/CNET

Dynamic Music is another fascinating option, playing instrumental tracks that changed based on how I was driving. When I stopped at a traffic light, the music went into a down-tempo mode, and accelerating caused the beat to pick up. Turn signals added a snare or other percussion effect, while cornering affected the stereo balance, throwing the music to the outside of a turn.

The Paceman included other typical music sources, such as its USB port for thumbdrives, the Y-cable adapter for iPods, and Bluetooth streaming audio. However, I found that I couldn't switch my iPhone between the cabled connection and Bluetooth streaming without digging into the settings menus. There was also an oddity in which answering an incoming phone call through the Bluetooth hands-free phone system interrupted the car's connection to the Mini Connected app, and I had to pick up the phone and unlock it to get the app running again.

Using an iOS device or USB drive, the Paceman exhibited the same music library interface I've complained about in BMW models, BMW being Mini's parent company. Instead of simply loading a list of albums or artists, this interface worked like a database filter, letting me set the artist, genre, and album, then press play. It is far too complex for an interface you're going to use while barreling down the freeway at 65 mph.

The little controller joystick, however, works remarkably well for digging through the various menus offered on the screen. With its directional controls, dial action, and push button, I found it easy to quickly go through the car's various features, although alphanumeric entries were tedious.

The Paceman included voice command, but it only covered the basics. I could place phone calls by name and enter addresses for navigation. However, it could only take addresses one part at a time, such as street, then city.

A robust Harman Kardon audio system, with 10 speakers, came as part of the Technology package. It didn't have the clarity that I would expect from so many speakers in a small car, but it provided a pleasant listening experience.

Fuel economy hit
As a convenient info-byte, the Mini Connected app showed the Paceman's fuel level from when it was last connected to the car. That feature would come in handy when figuring out if you need to make a stop at the gas station before even getting into the car.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

With the Mini Connected app, you can check the fuel level from when you last parked the car.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Paceman's weight and its all-wheel-drive system drag fuel economy down. It comes in at 23 mpg city and 30 mph highway in EPA estimates, so expect mid-20s. Not terrible, but the standard Mini Cooper S does 26 city and 35 highway.

A toggle switch at the bottom of the center stack put the Paceman into Sport mode, sharpening the throttle response. I tended to keep it in this mode, as it made driving more enjoyable. In stop-and-go traffic, Sport mode could be a little too sensitive, requiring a careful touch on the gas pedal lest the Paceman bound right into the bumper of the car ahead

In the default, normal drive mode, the accelerator has a big soft spot before much of anything happens.

I didn't feel a lot of turbo lag when driving around the city, as the small engine wound up pretty fast. However, when I earned my Catapult badge making a zero-to-60-mph run, I noted an initial dead spot in the acceleration before the Paceman got up and went. From there on, it kept up a nice, steady pace to 60 mph, without a lot of power dips.

Having the six-speed automatic transmission, a $1,250 option, was a disappointment. I would have much preferred the standard six-speed manual. In past Minis I've driven, that manual has an excellent shifting character, slotting into each gear very nicely.

The automatic ostensibly had a Sport mode, but it seemed to make little difference in the gear changes. In Drive, the transmission shifted well, downshifting reasonably quickly when I got on the gas pedal. In Sport, I would have expected it to aggressively downshift when I hit the brakes, but it exhibited no such behavior.

Manual mode delivered surprisingly swift gear changes, not often the case with an automatic transmission. Mini fits the steering wheel with paddles for shifting, in BMW-style using a push down for a downshift, or a pull for an upshift. I like that logic.

In second gear, the engine sounded tortured when the engine speed got above 5,000rpm, but shifting to third didn't cause much of a power dip, making either gear good for a series of tight turns.

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

The All4 badge means this Paceman comes with all-wheel drive.

Josh Miller/CNET

I mentioned above how the Paceman's cornering didn't quite uphold the Mini legacy. I suppose the all-wheel-drive system was helping out in the turns, but I couldn't really feel it. As the system lacks torque vectoring across the rear axle, there's only so much it could do to improve handling.

The sport-tuned suspension, another standard feature of the Cooper S Paceman, didn't help a whole lot, either. Instead, it just hampered ride quality. The Paceman was fine on smooth roads, but I heard, and felt, some awfully hard jolts when hitting bumps or potholes. The standard Pirelli P Zero run-flat tires probably contributed to that roughness.

Not for enthusiasts
The 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman retains the funky looks of the brand while offering a decent amount of cabin space, working well as an everyday car for people who like Mini style. It's an easy driver when negotiating traffic, although is going to feel harsh over the bumps. Through the Mini Connected app, the Paceman offers a lot of toys to make the daily commute more fun.

But if you're eyeing the Paceman with an enthusiast intent, thinking it might be fun to participate in local autocross events, skip the Paceman model and go for the standard hatchback. The Paceman lacks the handling character that made its predecessor so much fun. Fortunately, the cabin tech is the same across the line, so you can hook up the Mini Connected app and earn your badges in the standard Mini Cooper S.

All of the cabin tech can be found in one option, conveniently called the Technology package. Combining the center LCD and the Harman Kardon audio system, the navigation system is the one feature that lets it down. However, without built-in navigation, some of the Mini Connected capabilities will not be available.

At almost 40 grand, our fully loaded Paceman was a pricey car. Consider instead the Cooper S Paceman without all-wheel drive or the automatic transmission for a base price of $26,800. Any color other than white would add $500, the Technology package with navigation is another $2,500, and destination would bring the total cost to $30,595.

Tech specs
Model2012 Mini Cooper Paceman
TrimS All4 (AWD)
Power trainTurbocharged direct-injection 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy23 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy24.7 mpg
NavigationOptional flash memory-based with real-time traffic
Bluetooth phone supportOptional
Digital audio sourcesInternet streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio systemHarman Kardon 480-watt, 10-speaker system
Driver aidsNone
Base price$29,200
Price as tested$39,800

2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 7Performance tech 7Design 7


Trim levels BaseAvailable Engine GasBody style Hatchback