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.