NAIAS Preview: MINI Paceman Concept

By Charles Krome

This is the kind of rerun I like seeing: Last year, the MINI brand introduced the Beachcomber concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, then used that dramatic show car as a launching pad for the MINI Countryman production vehicle. This time around, the automaker is showing a concept that’s a bit more conventional, but it, too, will certainly lead to a sellable product in the near future: Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the MINI Paceman.

MINI is of course being coy about production plans, but as even the press materials indicate, the Paceman is a natural addition to the lineup. It looks like a mash-up between the Countryman and the MINI Coupe concept from 2009, and it offers a mix of those vehicles’ capabilities and design cues. There’s a lot of emphasis on the Paceman’s ability to deliver a dynamic driving experience, and the car borrows the Coupe’s “floating roof” treatment—called a “helmet roof” by MINI—but at the same time, the company goes out of its way to bolster the connection between this vehicle and the Countryman: For example, it’s noted that the Paceman’s “MINI Countryman roots give this new MINI concept study an ideal platform for the MINI ALL4 permanent all-wheel-drive system.”

This approach to developing new products is standard operating procedure for the company, which essentially sells just one model, in a few relatively well-differentiated variants. From the foundation of the MINI Hardtop, you’ve got a convertible, a sedan (the Clubman) and a crossover, along with two hi-po lines, the “S” and the “Cooper Works.” The Paceman would/will join the club as sort of a MINI Nissan JUKE in the crossover coupe niche. The Paceman can be compared to the JUKE in another way, too, because it does stretch MINI’s design language in new directions.

The differences aren’t that notable until you compare the Hardtop and Paceman “face to face,” but when you do, you’ll see a significant difference in those faces. The Paceman shows a much stronger grille that’s no longer integrated into the vehicle’s front fascia as with the Hardtop, giving it a look that’s ever-so-slightly reminiscent of the new Dodge Charger. The roof treatment makes a difference too, with some tricky business that gives the Paceman an aggressively tapered profile without MINI having to make too many structural changes. The result, per MINI, is an “urban” and “masculine” exterior, complemented by an “elegant yet sporty interior” that again draws elements from both the Countryman and the Coupe concept.

For motivational purposes, the Paceman was designed to be able to fit the 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbo I4 from the Cooper Works vehicles, delivering 211 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque.
The reincarnated MINI brand has been lurking around for nearly a decade now, and it’s managed to find a surprising amount of success here in the U.S. The company will sell just under 45,000 units in America in 2010, which doesn’t sound like that much until you put it into context as a premium-priced (very) small car trying to find customers in a country where such a combination is anathema to most drivers.

A production Paceman won’t add much to that total, but it should help MINI continue finding incremental sales gains until U.S. customers change their buying preferences. Or have them changed by higher gas prices.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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  1. wait I’m confused – is this the same car as the new ads? the sno-globes and the cereal boxes w/ the mini countryman inside? i thought they were bigger like 4 doors?

  2. Well, I like it, and I’m not that big a fan of the Mini, so I guees the boys at Mini should take that as a good sign. But I find it a little funny that the Mini brand is being so stretched, and I wonder why another brand was not considered.

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