MINI Paceman Cooper SD

To understand ‘MINI’ you really need to experience it, because otherwise it can seem as though BMW Group’s most junior subsidiary keeps pointlessly branching out on a desperate mission to create something new. BMW’s augmentation of the original MINI notion has also made it easier for Mini-sceptics to attack the brand, but it’s also easy to forget just how balanced their model portfolio is.

To illustrate this there are going to be some big numbers involved, so bear with me.

In 2012 MINI sold just over 25,000 examples of the iconic hatchback, making up the vast majority of their 51,000 production total for the year. That’s to be expected – it’s the (unoriginal) ‘original’ and best. But after a slow start the flagship Countryman 4x4 sold to the tune of 14,000, meaning nearly of third of MINI’s built in 2012 were the most expensive model. Next was the hatchback convertible, of which 5,159 sold – an impressive if not enormous figure – and then the sporty Coupé and Roadster models brought up the rear with combined sales of over 4,000.

Bearing in mind that MINI’s market share in the UK was a huge 2.5% last year, if nearly a third of the cars they sold were the most ugly and expensive model in the range then they must be doing something right. The only other manufacturer that can get away with this sort of thing is Porsche, who couldn’t build Cayennes fast enough at one point.

Nevertheless, what these figures empirically demonstrate is that – in time-honoured fashion – if you’ve got character you don’t necessarily need a pretty face. Which brings us nicely to the new Paceman, the seventh variation on MINI’s original theme, which as you’ve probably seen by now is somewhat lacking in the looks department but positively reeks of personality.

Big bumpers, robust wheels arches, dual exhausts and lights rimmed with thick chrome – the Paceman makes attention seeking its cause, and this is all before you take in the ferociously tapered DLO and contrasting coloured roof, too. It’s certainly pugnacious, but for those who do indulge themselves, and we’ve ascertained that there will likely be many who will choose to, the Paceman will be the only option.

Others will avoid it like the plague and avert their eyes when one appears on the horizon, but markedly splitting people’s opinions is generally a sign that you’re doing something right.

In the same way that Fiat have recently noticed the Countryman’s success and launched the 500L in a bid to get in on the action, MINI have undoubtedly cast envious glances towards Gaydon and specifically the Range Rover Evoque’s extraordinary success in the SUV market. The steeply rising belt line and gloss-black pillars seem in homage to the smallest Range Rover, and MINI make no secret of there desire to steal sales from Nissan’s Juke as well.

Apart from the obvious shift in form there are a couple of new features that stand out; the wrap-around rear lights are a first for MINI, as is the expansive Porsche-like model designation on the boot, but minor detailing aside the Paceman is modern MINI to a tee. There are even 1,700 exterior trim combinations alone.

For all of this excess, however, it’s hard not to wonder what a brand with the power of MINI could achieve if it pursued emobility seriously. The MINI E hatchbacks that were trialed a couple of years ago were as good as any electric car currently on the market and we know that BMW are willing to invest heavily in green technology.

The standard Cooper D model emits just 115g/km carbon dioxide, which isn’t bad for a car of the Paceman’s size, but that’s the point isn’t it – size. MINIs are getting bigger and heavier, when maybe they should be getting smaller and lighter. MINI should be using the brand to get people in cars with cleaner, alternative drivetrains without having to sacrifice style, which has always been important in consumer cultures. All of this will, in time, come, but MINI would do well to remember that the early bird catches the worm.

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