Missing the Marque: MINI Paceman

Off the pace: the misconceived 2012 MINI Paceman.

2013 MINI Paceman. Image: autotrader.co.uk

One of the very few positives to emerge from BMW’s six-year tenure as owner of Rover Group was the successful reinvention of MINI(1). Barely six months after BMW finally disposed of its troubled English Patient, the R50 three-door hatchback was launched. It was a clever reworking of the style and proportions of the original into a larger and (somewhat) more practical package. It was by no means perfect and there were quibbles about the quality of its interior fittings and more substantive criticisms regarding the performance and refinement of its engine(2).

Despite its shortcomings, the new MINI was perfectly in tune with the contemporary Cool Britannia zeitgeist, with its cheeky looks and endless personalisation options. This was perfectly articulated by the dealership environment. Rather than the clean, efficient but rather sterile surroundings of a typical BMW showroom, MINI dealerships were all black walls and colourful neon strip lighting, more akin to the nightclubs supposedly frequented by its typical target customers(3).

The decision to establish a separate dealer network for MINI rather than sell them from within BMW dealerships would have a significant impact on how the marque would be developed. No one car, no matter how successful, could support a stand-alone dealer network, so MINI would need to become a range of cars rather than a single model.

Having successfully relaunched MINI, BMW subsequently struggled to expand the marque into a broader range of attractive and desirable models. This was largely a consequence of the self-imposed restrictions of MINI’s retro design.

The first addition to the MINI range was an entirely logical cabriolet version of the hatch, which arrived in 2004. Two years later, the original hatch was reskinned with much neater detailing, resulting in the well-regarded R56 second-generation model. There followed the Clubman in 2007, a LWB version of the hatch with van-like rear doors and a curious, rear-hinged rear side door on the right-hand side only. It traded a lot of the hatch’s good looks for only a modest improvement in practicality.

Next to arrive was the Countryman in 2010. This was a larger crossover-style MINI with a conventional five-door body, essentially a straight scaling up of the hatch. Unfortunately, the charm of the latter was largely lost in this operation. The Countryman looked heavy and slab-sided, especially in darker colours, and some of the details were poorly resolved, like the awkward intersection between the rear door frame and rear quarter window(4), the fussy trim that drew undue attention to the diagonal bonnet shut-line behind the front wheel arch, and the oddly shaped headlamps that were partly squared off at their lower and inner edges.

Despite its visual shortcomings, the Countryman was at least a practical and useful car. MINI’s next offering answered a question that precisely nobody had asked: it was the 2012 Paceman, a three-door coupé version of the Countryman with a slammed roofline which reduced its overall height by 43mm (1¾”). Otherwise, its dimensions were within a few millimetres of the Countryman.

2013 MINI Paceman. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

What had inspired the Paceman? Perhaps the near-euphoria that greeted Land-Rover’s 2008 LRX concept, the three-door cross-coupe that became the production Range-Rover Evoque in 2011, might have prompted BMW to take aim at the same perceived market niche. If so, then BMW overlooked a critical element in the appeal of the LRX, the way it looked.

The LRX was regarded as sensational, but the Paceman looked ridiculous, its gun-turret DLO and sharply falling roofline looking completely out of kilter with the bloated lower body. It shared the Countryman’s front end, including the sad clown grille on early versions. At the rear, horizontal tail light clusters that were almost comically large and out of scale cut deep into the hatch, restricting the width of the opening.

Inside, it was a dark and gloomy place with its high waistline and low-set seating position, a consequence of the lowered roofline. A multitude of buttons set low down ahead of the gear lever in the cliff-like vertical centre console were difficult to see and operate. The Paceman was a strict four-seater, fitted with the individual rear seats that were optional in the Countryman. These did not fold flat and left a significant step in the boot floor. On the move, considerably more road and wind noise seemed to penetrate the cabin than in the MINI hatch(5).

Autocar magazine road-tested the Paceman in November 2012, a couple of months after launch. The reviewer, Nic Cackett, summarised it as “competent enough, but it just doesn’t make enough sense – especially to look at”.  Cackett questioned the fundamental thinking behind the Paceman: “Rendering a sportier vibe from a lumpy crossover is considerably more difficult than doing so from a saloon or hatchback. It is this first hurdle which the Paceman doesn’t so much fall at, but ruinously head butts.”

It’s dark in here: 2013 MINI Paceman interior. Image: cars.usnews.com

Autocar usually avoids commenting a great deal on the subjective issue of styling in its reviews, but in this case, Cackett opined that “so shallow is the Paceman’s appeal that, without a stylistic trump card to play, its rationale flounders. It’s obviously less practical to get in and out of than the Countryman, there’s less rear headroom thanks to the new roofline, fewer seats to fill…and it all comes with a higher price tag.”

Dynamically, the Paceman was described as a “slim improvement on its SUV sibling.” This was faint praise as the latter was characterised as “notoriously wayward [on] battered roads”. In light of this, it hardly mattered that the performance was a match for the Countryman when its design was as “genetically confused as a germinating tumour”. Inevitably, its styling was compared most unfavourably with the Evoque(6).

The conclusion was predictably damning, Cackett asserting that ”the only reason to seriously consider it is if you ‘get’ the stylistic revision in a way we don’t. Despite a slightly more agreeable behind-the-wheel experience [than the Countryman] the Paceman still feels like a car where you’re being asked to pay considerably more for less.”

The car-buying public largely agreed with Autocar’s assessment and stayed away from the Paceman in their droves. It remained in production for just four years and was not replaced. In fact, it had sold so poorly that BMW announced in December 2014, just two years into its life, that no successor would be forthcoming.

2013 MINI Paceman. Image: carmagazine.co.uk

BMW seems to have been rather coy about releasing sales figures for the Paceman, instead quoting combined figures for it and the Countryman together from 2015. However, after some detective work and with some extrapolation, it can be stated with a reasonable degree of confidence that 7,146 were sold in the US and roughly around 30,000(7) were sold in Europe over its four-year lifespan.

The reason for the Paceman’s failure was simple and obvious, at least with the benefit of hindsight. It offered a number of disadvantages and no meaningful benefits over the Countryman while costing more, and lacked any desirability in its lumpen appearance.

BMW is still struggling to evolve the MINI style into something that works well on larger vehicles. Even its perennial volume seller, the three-door hatch, is generally regarded as less attractive than its predecessors in its larger current F56 third iteration. Its (delayed) replacement is promised to be smaller, with a shorter front overhang, to reinstate some of the car’s former charm. That does not, of course, provide a solution for MINI’s larger models. Perhaps electrification and a more radical evolution might provide an answer? That said, BMW’s recent design efforts on its own account do not give great grounds for optimism.

Author’s note: BMW made pretty much the same mistake with the 2011 MINI Coupé and 2012 Roadster models. They were odd looking and no better to drive than the regular hatch, so potential buyers would be sacrificing two seats for no gain. Both were discontinued after four years of poor sales.

(1) The rather shouty all-caps style for the MINI name was intended to distinguish the new model and marque from the BMC-era Issigonis original.

(2) The Engine was manufactured in Brazil by Tritec Motors, originally a joint venture between Rover Group and Chrysler. BMW held onto the Rover stake in Tritec after it sold out to the Phoenix Consortium.

(3) This rather ignored the fact that many MINIs were bought by older people, bathing in nostalgia for the original (including this author).

(4) This could be partly disguised by going for the popular option of a black roof.

(5) I had the opportunity to drive the Paceman on a couple of occasions while our F56 MINI hatch was in for its annual service, and these were my impressions of its interior and the driving experience.

(6) Even JLR struggled to sell the three-door coupé version of the Evoque, despite its handsome looks, because it was priced at a premium to the five-door, which in most buyers’ estimation looked, if not quite as good, then certainly good enough, and was a more practical proposition.

(7) Assuming that European Paceman sales continued at around 14.6% of the combined total, the proportion seen in the first two years of production.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

36 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: MINI Paceman”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. I had completely forgotten about the Paceman. I just looked and there are no less than 10,959 Minis for sale in the Netherlands and only 21 of them are Pacemans.

    From a business perspective a bigger Mini might mean bigger sales and higher profit margins on a bigger car, but I have no idea how to do this successfully from a design point of view. A smaller Mini like the 2011 rocketman concept looks more promising in that respect, but the business case for smaller cars has been getting more difficult lately.

    I also like the idea of the Mini Strip concept by Paul Smith, with the focus on less materials used. Maybe it’s only greenwashing but it would MINImalist me just fine.

  2. A thought provoking article, reminding me on the one hand of a bizarre creation about which I had forgotten (the Paceman itself) and on the other of the lovely original recreation of the Mini; a retro thing to be sure, but masterfully executed stylistically.

    I can’t help feeling BMW set themselves up for failure in wanting to create a whole range of cars out of the new Mini. There is no reason to think the concept scales up and every one of the many attempts since the original launch has seemed to confirm this.

  3. Good morning Freerk and Chris. I think you’re right about the impossibility of scaling up the Mini’s style for larger cars. It either ends up looking fat and dumpy, like the Countryman, or weirdly long and wide for its height, like the current Clubman. I really wanted to like the Clubman, but it’s proportions just don’t work for me.

    The only current Mini I’d buy is the one we already own, a three-door F56 hatch. Even the five-door version of this is spoilt by the ugly window frames, which ruin the look of the DLO. Given that it’s a premium offering, would it really have been that big a deal to give it frameless door windows like the three-door?

    For my money, the best looking BMW-era Mini was the second-generation R56 hatch:

    It is by some margin the neatest and prettiest.

    Given that BMW has promised to trim some fat when the current hatch is replaced, I hope that the next model will look a bit more like the R56 in its proportions. An EV version with a decent range might be our next everyday car.

    1. I’m curious: What makes you prefer the MK2 to the MK1 new mini? I must confess, the second generation looks to me like a more rounded, flabbier version of the first. In particular, I miss it’s delightfully formed front wings, which have been visually ‘sanded down’ in the MK2.

    2. I agree Chris, though I’m possibly biased by having had a Mk 1 Cooper for four years, and loved it. At the other end of the Mk 2 there’s also a curious step from the rear window to the bodywork, which always seemed unnecessary to me.

    3. Hi Chris and Andy. That’s a good question, and the answer is all in the details (as usual with me). Here’s a photo of the R50:

      I dislike the contrivance of the R50 (Mk1) grille being split between the bonnet and front bumper. The R56 looks much tidier and more ‘authentic’ as a single unit. Also, the R56 is much neater in the area immediately beneath the windscreen, with its semi-concealed wipers and intake vents hidden behind the bright trim, whereas the R50 has these exposed in a separate body-coloured scuttle panel. As a consequence, it has an additional horizontal shut-line for the trailing edge of the bonnet and an extra panel-gap above the side repeater, which all looks a little too busy to my eyes.

      The R56 was pretty much a straight rebody of the R50* and the changes tidied up the design quite nicely (IMHO, of course!)

      *Whereas the F56 was an all-new car based on BMW’s FWD platform shared with the 2 Series MPVs and current 1 Series.

    4. Fascinating. I can see exactly what you mean with each of your points Daniel… and yet still much prefer the mk1 design. Tastes differ and ‘difference there must be’ as they say here, happily.

      Thanks for taking the time to answer in detail.

    5. From a purely design and product substance point of view, I would agree that the R56 has markedly advanced in quality compared to the R50. However, I still have a soft spot for the R50.

      From my modest point of view, it is the more puristic concept, a comparatively simple but efficiently put together driving machine, which to this day probably delivers the utmost driving pleasure in comparison with the R56 and F56.

      For the BMW Group’s engineering team, this concept must have felt almost like sheer anarchy. But that too is (or at least used to be) part of the secret of the MINI brand’s success.

    6. Hi Mark. The R50 (Mk1) and F56 (Mk3)make an interesting comparison. I’ve driven both and the former is much truer to the original Mini’s ‘rollerskate’ feel, but the latter is far more mature and easier to live with, while still being a highly entertaining drive. The F56 is certainly the Mini that BMW would have designed in the first place, given free reign over the project.

      It’s horses for courses, I guess, and no version should disappoint.

  4. I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the MINI when it was launched, mainly because the sheer size made it more of a MAXI… I was similarly unimpressed by the interior being a caricature of the original, with the worst features being magnified. After riding in one I was struck by how nice and near vertical the ‘A’ pillars were, and a neighbour bought a nicely specced used one that managed to look desirable,( it soon caused him a lot of grief). A quick look at “what’s bad” in the Honest John review dispelled any thought of ever wanting one however.
    I was equally unimpressed by the LRX….

  5. Dear Daniel

    Thank you very much for your observations on the MINI Paceman. Many of your comments also serve as an indication that the BMW Group has manoeuvred itself into a number of challenging situations with the brand management of MINI.

    At first glance, the worldwide establishment of the MINI brand as the very first serious premium brand in the compact segment is a real success story. Especially since it has managed to preserve the necessary degree of Britishness and thus authenticity. In this respect, the strategy of strict brand separation between MINI and BMW was absolutely convincing.

    However, a phenomenon has emerged that is both a blessing and a curse in this context: with its independence, the MINI brand was able to conquer a customer milieu that has comparatively little overlap with that of the BMW brand. Which is what it was initially aiming for. However, this development also causes a comparatively low migration of MINI customers to the BMW brand in the course of the upward shift. In other words, MINI customers who are looking for a successor in a higher vehicle segment are deliberately not switching to BMW but preferring products outside the BMW Group (e.g. Land Rover).

    From the company’s overall point of view, this is very unsatisfactory, as it means that the MINI brand is not in a position to make a significant contribution to the conquest of future BMW customers. This also illustrates why MINI always works quite ambitiously on model series that position themselves higher. This is where the skilful handling of the iconic MINI design poses a huge challenge (comparable to Porsche, but with the difference that they have established a head of design in Michael Mauer who, together with his team, masters these challenges with comparative aplomb).

    In this respect, the failure of many of these attempts is no coincidence. And looking at the current developments in the BMW Group’s design division, my optimism in connection with the MINI brand is increasingly fading. The first spy shots of a future three-door model are downright discouraging and another reason for my personal pessimism at this point.

    1. Hello Mark. That is a thoughtful analysis of the difficulties facing MINI. As you say, it should be a complementary brand to BMW, but appears not to be. Oldies like my partner and I might be tempted to trade up to a slightly larger MINI, for example the five-door hatch, or even the Clubman, if they didn’t look so awkward, but nothing BMW currently produces appeals to our relatively conservative tastes.

      One of the first pieces I wrote for DTW was a two-part history of MINI and its growing pains. That was almost two years ago, but little has happened on the product front in the interim, so it is still pretty current. The piece is called ‘BMW’s MINI Misadventure’ and starts here:

      BMW’s MINI Misadventure (Part One)

  6. One of the difficulties in expanding this product line is obvious before one even considers the car itself. If the first thing you make is something small, and you call it MINI, a full range of items should logically contain a MIDI, a MAXI, and (if you can contrive and make money on it) a MICRO. Either that, or it has to be a MINI SUV, a MINI convertible, and so on, which of course is what they have tried to do. The problem then is that if you make the package large enough to make anything like the usual understanding of an SUV, then it’s not really mini in any sense. I suppose one could try to do something different in packaging terms, like the original Fiat Multipla, or (whisper it) the original Mercedes A-class, but’s that really difficult in the context of current market expectations and legal requirements.

    1. Michael, I am inclined to agree with you. A product with the name MINI (actually) only works if it is mini and not BIG.
      One would think.
      Nevertheless, the BMW Group sells masses of oversized cars with the MINI label. They obviously don’t do much wrong. (Well, there have been some “flops” in the product range so far, so what the heck).

      I think products like the Paceman (or the Coupe/Roadster, as well as those hulking MINI BIG SUVs) would have met with more love and willing buyers with a different product name.
      However, BMW failed at the beginning to establish another product line with an independent name besides MINI – since the takeover of the MG Rover Group, some brand rights have been rotting in a cellar in Milbertshofen.
      But what do I know.

      I’m not the target group anyway – especially since I once drove a Mini convertible from Munich to Lüneburg. (I actually wanted a “real car” from the car rental company that day, but real cars were not in stock and the lady happily told me I would get an “upgrade”. Based on some experiences with “upgrades”, I suspect something terrible – to put it positively: my fears were fully confirmed, I drove a MINI twice that day, the first time and the last time).

      One more comment on Daniel’s text: One of the most striking design elements of a (new) Mini has always been the combination of any car colour with a white roof. A MINI product where you have to order a black roof to avoid an even more horrible look takes the design core ad absurdum. But that’s life, that’s what happens when a design concept goes off the rails.

  7. I think up scaling the mini is not a new problem. Look at those images of the 1959 mini morphing into the ADO16 before the Italians got involved. An odd thing to look at. I too prefer the R56 mini, much neater detailing.

    1. Hi Simon. You’re right: there’s a strong hint of the XC9001 prototype that became the ADO17 BMC 1800 in the proportions of the current MINI Clubman:

      Both are similarly odd in their proportions, too long and wide for their height.

  8. I think the problem is that neither BL/ ARG/ RG nor BMW allowed the Mini/ MINI concept to modernise and transform. In going down the Porsche 911 evolution kind of route, it has ended up in a dead-end of design, trying to make 21st century models have the same styling theme as the 1959-launched original (remember that many thought it an odd looking little car back then, what with its rounded looks and external seams). It’s a pity none of them adopted an approach which leveraged the Mini’s true strengths and uniqueness – i.e. the clever, innovative engineering solutions which were designed to create amazing interior packaging, fuel economy and a decent driving experience at an affordable cost – rather than focus on giving the cars a visual lineage.

    OK, I admit, BL/ ARG/ RG achieved that through a near zer0 R&D spend on the original and not replacing it for over 40 years, but BMW has, from the outset, sought to create something of an ‘it’ car via caricature styling evolution rather than properly intelligent thought about what a Mini should really stand for. It was OK for the beginning, when the idea was just to have the then-new R50, but as soon as they looked to stretch beyond the Clubman (sorry, but I really liked the first Clubman which appeared with the second-generation R56 related range), the approach hit trouble. I know the Countryman is something of a commercial success (judging on how many one sees on the roads, especially around where I live), but design-wise it’s just awful. And the MINI 5-door is a shocker, as discussed here previously.

    I’d really like to see BMW take a brave-pill and create something that is a complete break with the design of the original Austin Seven/ Mini-Minor, but which creates something that is truly innovative in use of design, engineering and technology to deliver afresh what BMC set out to deliver. I always thought it a great shame that the i3 could not have been a MINI – In those terms (if not price) it’s the closest any car that BMW has produced over the last 20 or so years has come to representing what a Mini should be and stand-for.

  9. They should have dropped the “e” from the name and made it a special edition in association with Namco!

  10. The ADO16 showed BL could make a variation on the Issigonis theme successfully. Ironically, this was done by overruling him on design, if I remember correctly, where the ADO17 showed what happened if they didn’t overrule Issigonis. Wasn’t the ADO16 designed by Pininfarina?



    Incidentally, I also have a soft spot for the R50. Maybe it is the put-together look that gives it a certain nostalgic charm? As I understand it, the R50 is a nightmare to work on, all the technical bits crammed into its small form factor.

    1. Pininfarina did ADO16 and the nose and tail of ADO17. Your ADO17 shot is the face-lift model and I’m not sure if they did that as well.

    2. The ADO17/1800 never looked that bad to me, apart from the chamfered boot, and that was Pininfarina’s doing.

    3. That boot’s quite egregious (pre facelift):

      The facelifted one makes a bit more sense, but simultaniously seems more old fashioned.

      On the whole, the ADO17’s proportions don’t quite make sense to me: too large wheelbase, too wide, semi-traditional styling front and back. Those doors. The individual parts are fine, but as a whole, I don’t like it. As an estate, it might have made a little more sense (image AROnline):

    4. Hi Tom. I suspect that the original styling of the 1800 was intended to make a feature of its extreme width, hence the super-wide grille and slim horizontal tail lights. When the buying public reacted badly to this, the facelift, with its narrower grille and vertical tail lights, was an attempt to ‘normalise’ its appearance:

    5. It’s a shame that one of the great utilitarian car designs turned out so unappealing (and not having appealed to the public at large). Maybe it just works better on smaller cars? I don’t think moderately appealing and succesful large Fiats were ever especially innovative and utilitarian, either. Something like the DS was certainly innovative, but also most certainly styled, as were many others. Maybe the good old Traction Avant comes closest to a utilitarian large car that also had appeal (I wanted to write “worked well” but apart from the driving position the ADO17 also worked quite well as I understand it).

  11. If I may put a word in defence of the R50. ‘Our’ 2006 example was purchased in 2008 with a very low mileage and in ‘as new’ condition. It has been in the family since and in the intervening (almost) 14 years has been a faithful and always entertaining companion. Yes, we’ve had a few failures – especially latterly (but it’s now quite an old dog) – the power steering failed and we had some other issues as well, but overall, it has been pretty solid. The car is well maintained, but not cosseted, yet it still feels as though it will go for another decade. Apart from a faded bootlid badge, there are really no external signs of decay, nothing has fallen off or broken; everything works and it remains a very satisfying drive – a total hoot if you’re in the mood. Sure, the ride is punishing (those runflats don’t help), but I never hesitate to choose it over its far more up to date domestic alternative. I enjoy its handy size, its biddable nature and the inescapable feeling that it was developed by people who enjoyed driving for its own sake. It still feels like a car, which isn’t necessarily something I can wholeheartedly say about the other (more up to date) vehicle in the current household – for all its other virtues.

    It’s been said that the R50 MINI was as much a packaging miracle as dear Alec’s 1959 opus – only that the latter car’s genius was made evident within the engine bay. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that assessment – having attempted to carry out even the most perfunctory maintenance and diagnostics. Pakt like sardines…

    As for the Paceman, I can only quote the old line; ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here at all’.

    1. Packed like sardines and in some versions the under bonnet space looks like a crudely cobbled together experimental prototype from R&D.

  12. If it were possible I‘d take an R50 with build quality and drive train from the R56.
    The initial product quality of the R50 was awful and caused BMW some serious headache. They’d spent all the money on platform and chassis engineering and then needed a cheap engine and had to cut costs in the interior wherever possible. It took them several rounds of quality improvements (and invested money) to bring product quality up to acceptable levels for the considerable prices they asked.
    I once sat in an early example and was shocked by the lack of quality in such an expensive product.
    The circular shiny door trim was made from truly cheap plastic and looked particularly bad in dark grey fake brushed-aluminium-effect paint, the carpets only randomly followed the contour of the floor and weren’t properly attached to it (and in the boot looked as if some surplus carpet was simply thrown in without any attempt to attach it), the seat covers didn’t fit the contours (and BMW very quickly learned that their seams had a tendency to rip and split).
    BMW had continuous trouble with the frameless windows which caused lots of wind noise and were very difficult to get watertight (what kind of tests did they do during development?), lack of watertightness being a general problem of early R50s. The heavy bonnet with integral headlights had a tendency to vibrate, making light beams dance on the road, something they never managed to eliminate until the R56 got fixed headlights. Early cars also gave more than their fair share of electrical trouble with central locking and airbags being particularly unreliable and the electro-hydraulic PAS being a permanent source of trouble.

  13. The following photos have been circulating on the net for a few weeks and obviously originate from China. I therefore assume that this is the first result of the already officially announced joint venture between the BMW Group and Great Wall Motor.

    According to reports from both manufacturers, products of the MINI brand with electric drive will be produced in China in future as part of this cooperation.

    1. What a shame they have abandoned the clamshell bonnet for a conventional item. The consequence is that the car now has shutlines along the wings and across the nose, interrupting the smooth contours, a real retrograde step.

      Perhaps this won’t be our next car…

    2. Daniel, this can always be your next vehicle. Paint the middle part of the bumper black and place the logo above the shutline, et voilà… 🙂

    3. Well, everything comes back one day. You just have to get old enough to experience it again…

    4. Fred, you clearly have no conception of the crippling extent of my shut-line fixation…😁

  14. They sold 207 Pacemans (Pacemen?) in Australia from the info I have, which actually wasn’t horrific compared to the Countryman that outsold it roughly 6-fold while both were available, and only slightly worse than the coupe/convertible. Does make for a good car-spotting target though, together with the similarly-scarce Evoque 3-door.

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