By Sue Mead, Motor Matters

Built originally as a small economy car by the British Motor Corporation in 1959, the MINI is more than a tiny-but-charming box for urban transport. MINI is a desirable small car with sales in the U.S. reaching its highest volume ever in 2012.

We were in Puerto Rico for the debut of MINI's newest member of the family, the 2013 MINI Paceman, a two-door, four-seat hatchback that showcases a new, sporty "design with a bite" -- a departure from the flat-topped original. Much of its DNA and equipment come from its stablemate, the four-door MINI Countryman, but the Paceman has all-new sheet metal from the windshield to the back. It comes in two versions: MINI Cooper Paceman and MINI Cooper S Paceman; a high-powered John Cooper Works Paceman will follow later. Pricing starts at $23,900.

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Paceman is a coupe-influenced MINI that has a downward-slanting roofline from windshield to rear liftgate. Its front grille and oval headlamps are true to classic MINI design, but scooped-out sides, a bulbous rear end and integrated spoiler above the liftgate, as well as a lowered suspension, make it look track-ready.

One notable departure from the past is the horizontal headlamp design. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard Paceman, while the Paceman Cooper S has 17-inch wheels; 18- and 19-inch wheels also can be ordered on various trim levels.

Our drive was from the city of Ponce, known for its unique and beautiful architecture, to the capital city of San Juan over a mix of roadways, including small two-lanes that squiggle and twist along one of Puerto Rico's mountainous regions. On the road, the little coupes have MINI's signature go-kart handling, which is enhanced by stability and traction control, brake assist and ABS on the four-wheel disc brakes.

Three drivetrains power the 2013 Paceman lineup: the standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 121 horsepower and 118 lb.-ft. of torque and scoots the 0-60 sprint in 9.7 seconds. Cooper S Pacemans are turbocharged to deliver 181 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. Zero-to-60 time is 6.9 seconds.

The drivetrain is front-wheel-drive, but Cooper S Pacemans can be ordered in ALL4 all-wheel-drive ($1700 premium), which slows the 0-60 time slightly. The John Cooper Works Paceman is powered by a 211-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and has standard ALL4. All models come with a six-speed manual transmission, and can be ordered with a six-speed automatic.

The most notable feature of driving the new Paceman is an inherent smile factor -- it's hard not to have fun just climbing aboard, with an interior that is punctuated by eccentric design, and to motor in a car that draws waves and thumbs-up along the way. We found good power on tap and distinctions between the three models are as expected; we did experience some torque steer when the turbo-boost comes on and launches the car in a spirited fashion.

The steering is direct and brakes are efficient and are bigger with bigger power. Our only complaints were the seatbelts that are not height adjustable and the natural limitations of a two door-model equipped with rear seats. While the front seats and surroundings are ample in size and give a feeling of spaciousness, retrieving stowed gear from the rear seats involved a bit of athletics.

Inside, Paceman is constructed to seat four passengers happily, not just by necessity. The rear seats are positioned stadium-style to provide a better view of the road. The familiar MINI "Speedo" in front is sleek and compact, and standard fabric upholstery is comfortable. Storage isn't ample but, like a well-planned Tokyo apartment, everything fits exactly where it should.

With the rear seat up, stowage in back is limited to small items, but with the seat folded, storage space grows to 38.1 cubic feet. Standard interior features include air conditioning, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, MINI's "center rail" storage system, model-specific doorsill badging and CD/AM/FM audio system with auxiliary input.

Fuel economy ratings from the EPA classify the MINI Cooper S Paceman at 26 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway with the manual transmission. Set up with the ALL4 all-wheel-drive reduces gas mileage by approximately 1-3 mpg city and 1-2 mpg highway, depending on the selection of manual or automatic transmissions.

Today, the brand says that MINI is the only car that comes standard with friends, referring to the "MINI Community," with 450,000 registered owners in the U.S. and car clubs around the globe.



VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 4-passenger FWD compact hatchback

BASE PRICE____________________$23,900 (includes $700 destination)

MOTOR TYPE__________________ 16-valve 4-cylinder w/VVT


HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 121 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 118 at 4250 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________6-speed manual

OVERALL LENGTH_______________162.2 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___38.1 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,940 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY_________________ 12.4 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING____________25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

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