By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
In 11 years, Mini has developed innovative riffs on its familiar hardtop including four-door, wagon, convertible, roadster and streamlined models.
Those editions — the Mini Convertible, Clubman, Coupe, Roadster and Countryman — tended to roll out individually.
But in 2013, Mini went for a double play.
The carmaker this month introduced the two-door Paceman, a trendier hatchback version of the four-door Countryman. And it also brought out the Clubvan, which essentially is a modified Clubman with the back seats removed to allow for judicious cargo space.
The speedy Paceman and the utilitarian Clubvan showcase the range that Mini has attained from one classic look and style.
Determining the exact market for the two models is still evolving, considering the first Paceman and Clubvan didn’t arrive at the dealership until last week.
“It’s kind of early to tell,” said Billy Hamby, motoring manager at Mini of Charleston on Savannah Highway.
Starting in price at $23,000, the Paceman is expected to be a solid seller. Hamby said, “I think some of the people who like the Mini Cooper hardtop will like this car. It’s a bigger version of (the hardtop).”
Another perk: “You can’t get a Mini Cooper hardtop in an all-wheel-drive,” something the Paceman offers. Hamby said AWD models are big sellers in winter weather regions. But there should be a four-wheeling market locally, too, “especially since Charleston is a vacation spot,” he said. “A lot of people have second homes (here).” They’re from places with snow and ice and are comfortable with four-wheel-drive cars.
Most people refer to the Paceman as the coupe version of the wagon-like Countryman, which is the only four-door Mini, Hamby said.
The Paceman comes with two engine choices, a 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder producing 121 horsepower and a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged unit generating 181 horsepower.
“It sits up (and) has high ground clearance,” he said.
The Clubvan, meanwhile, is a specialty vehicle with just two seats but lots of interior space to carry things.
“We are coming up with a way to market the vehicle to small businesses” such as flower shops, medical products firms and courier services, Hamby said.
“I could see some type of flower shop get one, put the (shop’s) graphics on the side,” he said. “Being Charleston, I thought I would try it out (and order one).”
Prices weren’t immediately available, but the Clubman on which it’s based starts at $21,400, according to Edmunds.com car buying guide.
Based on an afternoon drive in an extras-laden Mini Cooper S Paceman, the new edition acquits itself well.
The 2,940-pound S edition, which carries the 181 horsepower engine, is not at a loss for acceleration. Quick on byways, the turbocharged power plant gathers speed with reasonable ease on interstates. The test version included an optional six-speed automatic transmission, while the driver with a flick of the gear shifter can switch to manual without a clutch pedal. The car also includes a sport mode at the touch of a button. The sport configuration doesn’t quite turn the Paceman into a race car, but it picks up speed in rapid bursts.
Brakes are solid, and the agile handling with the car’s small steering wheel allows the coupe to grip the road around corners. The model did have a tendency to oversteer, though.
Compared with many of the high-tech filled new cars today, the Mini seems almost antiquated. There’s no back-up camera or navigation-communications system, and the seats are adjusted manually. But Mini’s interior design, highlighted by an oversized speedometer-information display above the center console, provides a pleasing visual scape. And there are innovative touches, such as a lighted fuel gauge that gradually goes dark as the gas is used up. Fuel mileage is a bit below the 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway for the base model.
The four bucket seats, two in front and two behind, are comfortable and legroom is ample upfront and decent in back. The cargo hold is more than adequate for a compact. Large cupholders front and back are a nice touch.
Still, there are a couple of things that Mini could work on. The base price of the Cooper S Paceman trim is $26,800. Extras such as a fine Harman Kardon audio system, sharp-looking alloy rims, Steptronic automatic transmission and a clever dual panoramic sunroof over front and rear seats run the price up to $34,800 — rather steep for a value-oriented car.
Also, Mini could be seen as stretching what constitutes a new car by giving new names to a coupe version of the Countryman and a cargo edition of the Clubman.
Having said that, Mini didn’t design near-clones of other models: they each can stand fon their own. Instead, the carmaker again displays its manufacturing skill at starting with one hugely popular hardtop and creating a multitude of worthy, quality, fun spinoffs to keep the series going. Both the Paceman and Clubvan should be hits, in their own one-of-a-kind ways.
To learn more about the Clubvan and Paceman, visit your local Mini dealer.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.