MINI JCW Paceman

26 Feb, 2013 11:00pm Tom Phillips

We get behind the wheel of the 215bhp MINI John Cooper Works Paceman to deliver our verdict


The JCW Paceman is the most expensive MINI money can buy, but it’s not the best. The engine is potent, and the four-wheel-drive system and uprated brakes ensure sweet handling. But for a sporty car to be better to drive in normal, rather than sport mode, you’d be better off saving £6,000 and buying a Cooper S Paceman, or looking elsewhere, unless the cachet of owning the flagship of the MINI line-up is enough.

At £29,535, the new JCW Paceman is the most expensive MINI money can buy, out-pricing the four-door JCW Countryman and even the limited-edition MINI JCW GP hatchback. What’s more, it’s £5,925 more than the standard Cooper S Paceman. But is it worth the extra investment?

Despite the cost, the flagship model gets exactly the same suspension settings as the rest of the Paceman range, which includes uprated springs and dampers, thicker anti-roll bars and a 10mm lower ride height than the Countryman on which it’s based. The ride is firm but well judged for a car of this ilk – MINIs are supposed to be a little on the raw side, and the suspension helps the Paceman feel light and nimble to drive.

The brakes on the JCW are larger and have red-painted calipers. There's excellent feel through the pedal and decent stopping power, too, when required to slow the Paceman’s 1,400kg.

A set of 18-inch alloys are standard, while some smart 19-inch ‘Crusher’ two-tone rims are on the options list, and suit the more aggressive bodykit of the JCW car well.

The steering is also the same set-up as any other Paceman. It’s light and direct in its normal mode, although you do notice the extra bodyroll on turn-in to corners, meaning the JCW takes a little while to settle into bends before you can accelerate.

Press the toggle switch in the centre console to turn on Sport mode, and the steering becomes artificially heavy and rather devoid of feel. It gives confidence at high motorway speeds, or if you were to venture on to a track, but the normal mode actually gives a better connection to what the front wheels are doing. However, normal mode does mean you miss out on the faster throttle response and pops and burps from the sports exhaust when you lift off the accelerator.

The big difference over the cheaper Paceman Cooper S is the addition of the 215bhp version of BMW’s 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Thanks to the addition of a larger intercooler and freer-breathing exhaust, it’s 34bhp up on the standard car. However, with the JCW’s price nudging that of a more powerful Volkswagen Golf R, you’d perhaps expect a bit more. The engine is quite raucous, especially on the motorway, but it doesn’t build speed especially quickly.

It’s a good job that MINI’s slick six-speed manual gearbox is standard fit, along with ALL4 four-wheel drive, which gives the car seriously impressive traction out of tight bends. It seamlessly shuffles power between the axles, and splits power 50:50 most of the time. However, it can move almost 100 per cent of torque to the rear axle should the going get slippy, which also gives a satisfying balance to the car’s handling.

Inside, the JCW gets extra badges, a JCW-branded steering wheel and black anthracite headlining, which does make things feel a little gloomy. The sports seats are a bit of a disappointment, as they lack enough side bolstering when the car is clinging on to tight bends.

Disqus - noscript

So we have an overpriced, two-door, 4wd, not-so-mini Mini that is slower, uglier, and less practical than its rivals.

Surely this is the very definition of answering a question that nobody asked...

Predictions on how long this four-wheeled conundrum will stay in production?

Normally I would be irritated by AE's determination to put in a subliminal "plug" for the VW Golf but this time it is quite justifiable on the grounds of the appearance of this "Mini" alone. This is true both of the interior with the ludicrous speedometer and the exterior. Elsewhere this vehicle is described as one "which no-body asked for" by a firm "with few ideas". Just so.

I'm not sure how the BMW group can get pricing so wrong. On one hand we have the true bargain of the M135i for £30k and on the other we have this hugely over priced niche of a niche.

The Mini brand is getting the biggest joke since the Edsel Ford.

Sadly its a very expensive joke.

Your trying to provide a rational argument against it. You miss the point entirely, people don't buy minis from this perspective, they buy them because they are drawn and emotionally connected to them. They don't want a cookie cutter car that is bland and ticks all the boxes, they want a car with character and frankly there are very few cars that offer this.

What you say about character is very true. Alas this vehicle does not have it IMHO.

So what you're saying is that unless a car is inherently poorly designed, it can't have character?

I'm actually not referring to the Mini brand, I'm referring to this particular model which is a niche too far and is in no way related to the essence of the Mini brand.

Please also learn the difference between "your" and "you're".

I really must get a test drive in a Mini, any Mini, just to see what they are like. I worked on and have driven just about every model and variation of the original Mini. They weren't much of a car back then new. These Minis must be a lot better.

Key specs

  • Price: £29,535
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbocharged
  • Power: 215bhp
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 140mph
  • Economy: 38.2mpg
  • CO2: 172g/km
  • Equipment: 18-inch alloys, sports seats, sports exhaust
  • On sale: 16 March