MINI reveals the new Paceman Sports Activity Coupé

Just as we are beginning to come to terms with the un-mini-like 4-door MINI Countryman, along comes another new MINI to challenge our perceptions of the brand.

MINI describe the Paceman Concept as the first Sports Activity Coupé in the small premium segment and that it reinforces the MINI brand’s unconventional creativity. I’ll say! MINI will be displaying this new design concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) between January 10th and 23rd, 2011.

So what exactly is it?

(Another) new category of car

The MINI Paceman Concept study establishes a new category of car combining the fundamental MINI DNA – dynamic capability, individual design – and gives them a fresh twist with the help of cutting edge technology and an innovative new body concept. The Paceman combines the classical MINI concept with the defining features of the MINI Countryman and the style of a coupe. The result is a MINI with visual ‘muscle car’ design cues, displaying its dynamic capability from every angle.

Got that?

“It is ten years exactly since the new MINI was launched to the US market so there is a happy symmetry in presenting an all-new concept at the Detroit Show,” said Jochen Goller, MINI Director for BMW UK Ltd. “Following last year’s launch of the MINI Countryman and the forthcoming launches of the MINI Coupé and Roadster, the Paceman Concept shows once again not only the innovative spirit and adventure among its design team, but also the potential breadth of the MINI brand as it grows and develops.”

Although no decision has been made yet about a future production version, Paceman (or whatever it is finally called) is likely to form yet another building block in the development of the MINI brand.

BMW Group’s second SAC

If you’re thinking you’ve heard the termSports Activity Coupé before that’s because BMW’s X6 was the first to wear it, now MINI joins the category with a coupé interpretation of the Countryman.

The Paceman Concept retains the familiar MINI family frontal appearance but adds its own distinctive flavour. Large headlights with chrome surrounds extend deep into the front wings and, together with the distinctively contoured bonnet, emphasise the imposing nose of the Paceman. The radiator grille is essentially the same as that of the Cooper S Countryman barring additional air intakes in the bumper to deliver improved brake ventilation and the incorporation of new deep set fog lights.

Side on the Paceman features a fresh interpretation of the front wing and side indicator that attracts the eye from the A-pillars down to its unique design 19-inch front wheels. This rugged and sturdy design element is complemented by dark wheel arch surrounds with matching side skirts designed to emphasise the masculine, sporting nature of Paceman.

BMW Group's 2nd Sports Activity Coupé, the MINI Paceman adopts coupé-style windows tapering towards the rear.

The familiar MINI shoulder-line that rises towards the rear of the Paceman Concept also hints at its sporting intent. Less familiar is the glass and roof treatment. As the waistline rises the flat roofline flows into a wide C-pillar that appears to be transparent. The windows appear to wrap around the car like a band of glass with the roof ‘suspended’ on top and painted in a striking, contrasting colour. This is known as the ‘helmet’ roof. The coupé-style windows taper towards the rear and the whole effect is said to be one of a dynamic wedge shape.

“In contrast to the more vertical design of the MINI Countryman, we’ve given the MINI Paceman Concept a horizontal emphasis and accentuated the width of the car rather more to underline the powerful appearance of the study,” explained Marcus Syring, Head of MINI Exterior Design.

A new interpretation of the classic coupé design has given the MINI Paceman Concept a distinctive coupé tail that complements the athletic character of the car. New rear lights positioned at the outer edges of the muscular rear wings underline the dominance of horizontal lines, which run parallel to one another and emphasise the wide track of the rear axle.

As with the MINI Cooper S Countryman, the rear apron of the Paceman Concept features a diffuser that channels the airflow between the twin exhausts and further enhances the car’s aerodynamics. Even the licence plate recess echoes the form of the front air intake in order to forge a stylistic link between the front and rear of the car.

The MINI Paceman Concept measures 4,110 millimetres in length, 1,789 millimetres in width and 1,541 millimetres in height. In archetypal MINI style, the Paceman has extremely short front and rear overhangs to facilitate those familiar go kart driving responses.

Inside

The interior of the MINI Paceman Concept deliberately draws on MINI’s unique and distinctive design language, yet it also imparts a refreshing new look.

Behind the study’s masculine exterior (MINI uses this term 4 times in its media pack) lies an elegant yet sporty interior environment that is said to exude premium quality together with a funky design. The instrument panel of the MINI study is defined by its distinctive, concave forms and the sporting yet functional impression it creates. The central air vents, central speedo and gearshift lever feature outer rings in a contrasting colour while large side air vents underline the MINI character still further.

The slim centre console, which maximises legroom for the driver and front passenger, merges into the Centre Rail pioneered by the MINI Countryman, creating a visual and functional link between the front and rear seats. This unique and innovative U-profile rail system runs along the centreline of the passenger compartment as far as the rear seat backrests.

The cocktail glasses are unlikely to make it into the production version of the Paceman, but everything else is closer to reality than concept car.

Light shades of leather lend an expression of luxurious allure to the interior of the MINI Paceman, while a new interpretation of the brand’s familiar elliptical door and side trim extends along the length of the cabin, taking in the B-pillar and emphasising the length of the interior. Shaped armrests with large stowage compartments, ergonomically designed door pulls and the speakers for the sound system are embedded in the main element of this ellipse.

Behind the front sports seats are two comfortably-shaped individual rear seats designed with backrests that merge distinctively into the seat sides in order to create fully contoured passenger support. The “club lounge” character thus created underlines the individual and unconventional nature of the MINI Paceman Concept and is intended to turn every journey into an experience for the rear passengers every bit as much as it is for those in the front.

The oily bits

The MINI Paceman Concept has been designed to allow the deployment of the most powerful engine currently available within the MINI palette. The MINI John Cooper Works 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbocharged engine gives the Paceman Concept the capacity to deliver the kind of performance that its appearance promises. This 16 valve, four cylinder unit develops 207 bhp and generates maximum torque of 260 Nm (192 lb-ft), the latter value having the capacity to reach 280 Nm (207 lb-ft) in brief bursts thanks to the Overboost function.

Its MINI Countryman roots give this new Paceman Concept an ideal platform for the MINI ALL4 permanent all-wheel-drive system. ALL4 features an electromagnetic centre differential positioned directly on the final drive which varies the distribution of power seamlessly between the front and rear axles. In normal driving conditions up to 50 per cent of the drive is sent to the rear wheels, but in extreme situations as much as 100 per cent can be directed to the rear.

The MINI Paceman Concept is, of course, also available in two wheel drive form but harnessing the power of the punchy four-cylinder engine in all-wheel-drive form offers an extra dose of driving fun.

Round the bends

MINI chassis technology has been further developed for the MINI Paceman Concept to transform its performance into a driving experience that offers agility, impressive poise and safety. While it delivers precise and sporting handling MINI also claims to have achieved impressive standards of compliant ride comfort.

The front axle features MacPherson struts with lower track control arms which, combined with Electric Power Steering with speed-sensitive power assistance, plays a major role in delivering the response and agility customers expect from a MINI. The Paceman’s multi-link rear axle was developed using proven BMW Group chassis expertise and is designed for use in both the front-wheel-drive and the ALL4 all-wheel-drive versions of the car.

Look out for more of these niches-within-a-niche products

It’s a reflection on the impressive flexibility of MINI’s manufacturing plant that it can continue to evolve the basic MINI concept in such new and unconventional ways.

“The MINI Paceman Concept aims to deliver a particularly emotional driving experience and demonstrates this ability in a style typical of the brand. I believe we are offering clear evidence of how totally new vehicle concepts can still be developed through unconventional creativity,” explained Jochen Goller.

We can only wonder what’s next in this journey away from the original 1960s Issigonis Mini.