Driving a Mini Cooper is like driving a go-kart from the future, and quite possibly one that was designed by inhabitants of the moon. As we whipped around the one-lane road in the mountains comprising idyllic Ponce, Puerto Rico, it became immediately clear that even the Paceman—Mini's seventh addition to the family and the largest model to date—keeps with the original's rally car stance, almost defying gravity as we tackle a hairpin turn at just under 30 miles per hour. To quote Pretty Woman, this baby corners like it's on rails—and the bonus is, there's enough room inside to bring your friends along for the ride.
Equal parts SUV, hatchback and coupe, this two-door, all-wheel drive edition they've dubbed the world's first sport utility coupe could be the upshot of trying to please too many motorists in one ridiculously tiny car. Instead, this is the Goldilocks of automobiles, and its brilliance lies in Mini's ability to incorporate so much functionality into a car that is also extremely fun to drive. You can overtake, undertake, take sharp turns and fit into essentially any parking space the world over, all in a car that looks like a sexy smile rolling down the road.
Fun is a word Mini takes seriously, and the new Paceman channels the BMW offshoot's cheeky outlook on motoring—which is specifically to remain "not normal." From its sleekly animated silhouette to the jaunty way it drives, it's obvious Mini's intention is to retain the classic hardtop's pint-sized punch while allowing for a little more legroom. It's the perfect set of wheels for friends to take on a road trip—hopefully their longstanding Zip-Car agreement comes to include this new model.
Not only can this true four-seater handle nearly any type of twists and turns, but the Paceman's elongated frame more seamlessly integrates the front and back of the car for a holistic driving experience. They have created a "lounge atmosphere" in the rear by eschewing a fifth seat for two full bucket seats, separated by a slender drink caddy, and have extended the door trim so it runs from the dash to the armrest in the back seat. And the panoramic sunroof offers passengers a glorious viewpoint from any position.
No matter how well a car handles, no joy ride is complete without a soundtrack to set the mood. In the eyes of Mini, this could mean blasting the latest hits on your iPhone through their harman/kardon speaker system or utilizing their unique infotainment system, which taps into music programs like Mog and more. Even more interestingly, through their iOS app, Mini Connected, you can stream and read aloud your Facebook feed, access your RSS feed for the morning commute or link up with FourSquare and Twitter to announce your whereabouts. There are so many options to toggle between, you might just want set up the Paceman as your new satellite office.
Always a leader in smart design, Mini continues to impress even as they add more models to the lineup. The Paceman is still the smallest car in its class and the pleasure it delivers upon driving one undoubtedly negates any concern over how large a Mini it is. Keep an eye out for the Paceman at dealers around the world starting March 2013.
See more photos from our trip to Ponce in the slideshow below. All images by Karen Day.