Day one: It’s very easy to criticise the Mini Countryman. It’s very easy to regard it as a bloated, boggle-eyed, bilious parody which drops its ghastly, Austrian-made trousers and curls out an ugly steaming turd onto the grave of Sir Alec Issigonis. But actually, plenty of people like it. One in every three Minis sold is a Countryman these days and if you look around, they’re everywhere. So now there’s a three door version. I don’t remember demanding such a thing. Did you? No? Oh. Well someone must have. And here it is, looking quite strange. I think it’s the mis-match between the upright windscreen pillars and the more rakish back end. Sitting inside feels odd too. The screen angle is unusual and the whole car feels massive. I can’t get the driving position right.
Day two: Work to do. The Paceman sits outside looking tubby and strange. In the evening I have to go to a place just outside London. Getting there involves following a mate in a Nissan Juke. He drives like a loony. Chasing a Nissan Juke across Surrey in a Mini Paceman. It’s the kind of dream from which you’d wake up screaming. Anyway, from this brisk journey I can report that this Paceman is quite quick, as you’d hope since it’s the Cooper S version, and that it has a lot of grip. Conversely, it gets distracted by ruts and cambers, the steering is too quick for the rest of the car and the ride is appalling.
Day three: Still trying to get comfortable. This has become particularly important because earlier today The Final Countdown by Europe came on in the kitchen and I put my back out trying to play the dog like an air guitar. The seat back adjuster is a tiny tab down between the cushion and the centre armrest. It’s senselessly hard to operate and part of a whole suite of inexplicable design that would really get on your nerves if you owned this car. Half the passenger door mirror and the digital readout in the rev counter become invisible when you have the seat set low; that readout itself won’t let you see what temperature it is and then check something useful like range-to-empty without toggling through all the other modes from a single button on the stalk; the ignition key is actually a little plastic flying saucer that has to put into the slot the right way up or it pops out and falls on the floor; the slot itself is impossible to see without leaning forward and completely disappears in the dark. Why have they done all these things to us? Is BMW still angry about Rover?
Day four: I forgot about another tremendous interior annoyance; the handbrake. It’s an over-designed L-shape which forces you to twist your wrist to work it. I’m sure Mini would describe it as ‘aircraft style’. Not sure aircraft actually have handbrakes. A real ‘aircraft style’ handbrake would be a set of chocks.
My wife has started calling this car the Pacemaker. Later, she also refers to it as ‘fat’. She’s right. It somehow manages to be even bigger than it feels. And it feels pretty big.
Day five: The Mini has a sport mode. It sharpens the throttle, which is good, and makes the steering even weirder, which is bad. Whenever Germans engineer a British car they almost always make the steering heavier than it needs to be. See also the Rover 75 and the original Aston DB9. ‘Oh ja, is totally authentical Britische heritage.’ Sod off, no it isn’t.
I was going to say that the Mini feels solidly and Germanically well made but the ride is so bad that it’s making something in the boot and a part of the door trim rattle. Also, the chrome electric window switches on the door look excellent but creak when you use them.
Day six: In front of the Mini’s gearlever there is a slot which is exactly the right size for an iPhone. How thoughtful. Except it has no lip on it nor a grippy floor so as soon as you accelerate your phone falls out into the cup holder. What the merry frig is going on here? It really is like the entire interior has been designed to be as profoundly irritating as possible. Plus, the massive speedo/screen and the two round vents in the middle of the dash look like Mickey Mouse’s head. It’s not a design that a grown up can enjoy.
Day seven: I think I’ve worked this one out. Traditionally, all Minis are bought by people called Emma. This is a fact (that I’ve just made up). Some time, two or three years ago, the head of the Paceman project had his heart broken by an Emma and from then on he was out for revenge, not just on her but on all Emmas. He wanted their spines to be cracked by terrible ride quality, he wanted their wrists to be dislocated by a stupid handbrake, he wanted their minds to be vexed by an idiotically designed key and their phones to be broken by falling repeatedly into the cup holder. He wanted Emmas to suffer and by buying this car, by God they will. It’s the only explanation for why so much of this thing is almost spitefully shit.
Goodbye: The Paceman is going away. After a week I still can’t work out the point of it. If you want a three door Mini, buy a Mini. If you need more room and practicality, buy a Countryman. This is neither. I wonder if BMW looked at the Range Rover Evoque and decided they also needed a sort of high riding coupe to go alongside the five door. They probably didn’t know that, at the time of writing, 90 percent of UK Evoque buyers pick the five door. So it’s a pointless car with bizarre styling, a terrible ride and an endlessly irritating interior. I bet they sell loads.
The car talked about is a Mini Paceman Cooper S with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine making 182 horsepower. Mini says it can do 0-62 in 7.5 seconds and hit 135mph. It costs £22,360.