Modified: January 18, 2013 8:19 AM
With the Paceman, Mini expands brand ambitions
PALMA, Majorca -- Mini executives admit they're not sure of their target customer for the new three-door Paceman, which is based on the Countryman SUV.
"We're not in the market yet, so we don't have any real customer experience," Graeme Grieve, Mini's sales head, said at a press launch here.
The Paceman will go on sale in March as the seventh new Mini since BMW relaunched the iconic British brand in 2002.
Like its bigger rival, the Range Rover Evoque, the three-door Paceman, brings coupe styling to a tall car and puts the Mini brand into a new niche.
Grieve said some customers may go into a Mini showroom to buy the more practical five-door Countryman but may decide to buy a Paceman instead.
The Paceman's styling is radical for Mini because it includes for the first time horizontal taillights, a departure for a brand that has always referenced the original British Mini for its design, including vertical rear lights
"It says that we are introducing cars that are not just adhering to the heritage of the original," said Mini head of design Anders Warming. The production Paceman differs little from the concept designed by former Mini design chief Gert Hildebrand. That car was unveiled at the 2011 Detroit auto show.
Mini has been criticized in its UK base for stretching the brand far beyond the 3-meter long original car, but Warming said the Paceman still fulfills the brand's desire to offer the smallest car in a segment, similar to Porsche's wish to offer the sportiest.
"At 4.10 meters long, the Paceman is very much shorter than competitors such as the Evoque and VW Tiguan," he said. "People can drive it into the city and always get a parking spot."
Mini brand boss Kay Segler said Countryman production for 2012 was about 100,000 units, but he declined to give planned production volumes for the Paceman. "We have to see how much volume there will be but we are very flexible."
The Paceman shares drivetrains with the Countryman, but deletes the One entry model. The cheapest car is the 1.6-liter Cooper gasoline version, which costs 23,800 euros in Germany. That is 1,200 euros more than the equivalent Countryman.
The three engine trims above the Cooper, including the two diesels, can be ordered with four-wheel drive. However all Pacemans come with sports suspension as standard, which means ground clearance at 135mm is actually less than the standard hatchback. Buyers can also order the car without sports suspension.