As I swooped the 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman into turn after turn, window open so I could hear the tires sing their tortured song, the car repeatedly admonished me about "Dangerous cornering." At first I thought it was a compliment, but it was apparently too much excitement for the Driving Excitement feature in the Mini Connected app.
The Mini Connected app is one of the coolest features of the Paceman, combining Google local search, Web radio, social media, and a unique connection to the car for driving enthusiasts.
However, for the Paceman, the app might have been right about the cornering warnings. Where the standard Mini hatchback was lauded from its 2001 launch for its go-kart handling, the Paceman sacrifices that attribute in favor of size. The new Paceman model, introduced at last year's Paris Motor Show, follows the lead of the plump Countryman model in its larger dimensions.
Despite only having two doors, like the standard Mini hatchback, the Paceman comes in 4 inches wider and taller than its coupe sibling, and 1 foot 3 inches longer. It seems odd that Mini would create a new model with the same basic layout of another car in its lineup, but the Paceman seems to be aimed at potential buyers turned off by the other model's small size.
The cabin of the Paceman certainly feels larger than that of the hatchback model, but despite the increased size, Mini opted for two bucket seats in the rear rather than a bench, limiting it to four passengers.
Occupancy control might be Mini's strategy to ensure that the Paceman retains some performance. This new model weighs almost 600 pounds more than the hatchback, yet relies on the same engine. Throughout the Mini lineup, all Cooper models get a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, while the Cooper S models get the much more efficient and powerful turbocharged direct-injection 1.6-liter engine.
With that engine, the Cooper S Paceman gets 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. I wouldn't bother with the non-S Paceman, as its 122-horsepower engine would likely struggle to achieve any kind of acceleration. Like the Countryman, Mini offers its All4 all-wheel-drive system on the Paceman, which might make it a more attractive model than the standard hatchback in regions with slippery road conditions.
The model I tested was the Cooper S Paceman with all-wheel drive and optional navigation. Adding up all the options, some of them not "tech," the sticker price on this car pushed 40 grand, quite a lot for a Mini.
Mini Connected for iPhone only
Having previously tried out the Mini Connected app in another car, I was eager to use it again in the Paceman. Beyond its more useful features, I had found Mission Control, which activates voices representing the car and its engine, hilarious. But I hadn't seen the Driving Excitement feature before, and it proved the most compelling during my time with the car.
Mini uses a standard cabin technology package across its lineup, so you can get Mini Connected in any model. The package adds an LCD to the center of the big, dinner plate of a speedometer in the center of the dashboard, along with a simple joystick controller behind the shifter. Navigation is an add-on for the Technology package.
Unfortunately, the Mini Connected app only works on iPhones, and the phone has to be plugged into the car. Worse, Mini still uses a Y-cable for iPhones, an adapter with a 30-pin connector on one end and USB and 1/8-inch audio plugs on the other. Of course, iPhone 5 users will also need a Lightning-to-30-pin adapter.
With this whole rig assembled, and the Mini Connected app running on my phone, I could select a globe icon off the Paceman's elliptical cabin tech menu and see a big list of Mini Connected features, topped by Driving Excitement. Driving Excitement's main screen rated my acceleration, cornering, and braking performance. For cars equipped with Mini's manual transmission, it also rates shifting, but this Paceman was an automatic.
Along with gaining levels as I gained experience in each area of driving, the app also awarded badges for different achievements. I earned the Catapult badge for a good zero-to-60-mph run. There were also badges for visiting sites in the U.K. and Paris.
And I thought it would reward me for driving fast through the turns.
The Paceman didn't feel much like the Minis I was used to when I took it at speed through a turn. The wheel was responsive, although it lacked much in the way of road feel. According to the specs, the car has a sport suspension, but sharp turn-in made the outside front corner plow downward. There was no flat rotation, the Paceman tending to feel like any other random car on the road, giving a bit of outward lean through the turns. Unlike the standard Mini hatchback, I wouldn't expect the Paceman to perform well on an autocross course.
With the app's ultrasensitive turn monitoring, I thought I would never earn the cornering badge. By luck, I ended up on a narrow mountain road, two-way but lacking a center line, forcing more care as I drove through multiple blind turns in a row. That enforced caution led to the Mini Connected app rewarding me with its Curves Straightener badge.
In cross-purposes to Driving Excitement, the app also has its Minimalism Analyzer, an eco coach encouraging economical driving.
The app's Twitter and Facebook feeds are kind of useless, in that the display posts clipped versions of each update, and it would be dangerous to read them while driving. The car can read the updates out loud, but I didn't find it very listenable due to all the links and other characters the computer voice enunciates. The pace is also very slow.
More useful is the fact that I could post updates to Facebook and Twitter from templates. When I had a destination programmed into navigation, one template would actually post my destination and likely arrival time, very useful for keeping friends informed as to when to expect me.
The Google local-search feature also interacted with the navigation system, so that I could enter a search term and get a corresponding list of nearby businesses. Choosing a search result, I could tell the navigation system to calculate a route. The rotary alphanumeric input made searches somewhat inconvenient. Voice command for this feature would have helped.
The navigation system itself is pretty weak. Mini chooses an odd color scheme, with lime-green roads on a gray background. The maps aren't big on detail, and zoom in to a minimum scale of 400 feet, which makes it difficult to pick out individual street names. The next level up is 800 feet, then a quarter mile.
I like that the system includes traffic, and gives detour options for bad traffic conditions. But the route guidance is also subpar. Although it shows turn graphics for surface streets, it didn't give me anything for freeway junctions beyond voice prompts saying, "Bear right," or "Bear left." It didn't even read out street names for its voice prompts.