"Odd to look at and a disappointment to drive, the flagship MINI JCW Paceman is just too expensive to recommend."
At almost £30,000, the MINI JCW Paceman is right at the very top of the price list for all MINI models, making it even more expensive than the five-door Countryman JCW and MINI JCW GP hot hatchback. The JCW is a hard car to pigeonhole, as it offers a similar blend of SUV and coupe styling as the larger BMW X6, and the power of a hot hatchback. The four-wheel drive Nissan Juke Nismo small SUV is worth a look if space isn’t too important, while the Volkswagen Golf GTI three-door is more spacious, cheaper, better to drive and faster. But not all can match the JCW's Paceman's unique design.
For a performance flagship, the MINI JCW Paceman doesn’t feel that quick to drive. MINI claims a 0-62mph time of 6.9 seconds, but it never feels that fast. The four-wheel drive system is impressive, though, and moves power between the front and rear wheels very smoothly to increase grip. The improved brakes are excellent, too. There are two driving modes – Normal and Sport – with the latter adding extra weight to the steering, increasing throttle response and added an extra pop and burble to the noise coming from the sports exhaust. However, the Sport mode steering loses feel and becomes too artificial and heavy, although it does add to the feeling of stability when making high-speed lane changes on the motorway. Body roll is quite well contained for a relatively high car.
The MINI JCW Paceman is at its best when you’re not driving in a fully committed way. Like all Pacemans, it's fitted with stiffer sports suspension that gives a pretty firm ride, especially if you opt for the larger 19-inch ‘Crusher’ wheel alloys. The sports seats are comfortable enough, although they don’t have sufficient side support to keep you upright when cornering quickly. The interior is very black, too, which can make the car feel a bit gloomy. The engine is quite noisy, particularly on the motorway.
Unlike the MINI hatchback and Clubman, which are built in Oxford, all Paceman and Countryman models - including the JCW - are built under contract for MINI at the well-established Magna Steyr factory in Austria. What's more, the JCW Paceman uses the same engine, six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes and four-wheel drive system as the JCW Countryman, which should mean decent reliability. However, as with any higher-performance car, the harder you drive, the the shorter the car's life will be. The interior is a concern, as it doesn’t feel as solidly built, or made from as high quality materials, as you'd expect from a car that costs this much.
The MINI JCW Paceman has a decent sized 330-litre boot, with a two-level boot floor. It's accessed via a large tailgate that's easy to swing open. The two individual rear seats do fold down, giving a maximum space of 1,080 litres. The two rear seats are quite easy to get into, but head and knee room are tight for taller drivers. MINI's modular Centre Rail is standard equipment, which fits between both front and rear seats, and allows you to clip on and slide cups or sunglasses holders to where they’re needed. Up front, there's good visibility, although it is sometimes hard to judge the JCW's width when parking or driving down a narrow road.
Value for money
The MINI JCW Paceman is the most expensive MINI that you can buy. For that considerable outlay, you do get equipment like 18-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, sports seats, a sports exhaust and air-conditioning. However, items like the Harman/Kardon stereo, parking sensors, xenon lights, sat-nav and an auto-dipping rear-view mirror are all optional extras. Despite its performance pretensions, the MINI JCW Paceman isn’t actually that quick to drive either, as it weighs 1,400kg - before you’ve added any passengers or their luggage.
The MINI JCW Paceman is fitted with the same 215bhp 1.6-litre engine that's used in all other JCW models. And while it's designed with performance in mind, the engine also includes stop-start, a gear-shift indicator built into the rev counter and brake regeneration technology that should keep running costs down when you’re not driving aggressively. MINI claims an average fuel economy of 38.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 172g/km. However, make the most of the JCW's performance and you’ll begin to encounter extra bills for items like tyres and brake pads in addition to fuel.