The John Cooper Works sits 10mm lower than other model grades in the Paceman range

The John Cooper Works sits 10mm lower than other model grades in the Paceman range

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Love the Mini John Cooper Works but can't fit your kids, dog, or anything much besides in it? BMW has clearly been listening. Glenn Brooks tries the JCW Paceman.

It isn't often that I find myself driving a car with a bright red roof and matching bonnet stripes. True, the recently sampled 500L had a differently-coloured top and the C1 Connexion came with the same Grab You By The Throat And Scream At You shade of vermilion for its door mirrors. But on the Mini, the contrast to the metallic black paint was striking. A couple of my neighbours had a good look at this one in our shared carpark.

Do people know what a Paceman is? It's telling that BMW started off selling the Countryman without any model name badge on its bum but all the recent ones I see have COUNTRYMAN picked out in big silver letters, as do all Pacemen. When you're selling over 300,000 vehicles annually, as Mini did for the first time last year, you need to start differentiating the various models in your range, and you also need to be especially careful to ensure that JCW models look a bit special - there are now no less than seven different John Cooper Works Mini models.

The Paceman started life as a concept at the Detroit auto show in January 2011 but the production model took until September 2012's Paris motor show to appear. Magna Steyr began building it at its Graz plant in Austria from late 2012. Cars for the UK market began filtering into showrooms in March but the JCW was kept back from the launch range.

Mini's top-spec model grade Paceman had its world premiere at the Detroit show this last January and was rolled out to global markets from the second quarter. Powering it is a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Its output, 218bhp or 160kW, is a handy 34bhp more than the Paceman Cooper S.

The JCW package brings with it ALL4 all-wheel drive, an aerodynamic bodykit, 18-inch alloy wheels and lowered suspension. A six-speed manual transmission is standard but I would recommend the optional six-speed automatic. It isn't often that I can't get on with a manual gearbox but in this car the clutch was heavy so the usual clogged motorway stopping and starting got a bit tiresome at times.

Once you get away from low speed driving, the Works is a hoot. Despite having booked it with BMW for a summer press test, there was not one drop of rain in my week with the car so I had no experience of the 4x4 system on slippery roads. On dry tarmac, the grip is terrific, the handling secure and acceleration brisk (0-62mph in 6.9 seconds for both gearboxes), though you couldn't accuse the ride of being soft.

If you're considering buying one of these, my advice would be to drive the Cooper S too. That way you can be 100% certain that you, the JCW's firmer suspension and lower ride height will all get along famously. I suspect GBP1,130 worth of optional 'Crusher' alloy rims were partly to blame for the stiff ride on the test car so try a car fitted with these and see how it feels.

The interior is a cosy fit for four passengers - a rail with cupholders separates the rear occupants and the seats are excellent. For a sports model and despite the lowered springs, you sit quite high. So the view out is very good despite thick A-pillars - I found myself looking around them as I must do in most cars - which you quickly get used to. There is lots of headroom, the boot is a decent size and much better than the smaller B segment Mini hatchback, but I found it hard to love the huge circular gauge in the middle of the dashboard. It just seems too big for what is supposed to be a sports car. I know it's a retro thing, as are the ten fiddly toggle switches - take me to task on the feedback forum if you must but I don't remember the 1950s. I prefer push buttons.

A few other observations about the interior. Were I paying GBP37,000 (see below) I would expect spongier plastics than the ones on offer, and grab handles which didn't snap back and sun visors that were a little more substantial in feel, or a headliner trimmed in more luxurious material. Balancing out that stuff, I did really like the red detailing on the beautifully shaped door trims, plus the same optional Chili highlights on parts of the dashboard and thick rimmed sports steering wheel. The doors also contain big bins for all your stuff so extra marks to BMW for that. And if you like leather seats, you will love these dark grey ones which are beautifully trimmed.

The circular or semi-circular theme of the central SatNav readout and speedo continues with the silver crescent shaped door pulls and a few other details. One last moan, and I said the same thing about another car with a glass roof recently - you cannot escape UV rays even with the sunblind pulled shut on this extra cost item. Let's hope maybe someone at the supplier is reading this and takes note.

For a car with low gearing, fuel economy was good. I saw 34.1mpg, and the average in the European test cycle is 38.2mpg or 7.4 litres/100km (automatic: 7.9 litres). When it comes time to fill up, don't believe the little picture of the pump in the fuel guage - that thoughtful image which I had thought all manufacturers used to show you which side the fuel flap is on. In the Paceman, the hose isn't on the same side as the filler nozzle - there's a first time for everything and this was mine.

I mentioned earlier that Mini's global sales for 2012 reached a new record. The US is the largest market but Britain was number two ahead of Germany. So far this year, 28,467 cars have been sold in the UK, a YoY rise of 3.4 percent when the total market is up 10.34 percent. Considering the current three-door Mini is in its last year of production that's a strong performance for the brand.

BMW Group's soon to be revealed third generation Mini will be the first to use the Untere Fahrzeugklasse (UKL1) architecture. This set of modules will eventually be employed by some 10 Group models, including the production version of the BMW Concept Activity Tourer which debuted at the 2012 Paris motor show.

The follow-up to today's Paceman might be launched as soon as 2016, some say, though others believe it more likely that R61 will instead have a mid-life facelift and some new engine options in 2016 and then be replaced by a UKL1-based model in 2019. Like the closely related R60 series Countryman, R61 uses the R50 platform as introduced by BMW Group's first generation Mini in 2001.

The Mini John Cooper Works Paceman costs GBP29,535 but the test car was priced at GBP37,580 thanks to the inclusion of options such as the Chili pack (mostly the red roof), metallic black paint, 19-inch alloys, electric glass roof, Harmon Kardon hi-fi, seat heating, UV-reflecting glass and various other extras.

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