…or how style is sometimes used to solve probems that didn’t exist
Some of you may remember I was once the editor of this title, others may still be trying to forget (so I apologise for this reminder). And when I left to pursue a freelance career, it was the late Russell Bulgin, the most talented writer to turn his attention to cars in my generation, who taught me how to do it. “It’s not about being Hemingway,” he reassured me, “but writing to length, to brief and to deadline.” He was right despite the fact that the last story of his I commissioned – an appreciation of Jackie Stewart – missed the mark so spectacularly in all three regards. If it hadn’t also been one of the finest pieces of writing to appear between these covers, I’d have thrown it straight back at him.
But there is a fourth rule: write for your reader and not for yourself.
I mention this now because were I writing this for any number of lifestyle magazines, I might quite legitimately have all manner of complimentary things to say about the Mini Paceman. Like any fashion accessory, its job is to get you noticed and it’s one it does very well indeed. And, if I understand the subject at all, I think the point about fashion is that to those to whom it matters, it transcends all other considerations, especially practicality. Function can go hang when there’s form to be had. Or something like that.
So while you might see the Paceman as a Mini Countryman with its one obvious asset – a reasonable amount of rear room – removed, the people at whom it is aimed will see that as a positive virtue. Cars with room in the back and rear doors suggest family, which suggests commitment, being tied down and not being free. By contrast a rear cabin that is difficult to access and uncomfortable to occupy is perfect: no one’s ever going to mistake you for someone who’s settled down, but if you do need to pour a couple of plastered mates into the back so they can get home safely from the wine bar, you can.
I suspect the fact I find the idea of the Paceman so irritating says almost as much about my middle aged, middle of the road outlook as the car itself. As a man who finds venturing beyond the cosy confines of the Boden catalogue almost unthinkable, it is a style statement too far. Truth is, I probably don’t understand this car, let alone the mindset of someone who might be minded to pay a whole lot of money to own one.
But while its appeal as a fashion icon may be lost on me, I can appreciate the engineering that lies cloaked beneath it. And, like most BMW products, it’s very good.
With a 184bhp 1.6-litre turbo motor it provides performance that is both smooth and vivid. It handles well for a car of its apparent size and has an excellent six-speed transmission, too.
My father once described the Triumph Stag as a nice car for someone else.
I could spend the rest of my days failing to find a better summation of my feelings towards the Mini Paceman.
Engine: 1.6 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 184bhp @5500rpm
Torque: 177lb ft @1600-5000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 135mph