Funky Town: It seems like every automaker is trying to create new markets, or cater to smaller and smaller ones. SUVs, SAVs, CUVs, X1, X2, X3, X5, X6, oh my. If you love parakeets and paper bags, I bet there will be a car aimed specifically at you within the next 5 years.
2013 Mini Paceman Coupe
MINI is guilty of this. There’s the traditional Mini Cooper, the less-practical Coupe, the elongated Clubman, and the big daddy Countryman. Ironically, there’s a MINI in sizes S through XL.
To be fair, those models do have slightly different capabilities. The Countryman trades agility for space and ground clearance, the Clubman is like a Mini Cooper long bed, and the Coupe is the best-driving lawn ornament ever. We can’t be surprised that MINI is banking on our quest for recognizable individuality; this is the company that offers you 10 million trim combinations for a single car.
So after they built the 4-door Countryman, they had to build a 2-door one, because someone, somewhere, said “Ooh, what if they made one of those 4-doors with 2 doors?! It’d be like a Mini Cooper, only bigger!”
Some say the 2013 Mini Paceman is Fiat 500 competition; no, that’s the regular Mini Cooper. This is like a half-priced Range Rover Evoque. It’s really just a 2-door crossover whose only advantage over a Clubman is that optional AWD.
I say “only”, because this car sorely disappointed me during a track test. The grip that made MINI who they are has been replaced with tires made of soap and water. It feels sluggish and heavy. That spunk, that energy that I love about MINIs is absent completely. I liked the Countryman S All-4 because it felt like a mountaineering relative of the MINI family. This feels like an imposter without a purpose.
2013 Nissan Juke SL
A car that seems equally aimless is the Nissan Juke. It doesn’t look like any car you’ve ever seen before, or one you’d ever request. The public’s reactions to it span the gamut of human emotions. It’s not for a conformist or someone whose self-worth is dependent on the approval of others.
I’ll leave the design evaluations to the individual, because the secret the Juke SL holds is: it’s really fun, in a silly way. You’re up high in something that looks like a bullfrog, and you hear a turbo spool and shoot out of a corner, and with that you are laughing. “What is this thing?!” It doesn’t accelerate like an Enzo or corner like a GT3, it’s that it takes our condescending expectations (which are based on its looks) and flings them around a corner with surprising speed.
Did you know this 4-wheeled oddity has 188HP from a 1.6L inline-4 fed by a turbo? Yeah, a turbo! It makes 177 ft-lbs of torque at 2,000RPM! In a car that costs $23k, those are good numbers. Turbos, bulbous curves and strange lights; its like fast alien.
And then you hit a tight corner; it leans over a little, but sticks, carrying surprising speed. Everyone loves an underdog surpassing expectations and this car is the king of that game. The steering feel could be better, it needs better seat bolsters, and it’s not as cool-looking inside as a MINI, but you’d have been floored at how many journalists got out of this car with sore cheeks from laughing so hard.
I’d say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” but I think we failed even assess the cover of the Juke correctly; the cover is fun, and so is the story. Like the Mini Paceman, it’s a funky 5-seater that no one asked for, but it has a personality that is infectious. That’s a trait MINI built their name on, and the Paceman soils that name. The Nissan Juke is the better jester here.