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With JCW, Mini Paceman moves upmarket

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Divisive looks don’t come cheap with the Paceman JCW.

At nearly £30k, it’s the most expensive Mini on sale, and many people will be rude about its looks. It will never go around corners quite like a proper hot hatch, because ultimately it’s just a two-door version of the somewhat portly Countryman. And it lacks the tingly edge we like so much about other John Cooper Works models.

But… there’s still something likeable about the Paceman JCW. Maybe it’s the familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, which froths with character and blows raspberries down the exhaust. Maybe it’s the excellent electromagnetic centre differential, which chucks up to 100% of the 215bhp to the rear wheels if it feels the need. Or maybe it’s the burst of extra torque under full acceleration from 2,100 to 4,500rpm, which is just enough to make this thing feel brisk.

Tip it into a corner – and it does tip – and the front end makes for the apex. Then, as soon as you get back on the power, the 4WD goes to work, saving you from gloomy understeer. We drove all day on cold, wet roads, gathering confidence with every bend. It’s more assured and bearable than other JCWs, thought that could be down to the winter tires and 17s it was wearing from our German test route, giving it more of a cushion.

It will never hide its 5ft height or 1,475kg weight, but the generally decent se-up and strong brakes help it feel more like a hot hatch than a chubby wannabe. Some more supportive seats would be welcome, to save passengers from having to anchor themselves with a knee or elbow. And although Sport mode sharpens the throttle and turns the exhaust into a crackly firework when you come off the power, it doesn’t alter the suspension and it actually stiffens the steering too much.

Whenther or not you could live with the styling is up to you. But if you do find yourself lovingly drawn to this freaky Mini, allow us to temper your enthusiasm for a moment. For not much more money – or no extra money depending on optional extras – you could have your 4WD action with a VW Golf R. Or RWD in the shape of the ballistically good BMW M135i. OK, nobody will point at you in the plain-looking BMW. But perhaps you’re not the sort of person who likes being pointed at.

This story originally appeared on TopGear.com.