Forty-three years ago, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon. As he put his first foot on the ground, he made the historic declaration, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

I was reminded of this small piece of history, by the memorial service held to mark the passing of Armstrong in Washington DC, yesterday. But I was also prompted by MINI’s launch of its new Paceman.

Stay with me, all will become clear(ish) soon.

When MINI first announced that a coupé version of the oversized Countryman would be called ‘Paceman’ we began toying with its meaning. On the one hand it refers to the more sporting nature of this new MINI – ‘pace’ referring to the speed the car can maintain, but read the following words with some ‘pace’ – MINI Cooper S Paceman – and then tell me what you hear?

MINI Cooper Spaceman?

So, the MINI Spaceman Paceman is a small step away from its sibling, the Countryman, riding on the same platform, with three doors rather than five, a gently sloping roofline and a coupé-style side profile.

But while it may be a small step away from the Countryman, it’s a pretty huge leap away from what we’d normally consider a Coupé. (See where I was going with the analogy?)

MINI wax lyrically about “its contemporary shape, designed to appeal to a new type of design-conscious customer”, but between you, me and the gatepost the Paceman is a 3-door Countryman, without its sibling’s 5-seat versatility and without ticking many of the boxes we normally associate with a svelte coupé.

From bumper to bumper the car is 4,109 mm in length (4,115mm for MINI Cooper S Paceman and Cooper SD Paceman), so it’s short but not particularly small – like the Countryman.

The horizontal arrangement of the rear lights, which accentuates the car’s width, is a first for MINI, as is the fitment of a rear nameplate (spelling out P-A-C-E-M-A-N, just in case you mistake it for another model in the range).

* * *

Inside, the Paceman is a strict four-seater, with folding rear seats increasing load capacity from 330 litres to a maximum of 1,080 litres.

Countryman owners will find many familiar components when sitting in the front, including the large round central speedo. However, its black surround and decorative inner rings in high-gloss black or chrome are new, as are the redesigned air vent surrounds.

The rear seats in the Paceman have been styled around what MINI describe as a ‘lounge concept’, with two individual chairs providing generous levels of head, shoulder and knee room. Armrests have been integrated into the rear trim and a two-section version of the MINI Centre Rail storage and attachment system – first seen in the Countryman – comes as standard.

* * *

From launch, Paceman customers will have the choice of 4 four-cylinder engines, two petrol (122bhp Cooper & 184bhp Cooper S) and two diesel (112bhp Cooper D & 143bhp Cooper SD), while a John Cooper Works version is in development. All come with a six-speed manual gearbox, or the optional six-speed automatic with Steptronic manual control.

The MINI Cooper Paceman offers a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds, fuel economy of 47.1mpg with CO2 emissions of 140 g/km, while the Cooper S Paceman will sprint to 62mph in 7.5 seconds and deliver 46.3mpg with emissions of 143g/km.

The MINI Cooper D Paceman achieves a 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds, a more frugal 64.2mpg and 115g/km in emissions, while the Cooper SD Paceman can accelerate from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds and achieve 61.4mpg and 122g/km.

As with the Countryman, all-wheel drive is available on the Cooper D, SD and Cooper S models as an option.

* * *

The Paceman’s chassis reflects that which is already used in the Countryman, with MacPherson struts and forged cross members at the front and a multi-link axle at the rear. The sport button, which is optional on Cooper and Cooper D models, tweaks the engine’s responses and the amount of electric power assistance provided to the steering.

Light alloy wheels in 16″ and 17″ sizes are standard, with 18″ or 19″ upgrades available via the options list.

At the starting price of £18,970 on the road, the Paceman costs just over £1,400 more than the equivalent Countryman. It’s certainly a stylish addition to the MINI range, if not clearly a step forward for the brand.

The Paceman goes on sale from 16 March 2013 and will be featured on the MINI stand at the Paris Motor Show.