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Michael Sheridan hits the roads around Frankfurt in MINI's latest.

On the surface, MINI Paceman is an odd concept. Take a five-door MINI Countryman and turn it into a two-door coupé with just four seats and hey presto, you get the new Paceman. MINI is very proud of inventing a new niche sector to the compact premium class, namely the Sports Activity Coupé, with Paceman. Motors recently took to the roads and hills around Frankfurt to test the top-of-the-range, high-performance John Cooper Works Paceman - and we loved it.

Paceman JCW is lowered by 10mm against the standard car. An outrageously sporty aero kit, lightweight 18-inch alloys (19s are optional) and massive twin exhaust pipes let onlookers know that the JCW is no ordinary Paceman.

Paceman JCW, the seventh JCW in the MINI range, comes with four-wheel drive and 218bhp on tap. Under-the-skin tweaks to the suspension improve handling. Changes also include stronger anti-roll bars. Electronic driving aids, such as DSC with DTC, combine to help keep the JCW on the straight and narrow.

Inside the strict four-seater, the switchgear is familiar to anyone who drives a Countryman or any MINI. The rear passengers get decent space and access isn't too bad despite the need to tilt and slide the front seats. All-round visibility is very good, but my favourite interior feature is the 'Sport' toggle switch. When activated, the steering 'weights up' and the throttle response sharpens. But best of all, the engine management control unit adds a burble to the exhaust when you lift off. This is done electronically by the ECU - like a forced backfire.

Clearly Paceman JCW, with all that power and traction, is fun, but can it really be as exciting as all the other JCWs? If you look at the figures, yes. On the road the chunky JCW sprints from 0-100kph in just 6.9 seconds. Power comes from a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a twin-scroll turbo. This impressive unit drives the 'ALL4' all-wheel drive setup. 280nm of torque is available.

When the revs are up and the turbo kicks in the Paceman JCW can really shift. In normal driving, up to 50% of torque goes to the rear wheels, but in extreme conditions up to 100% of the power can go to the rear. A manual six-speed gearbox is standard, but there is an optional Steptronic automatic available. The automatic lets you shift manually if you wish through the gear lever or the steering-mounted paddle shifters.

Where permitted, the JCW can reach a top speed of 226kph (140mph). Our test cars were on winter tyres as there was snow on higher ground but we still effortlessly managed over 200kph. On twisty roads the JCW was simply a joy to pilot through sweeping bends as the grip was superb. When the car was at its limits of adhesion the chassis was very communicative, too. If you decided to drift the car a little on tighter bends you could easily control it.

Green initiatives include brake energy regeneration, auto stop/start (manual versions only) and emissions of 172g/CO2. Average fuel consumption in the JCW is 7.4 (38.2mpg).

Paceman launches in Ireland on March 16, with the entry model costing €28,560 on the road. Two-wheel drive and ALL4 versions are available. The model range features Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S, Cooper SD and JCW.

Paceman JCW is not cheap at €50,540, but it is very capable.

Michael Sheridan