What is it?
When we first drove the new Vauxhall Adam, due in UK showrooms next March, we weren’t happy. The ride seemed lumpy and the engine thrashy and old-tech, but the big mismatch was between electric power steering that seemed at once ponderous and unpredictable, and a sporting ride quality (our Slam-spec test car was on sports suspension and 18-inch wheels) that surely demanded crisp, intuitive steering.
However, Opel-Vauxhall is fast developing a tradition for retuning the electric power assistance of its cars for the UK market (its biggest in Europe). And following our adverse reaction and others, this is what it firmly decided to do.
In co-operation with Opel chassis engineers, Vauxhall chassis guru Gerry Baker conducted some wide-ranging tests to set the car up in a way that would please local customers. The setting was signed off “weeks ago” on some pretty narrow and badly surfaced roads around Vauxhall’s Millbrook proving ground, and Autocar was allowed to try it.
What is it like?
In fact, we tried five different iterations, starting with the original European set-up and ending with the one signed off for the UK. Just the fact that this was possible – simply because Baker’s laptop could ‘talk’ for a few minutes to the car’s computer – shows the great versatility of electronic power steering. In the old days, Baker was quick to point out, it would have taken a couple of hours to swap systems, assuming the right one was available; it took days if it wasn’t. By this time, much of your memory of the original fault would be gone.
We tried the Euro system (by my judgement, dead at the straight-ahead, with an overly quick assistance build-up away from it) plus three systems developed “on the way”. It became clear that the way assistance builds up as you move the wheel away from straight-ahead, the actual amount of assistance supplied at different speeds (the system swaps between 16 levels of assistance) and the shot of extra assistance you can get when you suddenly swing the wheel – think of it as a kind of overboost, designed to kill any feeling of delay – is what governs decent steering. Baker’s settings varied between pretty good and deliberately comically bad.
Then we tried the new UK settings. This was the same steering wheel, in the same car, yet suddenly its responses seemed natural and intuitive. When a looming Transit appeared at a crowded apex, my hands knew exactly what to do. I found myself driving the Adam with comfort and commitment – yet considerably faster than before. It was a little heavier, but mainly it was entirely predictable.
Should I buy one?
The Adam still isn’t the perfect car. It’s pricey for the performance, and its 1.4 engine still feels crude. But now it has nice steering. That’s an essential ingredient and a big step forward.
Vauxhall Adam Slam 1.4i
Price: £13,475; 0-62mph: 12.5sec; Top speed: 110mph; Economy: 51.4mpg (combined); CO2: 129g/km; Kerb weight: 1135kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1398cc, petrol; Power: 86bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 96lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual