What is it?:
Vauxhall has taken a long look at the sales success, profit potential and showroom durability of the current crop of sub-superminis – led by the Mini and Fiat 500 – and decided it badly needs a slice of the action to spruce up its small-car range and boost its bottom line.
The result is its chic new Adam, a 3.7-metre-long three-door hatchback that splits the difference between premium and mainstream, takes to the road this week and is expected in UK showrooms next March. Unlike the Mini and 500, however, it has no connection with the past. While working on the idea, Vauxhall rapidly recognised its immediate difficulty was that it lacked an iconic car from a bygone era that could provide the convenient Mini-style heritage to help justify higher prices.
Marketing men therefore decided on a three-pronged strategy to compensate. The first was to choose an off-the-wall name that would be easily remembered and would provide ‘cut-through’ in the market segment. The second was to pitch the car as all-modern, in contrast to its rivals. “Adam bucks the trend for retro-based design,” says the new Vauxhall’s launch document, “offering a fresh, bold, striking look.”
Read our review of the low-power Vauxhall Adam
Third, it decided to give the Adam new levels of configurability. Within three fairly similar-priced trim levels – £11,255 Jam, £12,650 Glam and £13,150 Slam – the number of décor and option combinations for the Adam is “almost limitless”. For wheels alone, for example, buyers have a choice of 20 sizes and styles. There are also 12 body colours, three different interior treatments and an enormous selection of interior accents, headliners, mirror caps and even Extreme packs – simulated paint blots on mirrors and runs at the bottom of pillars.
Throw in an Urban pack (LEDs and chrome bits), a Style pack (coloured roof and shiny alloys) and a Technical Pack (connectivity and rear parking sensors) and you’ve got as much individuality as most buyers could ever dream of. Some say there are more than a million variables, but no one is counting.
What's it like?:
The Adam does indeed look all-new and is nicely proportioned, with a big-eyed cuteness about its foreshortened body, which is exactly 300mm shorter than a Corsa overall and 200mm shorter in the wheelbase. The Adam is the widest car in its class and has a purposeful, planted look that very much suits it. Some Vauxhall sources swear the platform is all-new, but at least one document suggests that the all-steel monocoque body is Corsa-related, with a modified MacPherson strut front suspension system and electric power steering.
Three engine options are offered in the UK, all petrol and all 16-valve VVT units: a 69bhp 1.2-litre four, plus 86bhp and 99bhp versions of the familiar 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit. GM doesn’t feel diesels are necessary (or economic) in city cars; small petrol cars are deemed more affordable, which is why the company will also launch its forthcoming 1.0-litre petrol triple in the Adam.
Our test Adam was a 99bhp 1.4-litre Slam – the ‘sporty’ option where Glam is ‘sophisticated’ and a Jam is ‘colourful’. Our car had a black roof, yellow bodywork and radical yellow patterns on its black seats. Access is easy and the car feels roomy for its size, not least because it’s around 75mm taller than a Mini and has bigger doors. Inside, it’s impressively roomy and access to the rear seats is more convenient than most in the class. Indeed, whichever of many combinations we viewed on test, the interior design and materials quality was impressive.
Vauxhall’s designers clearly see an impressive cabin ‘look’ as the way to customers’ hearts. At times during our spell with the Adam we had a Mini along for the ride; its fascia, especially, seemed hard to use and poorly resolved by comparison.
You sit fairly high in an Adam, but definitely ‘in’ the car, without the slightly topply feeling you get in a Fiat 500. So far, so good. But when you start to drive, the disappointments begin. The 1.4-litre engine is okay, but nothing special. It sounds a mite thrashy and performance feel is no better than average. According to Vauxhall’s figures, it’ll deliver a 115mph top speed and will sprint from 0-62mph in a decent-enough 11.5sec, but the combined fuel consumption is only 51.4mpg (55.4 with optional stop-start) and the 129g/km (or 119g/km) CO2 output is nothing special.
Little wonder that, beyond the 1.0-litre triple, GM is working hotfoot on another small turbo engine family that will debut in the Adam “later in its life”. For all its new looks, the efficiency spec of this car is well behind the best.
On the road the Adam has considerable charm, without doing anything better than the excellent current crop, led by Mini and Volkswagen’s Up. The ride is rather lumpy in town – about on a par with the Fiat Panda but without that car’s surprising quietness. It feels taut and well made, however. The steering, aided by a rather false feeling of sharpness off the straight-ahead, gives an initial feeling of agility, but it doesn’t feel very sophisticated or responsive dead-ahead.
Grip from our car’s big tyres meant the Adam cornered well, and without roll. But the brakes were flaccid, lacking initial bite in energetic use, and the gearchange, which didn’t have the precision one expects from the low-effort, neat-driving cars in this class, took me back a decade with its uneven spaces between fore/aft throws.
Should I buy one?:
It will be important to try more versions of the Adam as soon as they come into free supply. Our test car was an early edition, and Vauxhall’s chassis guru, Gerry Baker, is understood to be about to perform some tweakery on the steering.
Maybe showroom cars will be better. But the Adam looked very much to me like a car whose creators had concentrated heavily on eye-catching design but in places had skated rather quickly through the mechanical development.
The Adam, as driven, will impress many potential with its style statement and its stand-out colours and trims. The job of specifying the ideal car will entertain certain buyers in a way that specifying an Up or Mini never would. But as things stand, this is not a prime driving enthusiast’s car.
The undistinguished engine and rather disappointing steering see to that. New engines will help, but they will need to.
Vauxhall Adam 1.4 Slam
Price £14,000; 0-62mph 11.5sec; Top speed 115mph; Economy 51.4mpg (combined); CO2 129g/km; Kerb weight 1135kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1398cc, petrol; Installation Front, transverse, FWD; Power 99bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 96lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual