The Vauxhall Adam’s positioning as an urban kickabout is reflected in the engine line-up. All engines are small and are best suited to the grind of city use. The 1.2-litre unit and both versions of the 1.4-litre feel thrashy and underpowered at speed. And Vauxhall’s bosses say there’s no need for a diesel in this size of car.

The 1.2-litre engine is muted at idle, with a slightly cammy tickover entering the cabin. Less impressive, certainly when cold, is the five-speed gearshift, whose throw lacked compliance and a willingness to engage, particularly into first and second. It improved as it warmed, but never to the point where it was pleasurable.

The 1.2-litre engine is the one to have. The 1.4 is too gruff and vocal.

It’s a particular pity when the engine is as smooth and revvy as it is, if not quick. In a car tipping the scales at 1090kg when laden with a few options, the 69bhp engine fails to provoke sparkling pace. Even so, our road testers recorded a 0-60mph time of 14.3sec, which compares well enough with 13.7sec in a 1.2-litre Fiat 500.

It’s a similar story with both versions of the 1.4-litre unit, in 86bhp and 99bhp guises. At motorway speeds they get a bit loud, and begin to run out of shove above 70mph. The low-power unit doesn't compare well to more modern engines of a similar capacity, and the 86bhp version's official 50-75mph time of 17.8sec in fifth gear tells you most of what you need to know. Even the 99bhp 1.4 is lacklustre, if slightly more useable at speed. 

Regardless of engine, the Adam’s performance translates to a level you’d class ‘acceptable’ on the road: fast enough for most conditions, and able to hold a decent speed on a motorway without necessitating a downshift on inclines. 

At those speeds much of the cabin noise comes from the engine, which spins at higher speeds than we’ve become accustomed to in an age of small turbo petrols and small diesels.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week