What is it?
You're looking at GM's most important car this year, the new B-segment Vauxhall Mokka, due to hit British showrooms just before Christmas and set to sell widely across Europe. Small soft-roaders are booming like nothing else; they already take 2.5 per cent of European sales and are fast heading for three per cent. GM is sick of standing by, watching the success of the relatively few class contenders taking the rewards, chief among them the Skoda Yeti and the class-leading Nissan Juke.
Vauxhall bosses can hardly wait to get the Mokka, now in the throes of final testing, on the market. They think it has terrific prospects: it is larger than Juke and not so much smaller than Nissan's even more successful Qashqai in the class above. With its big pool of customers and wide dealer spread, Vauxhall reckons it has a good chance of attracting both hot-to-trot B-segment customers and quite a few downsizers as well.
Though much of its detail engineering has been done in Europe, the basic car was created in Korea and will be built there using new GM world-car architecture, soon to be picked up soon by Chevrolet and Buick. Three engines will be offered in Mokka at launch in the UK: a 1.4 petrol turbo four (138bhp), a 1.6 normally aspirated petrol four (114bhp) and a 1.7 turbodiesel (129bhp).
The Mokka will be available in front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive forms, with the lower-spec models having five-speed manual gearboxes while higher-spec versions and 4x4s have six-speeders. Several automatic models will be available but with 2WD only. Mokka has a "smart" 4x4 system that maintains 100 per cent drive at the front wheels until the system detects slip, fast starts or tight cornering. Then it directs up to 50 per cent of torque rearwards. The entire 4x4 system adds only 65kg to overall weight.
What is it like?
We drove a near-production 1.4 turbo 4WD prototype on sinuous and occasionally rutted roads near Frankfurt and were distinctly impressed. Vauxhall's head of chassis engineering, Gerry Baker, says one of his chief objectives was to make the Mokka flat-riding and comfortably car-like on normal roads where it will do 99 per cent of its driving.
That's what we found. Not only did the suspension feel supple and keep the car very flat, but it was also quieter over bumps than other small SUVs. Throw in alert steering, strong mid-range urge from the 1.4 turbo engine – whose note when revved is distinctly sporty – and you have a car likely to challenge the Juke and the rest.
Styling is modern, family orientated but conventional. It's nothing like as funky as the Juke, though plenty will like it for that. The interior – which had 19 cubbyholes for bits and pieces – is comfortingly Vauxhall-like. Familiar switches are grouped in a U-shaped panel ahead of the typically Vauxhall gearlever (complete with characteristic reverse trigger). There's a pleasant opulence that reminds you of the plush Insignia executive saloon.
Rear space, as claimed, will hold three adults rather tightly, even if the disappointingly low seating limits forward vision.
Should I buy one?
Not sure yet. These were prototypes. But we see no reason not to, given that Vauxhall is certain to price its baby SUV head on with the competition.
The Mokka won't be a style statement like the Juke, or even the Yeti, but it looks like being an easy car to live with, at least in the 1.4 turbo guise we tried. A shorter drive showed the entry-level 1.6 to be rather lifeless and a bit bouncy by comparison – but these were still prototypes.
Vauxhall bigwigs are expecting big things of the Mokka, and nothing we've seen so far leads us to disagree.
Vauxhall Mokka 1.4T 4x4
Price: £16,500 (est); 0-62mph: na; Top speed: na; Economy: na; CO2: na; Kerb weight: na; Engine: 4 cyls, 1364cc, turbo, petrol; Installation: Front, transverse, 4WD; Power: 138bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 148lb ft at 1850-4900rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual