Vauxhall has just launched the new Adam city car, GM Europe's take on the Fiat 500 and Mini quasi-premium city car set. Here's our first drive review of the new 2013 Vauxhall Adam.
With a name like that, it's all about being bold, funky and different - and trying just a little bit too hard if you ask us. Adam isn't a name picked at random though, it was the first name of Mr Opel, founder of Vauxhall’s European sister company. Bet they wouldn't have thought it such a great idea if he had been called Helmutt or Heinrich.
Looks like the Vauxhall Adam's name isn't the only thing trying too hard...
Yes, in design terms, it's a bit of a mish-mash of Audi A1, Fiat 500 and, er, even Vauxhall Insignia cues. The front end looks appealingly fun and sporty, the back looks like an updated version of the original 1996 Ford Ka, but the sculpting in the flanks, while breaking up the barrel sides and providing a visual link to the other cars in the Vauxhall range, just looks odd. Having said that, it's certainly not an ugly car in the metal and the compact length and wide track give it a stubby, planted, purposeful look.
What about the 2013 Vauxhall Adam's cabin?
Much better resolved. This is easily Vauxhall's best interior despite the entry price of just £11,255 for the entry-level Jam which comes equipped with a leather-wrapped wheel, cruise control and 16in rims. Other trims are posh Glam, and sporty Slam. If not quite up to A1 standards, the cabin isn’t not far off, neither in terms of design, which is simple, elegant and modern, nor material quality. The driving position is much better than that in either the Mini or 500 and road noise is low.
Knowing that customers in this class like to personalise their cars, and that the average projected spend on extras of around £1600 is a good earner, Vauxhall has gone crazy with the personalisation possibilities. Exterior colours have wacky names like Purple Fiction and Saturday White Fever, there are 15 types of seat trim, 19 interior colours and you can even have an LED speckled night sky headlining, just like you can in a Rolls-Royce Phantom. There's no nav option - instead you can pay £275 for a screen that works using apps on your smartphone to provide digital radio and mapping duties. Five years from now, every car’s multimedia kit will be like this, though hopefully slightly more polished.
So the Vauxhall Adam is going to be fun speccing one on the web configurator, but how does it drive?
Better than a Fiat 500, but not as well as either the Mini or an Audi A1, at least not with the continental-spec steering and on the sport suspension fitted to the entire launch fleet (and mandatory when you step above the basic 16in wheel that few customers are likely to stick with). Roll is well controlled but the ride on 17in wheels is tough around town, thumping into potholes, and the steering is overlight, unpleasantly elastic either side of the straight ahead and has too much sneeze factor at motorway speeds.
But Vauxhalls will all come with a bespoke European spec steering system calibrated by the team that did such a great job on the Astra GTC. Vauxhall’s Mr Steering, Gerry Baker, says he's aiming for the positive connected feeling imparted by something like the original Ford Ka, and since the baby Ford was one of his past projects, we’re optimistic that UK cars will be substantially more engaging.
There are only three engines for now, all existing naturally aspirated and entirely unremarkable. The range starts with a 69bhp 1.2 (0-62mph in a glacial 14.9sec), moves up to the volume-selling 86bhp 1.4 we drove (12.5sec) and tops out with a 98bhp version of the same engine (11.5sec). There are no diesel options, no automatic gearbox option and only five forward gears.
The 86bhp car was the only one available to try. It works adequately on the flat in town, but struggles with hills and the rev counter’s upper segment should have police caution tape all over it. An A1's little turbo engine is sweeter and punchier, but the Adam’s 55mpg, 119g/km performance is at least on the pace when equipped with the optional start-stop system.
Vauxhall Adam: the verdict
Vauxhall will have no trouble smashing its modest 10,000 annual UK sales targets for this car despite the Griffin badge lacking the cool factor some in this market crave. It's eye-catching, well built, well equipped, infinitely customisable, backed by a great warranty and likely to be significantly cheaper to insure than its rivals. Stuff like that is more relevant to your average 20-year old girl than hot hatch-like dynamics, as the success of Fiat’s 500 has proven.
As it stands, the Vauxhall Adam’s premium feel lifts it above the 500, but unless Baker and his team can nail the UK steering set-up, and until the brand new range of three-cylinder turbochared petrol engines arrives in 2013, it'll remain a car that promises more fun than it delivers. With the engines and steering sorted there’s a solid four-star car in there, but we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve driven UK-spec cars. The likeable Adam has stacks of showroom appeal, but for now the Mini and A1 remain the go to cars in this sector.