► Vauxhall Adam Rocks driven
► Crossover, roll-top supermini
► Tested in high-end Unlimited spec
It may not be quite as attention-grabbing and divisive as a Lamborghini Urus or Rolls-Royce Cullinan, but when you’re in a Vauxhall Adam Rocks you’ll not be short of attention. It’s a tiny car – short and narrow and quite low – but it’s styled and coloured in such an audacious way that it turns heads like few others… especially few other £19k cars.
The Rocks is the sort-of crossover version of the Adam, and the Unlimited is the version of the Rocks with a bunch of built-in extras (including the electrically operated folding canvas roof that is, confusingly, standard on the Adam Rocks Air).
This version has a peachy turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, and comes with climate control, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, a bunch of safety electronics and an infotainment set-up that ticks plenty of 2018 boxes. But much of that is to a large extent irrelevant, when the looks are so striking.
There’s one very direct rival, the Fiat 500C. The Smart ForTwo Cabrio, DS 3 Cabrio and the Mini also have some of the same appeal. They’re all roadgoing cabrios, not SUV-styled crossovers, which is quite deliberate, as the supposed crossover elements of the Rocks are so minor that it really doesn’t warrant comparison with even the most on-road-orientated SUVs, like Fiat’s 500X and the Peugeot 2008.
Could there be a less convincing off-roader?
The Adam becomes the Adam Rocks through nothing more substantial than the addition of some cladding around the wheelarches, on the sides and at the front, giving a slightly beefier look, plus a 15mm increase in ride height and some accompanying adjustments to the suspension.
There are cosmetic skid plates front and rear, there’s been some tweaking of the chrome and matt black detailing. That’s it. This is not a criticism, just a note of caution: the Rocks is not designed to tackle rocks, and has no powertrain modifications to make it happier on mud, sand or snow. It’s a road car.
The roof, on the other hand, makes a big difference. It takes just a few seconds of pressing a button – just like a regular sunroof – for the roof over your head to slide backwards. It doesn’t go back as far as the 500C’s, leaving you with a good amount of protection from the wind, with no intrusion into the already very limited rear-passenger or luggage space.
The Unlimited package’s other highlights include a good digital radio as part of a six-speaker sound system, cruise control, hill start assist, and a City mode button. This changes the weighting of the electronic power steering, and makes an appreciable difference.
You get 16in alloy wheels, rather than the 17s fitted as standard to the regular Rocks (or the optional 18s), and these seem well suited to the suspension and steering set-up.
No two the same
Throughout the Adam range, there are various options for easy personalisation, some of it at zero cost. There are few colour choices, few of them dull, and different ways to contrast the body from the roof and the door mirrors.
The options list also has a big concentration on ways of dividing up the boot or carrying stuff on the roof – essential when the boot is so small. You can change the bar holding the Vauxhall badge for one of a different colour. You can add zany stickers. You can choose an interior trim kit in 18 different colours. And there are various wheel designs, as well as a choice of diameter.
And so on. They’ve made a pretty thorough job of it. Yes, Mini and Fiat were here first, but Vauxhall’s execution of the same idea is every bit as good.
A bit of substance to go with the style
As small, low-powered cars go, the Adam Rocks is good fun. It’s not a performance car, but it responds well if you drive it relatively hard. There’s body roll and a sense that you’re pushing it outside its comfort zone, but it doesn’t get ragged or dangerous.
It’s reasonably brisk around town, and happy boinging down twisty lanes on its soft suspension, and no trouble on motorways. But if you’re spending much time out of town, and if you don’t intend to drive with the roof open at every possible opportunity, you’ve bought the wrong car.
There are two rear seats, but you’ll struggle to use more than one at a time, as there’s very little rear leg room if you have full-sized adults in the front. The boot is small, and essentially accessed from above. Lower the rear seatbacks and you get a much bigger and more easily reached space.
Sound deadening could be better, but overall refinement is good, thanks largely to suspension that takes the edge off any bad road surfaces.
The Fiat 500 was here first, and its retro styling still looks fresh and neat. The Vauxhall is newer and more forward-looking. While not necessarily elegant, it’s certainly a bold piece of design work, and not for the shy.
We’ve talked a lot about style and image, but don’t get the impression that the Rocks is all about the looks. It’s no sports car, but it feels good to drive, and passengers love it (in the front, at least): the two-tone styling, the well-chosen materials, the good standard of fit and finish – it all adds up to a great environment. And when the sun comes out and you open the roof, all the positives get magnified.
The crucial question must be how it compares to the Fiat. It may not look it, but the Vauxhall is heavier than the 500, while also being more powerful, with a higher top speed and a quicker 0-62mph time. If you get the chance to test drive the two, you’ll find that the Vauxhall feels the more substantial of the two. It’s also way more expensive, though.
Vauxhall’s range is curiously patchy, and its place in the market less assured than it once was, so you might find yourself approaching the Adam Rocks with a big dose of scepticism, plus a bit of wincing at the doltish name. But it’s actually really good, within the limits imposed by its size and shape. If you love the looks, and relish the convenience of something so small and agile, and don’t need the space, this is most enjoyable.
Read our Vauxhall reviews here