CAR first drove the Vauxhall Adam earlier this year, but that was a European-spec car on Portugese roads. The Adam copped a lot of stick for its ride and handling – which Vauxhall promised would be retuned for discerning British tastes (and shoddy British roads) on UK models. We’ve driven the sporty 1.4 ‘Slam’ model to see if the changes have worked.
Tell me about the spec of the Adam test car
Specification is everything with the Adam – and that’s by design, not accident. Vauxhall claims there’s a million ways to personalise yours, with different colours, wheels, interior trims, stickers, accessories… and of course a choice of engines. Our test car had the middling unit: a 1.4-litre petrol four-cylinder with 85bhp and 96lb ft, mated to the only gearbox option: a five-speed manual.
So, to the spec. Our Adam ‘Slam’ – the sporty trimline – gets ‘I’ll Be Black’ (read: black) mirrors and roof as standard, plus climate control, a digital radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, six airbags, chrome trim, sports suspension, and 17in alloy wheels.
On top of that, our example (painted in ‘Red ‘n’ Roll’, with a matching front grille bar) had the £275 Intellilink touchscreen interface, ambient cabin lighting, leather seats, parking sensors with blind-spot monitoring, posh floor mats and aluminium sport pedals, taking the total price from £13,770 to £15,595.
In the metal, in this particular spec, there’s no denying this a great-looking car, inside and out. You can poke fun (or irritation) at the exterior for cribbing cues from so many best-selling city cars: a Citroen DS3 floating pillar, Fiat 500 bug-eye lights, Audi A1 profile, Ford Ka bootlid… but it hangs together as a fresh, funky but not-quite overstyled whole, especially on meaty 17in wheels (18s are optional).
There’s more good news inside. Okay, the steering wheel is over-stuffed, the well-trimmed seat unsupportive, and rear legroom is tight. And yet… the dials look high-quality and stylish (as do the glossy climate control knobs), the optional touchscreen is responsive and intuitive enough to teach Jaguar Land Rover and Peugeot a thing or two, and it’s superbly equipped. There’s a heated leather steering wheel, heated leather seats and digital radio on a city car, for goodness sake!
It’s a good thing too that the showroom appeal is so strong, because the drive still isn’t up to scratch.
Why does the Adam disappoint on UK roads?
Firstly, a caveat – only a tiny minority of the target market for this car care about control weights, driver feedback and entertainment. However, I’m exactly the sort of 21-year old town-dwelling buyer Vauxhall wants to target, and I do want a car that’s fun to drive thanks, so the Vauxhall needs to go under the microscope.
New engines are due in the Adam next year – and they can’t come quickly enough. The 1.4 is the can be had in 85bhp or 97bhp tune, but our lower-powered version’s breathless delivery makes for very slow, thrashy progress. Praise be that the motor is at least impressively silent at idle – and completely silent once the stop-start system kicks in.
Stop-start is handy for saving fuel too, because you’re going to be chewing through a fair bit of juice to row the Adam along at a decent speed. During our tests, the Adam returned 35.9mpg – predictably way off the official claim of 55.4mpg.
As any keen driver will testify, working hard to drive a slow car quickly is no chore if the rest of the controls are game for a laugh. Unfortunately, that’s not what you’ll find in the Adam. The steering is very light and (like the Vauxhall Mokka crossover we tested recently) vague in the extreme around the straightahead, with none of the accuracy you get in the best electric power steering systems (step forward Ford). The gearbox is notchy too, though at least the colour-co-ordinated lever is less uncomfortable to hold than Vauxhall’s usual obtuse efforts.
Grip levels are high on the 17in wheels, and you can’t turn off the Adam Slam’s standard ESP to really get on first-name terms with the chassis (again, granted, few buyers will notice). CAR editor Phil McNamara was far from impressed with the stopping power too, noting ‘you have to make an appointment to brake in this car’.
What about the Adam’s ride?
We’ll still need to try a basic car on 16in wheels to experience the most comfort-orientated Adam, but safe to say an Adam riding on 17s with sports suspension is not a comfortable car. On motorways and town roads it’ll thunk and rumble over our scars, and imperfections in B-roads create big deflections. We’d always expect a Mini to be a better driver’s car, but the surprise here is how a similarly numb but better riding rivals like Fiat’s 500 or a Citroen DS3 make better companions for the UK network.
Despite the changes Vauxhall has applied to the Adam, it’s still very much a case of ‘nice car, pity about the drive’. Dynamically, it’s not on the same page as the rest of its class (Astra VXR aside, which Vauxhalls are?)
The designers have done such a cracking job with the looks, materials and character of the Adam that it does deserve a chunk of the retro chic-mobile market –especially when modern three-cylinder motors make their way down the pipeline. And as we’re well aware, the dynamics of this car aren’t near the top of its priority list. If they’re not on yours either, make sure you can live with the ride before you buy – and then go nuts with the options list.