Vauxhall Adam review - 1.4i EcoFlex Glam edition

9 August 2013

Vauxhall Adam side view

Vauxhall Adam
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: impressive cabin, good seats, lots of options
Bad: wobble-board ride, cramped rear, disappointing economy
Price: from £11,255
Vauxhall’s Adam has grown on me, since I first laid eyes on photographs a year ago. To me, it resembles a modern take on the original Ford Ka – much more so than the current Ford Ka – and I mean that as a compliment. The shape obviously works for the target demographic of youthful urbanites too, given that someone about half my age and much more than twice as trendy stopped to ask about the Adam, while I was photographing it in one of London’s edgier boroughs.

The design looks better from some angles than others. Side-on, the front overhang protrudes like Homer Simpson’s lip, and the face is just a little dull from dead ahead, despite bright LED eyebrows. But mostly Adam manages to look the part. The role in question being to stand comparison with the Mini, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3.

Vauxhall Adam interior

Upbeat impressions continue inside, where a lot of effort has clearly been spent lifting the ambience above the Vauxhall norm. The high-quality touchscreen stereo is a high point, with USB, aux-in, digital reception, Bluetooth and wheel-mounted controls all fitted as standard.

Tactile quality isn’t quite up to Volkswagen levels – the indicator stalk moves with all the precision of the iron latch on my garden gate – but at least everything is interesting to look at. I liked the unusual patterned texture on the dashboard top, colour-matched to the steering wheel and upholstery, though personally I don’t think I’d have gone for purple in all these places.

Vauxhall Adam dashboard texture

Indeed the Adam can be personalised in countless ways, with a broad palette of colours and myriad optional add-ons, with the potential to create some eye-watering results.

That said, I felt the pearlescent purple and white exterior of my car was actually far too timid, doing the cheeky Adam few favours. It looked muddy in everything other than really bright sunlight, when the car might easily carry off an arresting green, yellow or orange.

Back inside, I loved the way the instrument needles swing around in their orbits when you start the engine – as if they are limbering up for action. And the needles themselves manage to project a red spot of light wherever they’re aiming on their dial, like a miniaturised Hollywood sniper.

Vauxhall Adam instrument panel

My warm and fuzzy feelings towards the Adam took a pummelling once under way, however. The ride must rank among the stiffest I’ve ever tested, with a typical London street made to feel like an enormously extended cattle grid. The £400 spent on optional 17-inch gunmetal-grey alloys with 45-profile tyres is probably to blame, and I was grateful for the £200 tyre-pressure monitor to reassure me I wasn’t running on four flats.

Heaven knows what the sports suspension must feel like. It comes as standard with the Slam trim level, which would appear to be an appropriate name. My particular Adam came in style-orientated Glam trim, and there’s also a more basic Jam specification. Jam editions start at £11,255, Glam at £12,650 and Slam at £13,150.

Broadly speaking, costs are a modest cut above a comparable Fiat 500 but notably less than an equivalent Mini or DS3.

Vauxhall Adam front view

The starting prices mentioned above are for cars equipped with the base 1.2-litre petrol engine, which I took for a brief drive earlier this year. With power output of 70PS paired with a torque peak of 115Nm, the little four-cylinder unit needed a firm thrashing to lug the 1.1-tonne Adam around and would no doubt prove thirsty in the real world as a result. The mid-range 1.4-litre petrol engine I tried this time around felt much more suited to the task, delivering 87PS and 130Nm. Fitted with automatic stop-start and a five-gear manual gearbox, it comes with a 119g/km CO2 rating and combined cycle score of 55.4mpg. It can hustle to 62mph in 12.5 seconds.

You will need to drive in soft slippers to beat 50mpg on real roads, I suspect. I only managed middle 40s.

There’s also a quicker 100PS version of the same 1.4-litre petrol in the range, but no diesel options in the current line-up, nor any automatics, and no six-speed gearboxes.

All of the current engines look set to be comprehensively eclipsed by a new 1.0 litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol due to join the Adam family next year. It will top the range, providing 115PS and 166Nm, and will come paired with a new six-speed transmission. Vauxhall promises a CO2 score “significantly lower than 100g/km”.

Vauxhall Adam rear side view

It’s probably worth waiting for. The 87-horsepower engine I tested isn’t bad but it’s far from state of the art. It’s also noisy, especially on account of gearing that keeps the revs running half-way to the redline at 70mph, which might easily turn a long journey into a literal headache. That sixth gear can’t come soon enough.

None of the various drawbacks entirely ruin the Adam, however. I found it a reasonably likeable proposition, assuming ride comfort comes low on your list or priorities, or indeed is entirely absent. It feels agile and responsive on a good road and manages to seem special along the way.

The deeply bolstered front seats look and feel great, especially when swathed in the £900 optional leather pack, plus another £165 for the matching leather wheel, handbrake grip and door inserts. You sit quite high, with good surrounding vision, and indeed the cabin feels particularly airy on account of the big fixed glass panel that comes with Glam trim.

The back seats don’t feel airy, mind you. There may be ample head, knee and elbow room at the front, but in the second row there’s none of the above. An adult human can just about squeeze aboard, and the front seats are scooped at the back to provide some sort of legroom, but I wouldn’t want to travel very far folded into the required origami-frog position. These are occasional or child seats only.

Vauxhall Adam rear view

The boot is also at the cramped end of the spectrum, offering a slot-like compartment with a high lip. At 170 litres, it may boast 10 litres more than a Mini’s but it’s 15 smaller than a Fiat 500’s, and more than 100 litres adrift of a DS3. I filled the Adam’s boot virtually to the brim with just a week’s groceries for two people.

So the Adam is not the most practical proposition, but it does have a bit of character both inside and out, and is fun to drive if not refined or smooth riding.

No doubt few of these issues will decide its fate when measured against the opposition. Whether it can pull off “cool” among fashion-conscious buyers is probably the most pertinent question. If it can manage that, despite the dowdy drag of its Vauxhall badge, it will have performed a minor miracle.

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