First Drive: Vauxhall ADAM
SECTOR City car PRICE £11,255 – £14,000 FUEL 51.4 – 56.5mpg CO2 118 – 129g/km
The small car segment has never been bigger. Increasingly sophisticated, with tastes moving from purely cost-driven purchase to fashion and lifestyle choices, the sector has grown 52% in the UK this year.
So the Adam is timely. It’s a new venture for Vauxhall, not replacing the Agila but offering a Griffin-badged alternative to the ever-popular Fiat 500. It’s priced higher than a Corsa, and sales expectations are a modest 10,700 each year in the UK with 20% going to a mostly user-chooser fleet customer base.
That’s an ambitious approach. The 500 has reinvented Fiat’s image globally, but Vauxhall doesn’t have the same fashionable heritage – its small cars are usually focused on high volume and low cost. So Adam has to do something different, and that’s a challenge it hopes to meet with a claimed one million combinations of engine, chassis and styling options allowing customers to make each car their own.
So ordering an Adam makes Starbucks seem simple, with 12 body colours, 20 alloy wheels, 15 seat designs in four different hues, and 19 dashboard inserts to choose from. It can even be ordered with clouds printed on the roof lining, backed by LED ”stars” at night. Should your drivers wish to make your Adam more of an Eve, then the options are there to do so. I can hear the joy emanating from fleet managers already as they contemplate the conversations they’ll be having with drivers.
Similar in size and shape to a Fiat 500, the Adam is cute in its proportions and looks purposeful with its wheels pushed right out to each corner. The design is such that you could order one in a conventional colour scheme and it’d still turn heads.
Solid build quality and clever in-car technology are also on its side. The £275 touchscreen infotainment system upgrade is a no-brainer, giving access to internet-based navigation and audio streaming via an Apple or Android smartphone. It’s a useful feature, with only the patchy GPS coverage compared to a built-in aerial as a potential handicap.
Small cars also have to drive well, so Vauxhall has developed a UK-specific suspension and steering setup which wasn’t available to drive at the press launch. The Opel setup wasn’t back-breaking, even on 18-inch wheels and Sport suspension, but despite boundless grip it doesn’t feel as direct or agile as it looks like it should.
This isn’t helped by dated engines. Most of its rivals use feisty downsized units, but the Adam launches with old-generation 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engines, the latter in a choice of two power outputs. Vauxhall has this car lined up to debut a new range of direct injection, turbocharged petrol engines and six-speed gearboxes, but hasn’t said when these will be available.
The big-selling 87bhp 1.4-litre engine blights the high-tech feel elsewhere. CO2 emissions of 119g/km – 129g/km without Start/Stop – don’t really set benchmarks and it has to be revved hard, feeling thrashed rather than sporty when under load. Hopefully the new engine and UK chassis settings will give it the on-road dynamics to match its playful looks.
But it’s not a great start among such stiff competition. This is better built than a 500, but lacks the Fiat’s retro chic. It’s not significantly cheaper than the more practical DS3 or better driving MINI, and even a highly-specced Volkswagen up! threatens to sway buyers with its sharper drive, more spacious cabin and desirable badge. While the Adam is a good small car, for now it falls just short of its promises.
Cute looks and infinite personalisation options bode well for finding buyers, but badge snobbery could be a problem for the fashion-conscious customers Vauxhall is targeting and it’s not as much fun to drive as the looks suggest. New engines and the UK chassis might just be the missing ingredients.