By Jonathan Crouch
Launched in 2013, the ADAM proved to be a refreshing take by the Vauxhall / Opel brands on the small car sector. It never sought to replace the conventional citycar and supermini offerings sold by those marques, but it did offer a more stylish small car option than anything those companies had produced before. Here was a car that sat just between the citycar and supermini segments, aimed at buyers bored by the sight of BMW's reinvented MINI on every drive and unmoved by Fiat's funky 500. The ADAM was a fashionable alternative for such folk and from new, came with an encyclopaedic list of options, bidding for individuality beyond the hatchback herd.
Once upon a time, a small car was a purely functional thing. It certainly wasn't something you bought to make any kind of fashion statement. Traditionally, those seeking to do that on an affordable budget usually went for a little sports car - or perhaps even a compact SUV. From the turn of the century though, the success of BMW's modern-era MINI showed that things could be different; a small car could be trendy and fashionable. Buyers seeking such a thing want a more unique product of course, hence a developing trend this century amongst mainstream makers in developing separate small car model lines with which to serve them. So it was that in 2007, Fiat launched the trendy 500 model to sell alongside the workaday Panda. And, for the same reason, in 2009, Citroen introduced the avant garde DS3 to sell alongside the ordinary C3. Hence the Opel / Vauxhall conglomerate's thinking in 2013 in launching this ADAM model as alternative to their bread-and-butter Corsa supermini.
The model title's a nod to Adam Opel, the founder of Vauxhall's European sister company. This didn't start a trend for Biblical car names. It did though, ignite a fashion for buyer personalisation. The designers planned over a million possible specification and trim combinations for this car to ensure that the chances of two identical ADAMs ever being produced would be statistically very slim. So the ADAM was ground-breaking where it mattered - in the showroom. To disguise perhaps, the fact that it was actually quite conventional in arguably less important areas, running on the underpinnings of Vauxhall's old 2006-era 'Corsa D' model.
The ADAM was developed to some extent throughout its model life. The 1.4-litre four cylinder petrol engines it campaigned with for most of its production life were joined by a more modern three cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol unit from 2014 onwards, but that unit was discontinued in this car before the end of the ADAM's production cycle. Also in 2014, a 150PS version of the 1.4-litre powerplant was introduced to power the ADAM S hot hatch variant. This engine also featured in a 'ROCKS' variant, which had mildly SUV-like bodywork additions. There was also a 'ROCKS AIR' version which had a retracting canvas sunroof-style top. After the French PSA Group's takeover of the Vauxhall / Opel brands in 2017, the ADAM's days were inevitably numbered and production ceased in 2019.
What You Get
The ADAM isn't as instantly eye-catching as a rival MINI or a Fiat 500, but then these brands have always had the advantage of aesthetically harking back to Fifties retro models, the themes for which evoke more instant recognition. Not having a diminutive automotive Golden Oldie to reprise, the Opel / Vauxhall designers were left in the same position as Citroen were in when they created their DS3 and Alfa Romeo was in when it created its little MiTo: namely the need to create a fresh, new modern small motoring lifestyle theme. Most of these kinds of cars look a little dull until you start to dress them with appropriate options - and it's the same story here - but once you have, then it's hard not to like this cute and cuddly shape, even if it is based on rather old underpinnings (those of the old 'D'-generation version of the Corsa supermini, a design dating all the way back to 2006).
Of course, cynics say that fashion-led small runabouts are merely smart-suited citycars wearing supermini price tags. There's some truth in that, truth indeed which appears at first glance to apply in this case. At under 3.7m in length, this ADAM is actually shorter than many city cars and a full 300mm shorter than a typical version of a Vauxhall Corsa supermini from this era. But there's more to it than that. The tall height and the considerable width - it's actually wider than a Corsa - positions it visually as a bigger car than it actually is. A clever trick that also pays dividends inside.
As in a Fiat 500, the high roof gives a spacious feel, something that here is further underlined by the greater width and glass area. But all the smoke and mirrors in the world can't create space where there isn't much and Vauxhall's claim that this design could 'comfortably seat four adults' required for fulfilment the directive that those in the front should be very short-legged indeed. To be fair, it's virtually impossible for something this short to properly seat two fully-sized people in the back, something most ADAM owners rarely wanted to do anyway. But for those occasions when friends do need transport, they'll feel less claustrophobic here than in just about any small lifestyle runabout from this era we can think of. It's certainly much nicer in the back of an ADAM than it would be in a MINI, a rear seat position which even kids often object to.
And at the wheel? Well, original ADAM buyers will often have used the enormous trim choice range to complete a decor finish that's either restrained, wilfully extrovert or more likely, a feel that's somewhere between the two. This aside, curiously enough, it does feel quite MINI-like, a feeling engendered mainly by provision of the same kind of over-sized chunky steering wheel which actually rather adds to the intended feeling of impending fun. There's (thankfully) no huge retro MINI-like central dial in front of you but the red-needled instrument layout with its round watch-style dials is smarter and much easier to get to grips with than that, though it's a pity that the speedo lacks specific 30 and 70mph markings.
The clean overall design is complemented by a centre console proving that GM designers really can do this kind of thing in a smart, concise and easy-to-use form. Instead of the rows of complicated little dials and knobs you get on a Corsa, an Astra or an Insignia from this era, there's a simple, clear and easy-to-grasp layout that most original buyers embellished with the optional 7-inch LCD colour Intellilink infotainment system, one of the first of its kind to be able to communicate with both Apple and Android devices (plus apps) and one operable either via the touchscreen itself or through steering wheel switchgear.
As you'd expect, Intellilink deals with stereo and smart 'phone duties, plus the screens for the extra-cost navigation system, but it can go a lot further than that. Thanks to USB and Bluetooth connectivity, the 'Gallery' section can play your stored videos and show your personal pictures, while the 'Phone Apps' section can link you in with approved apps like 'Stitcher', the global podcast internet radio system and the 'BringGo' navigation app.
Out back, a prod on the rear Griffin badge reveals a 170-litre boot that lies size-wise somewhere between slightly smaller shape of a MINI and the slightly larger one of a Fiat 500. As in those cases, there's not a huge amount more to play with if you push forward the rear bench: in fact, the 484-litres this ADAM then offers is one of the smallest spaces in the class and less than half what you'd get with the same configuration revealed in a Vauxhall Corsa from this era. Still, you don't buy a car of this kind if you want huge carrying capacity. Of more importance are clever touches - things like the optional Flex-Fix bike carrier that Vauxhall offered to allow buyers to carry up to a couple of bicycles. Not something you'd expect to be able to do with a car this small.
What to Look For
We found plenty of satisfied ADAM customers, but inevitably, there were some who had issues. One owner had an issue with the windscreen wipers colliding and other problems with the thermostat, the water pump and the ignition coil. Another owner had electrical problems caused by a faulty ECU. On another car, the front passenger seat wouldn't fold forward. In another case, the fuel gauge was faulty. Make sure the Intellilink infotainment screen (if fitted) works thoroughly and connects to your 'phone properly. The lighter fabric colours show stains easily. Otherwise, it's the usual things; insist on a fully stamped-up service history. Check the alloys carefully for parking scrapes. And examine the interior plastics for signs of general child abuse.
There were a few recalls you'll need to be aware of. On cars made between February and September 2014, the steering intermediate shaft could break and the 18-inch alloy wheels could crack after 62,000 miles. On cars made between June and July 2015, the steering rack may crack. On cars made between June 2014 and September 2015, the lower control arm may not have been assembled correctly and might become loose. There was an additional recall for steering racks on cars assembled between October 2014 and January 2015, this time because the steering gear might break under excessive force when manoeuvring at low speeds. The handbrake might disengage on ADAMs built between June 2016 and January 2017. And finally, the sunroof glass may come unstuck over time and require rectification. Make sure that any recall affecting the model you're looking at has been actioned - and ask for service book evidence of the fact.
(approx based on a 2014 ADAM 1.4 - Ex Vat) An air filter costs around £4-£12. Front brake discs cost in the £37 to £48 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £16 to £52 bracket for a set. Wiper blades cost £10-£15. A radiator can be had for around £95-£110. An oil filter costs in the £4 to £10 bracket. A water pump typically costs in the £21-£50 bracket but can cost up to around £80. A thermostat can cost as little as around £12 but is typically in the £40-£50 bracket. Front shock absorbers are typically around £53 but can cost up to around £95.
On the Road
So what's it like behind the wheel? Slide into the seat and there's a very different feel from that provided by a Corsa - or any other conventional supermini come to that. The commanding driving position, the big chunky MINI-like wheel, the wide, low glass area. It all makes you eager to tackle the urban jungle, with the promise of secondary road sportiness beyond.
Not too much mind. There's no really rorty engine in the line-up and the underpinnings are resolutely Corsa-based, not a supermini many would instinctively equate with an especially rewarding drive. In actual fact, you'll find this ADAM to be actually quite good fun on your favourite B-road, if not quite Fiesta-frisky. Improvements in this respect were made for our market with the adoption of UK-market ride and handling settings, added after an initially unfavourable British Press reaction on the original international launch. These made an important difference, though some original owners spoiled this by specifying the extra-cost sports suspension and/or over-sized 18-alloy wheels, both additions that firm things up in this car more than will be comfortable in its preferred urban environment.
We always advised original owners to simply accept this car for the friendly fashion trinket it set out to be, though there was a proviso in the way that the entry-level 70PS 1.2-litre 16v engine rather struggled with the task of pushing nearly 1.1-tonnes of ADAM up the road with any real zip. As with all the powerplants launched with this car, this was a petrol unit, sixty two mph from rest occupying nearly 15s on the way to a top speed only just over 100mph. It's better by far to find only a little more for one of the 1.4s, an 87PS unit that manages 62mph in a far more acceptable 12.5s on the way to 109mph. And a 100PS engine that improves things further to 11.5s and 115mph. Even better is the rare 115PS three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol unit. A 150PS version of the 1.4-litre powerplant was also introduced in the warm hatch ADAM S variant. No diesels were ever offered with the ADAM in the UK.
As with most models of this kind, while you'll be quite comfortable in attempting a motorway trip of a few hours, you will notice at and around the legal limit that refinement isn't quite as good as you first thought. This is partly due to the lack of a six-speed manual gearbox across mainstream variants. All of which are much happier around town where a neat 'CITY' button can lighten the steering for easy wheel-twirling that'll get you into the tightest space. Exactly the kind of thing you'd want from a car like this.
So the name's unusual. And so, for Vauxhall, was the approach with this ADAM. This most blue-collar of all mass-market makers was here offering us a potentially more bespoke product than lottery winners could buy from Aston Martin or Rolls Royce. At a price almost anyone could afford. It was all rather intriguing.
The tiny lifestyle city statement this car represents is a well familiar one of course. But no rival MINI or Fiat 500 ever offered scope for personalisation quite on this scale. Some of course will argue that these cars are trendier-looking to start with and so need less dressing up. But by the same token, many others are starting to find their retro-vibe tiresome and overly familiar.
If these people are used car buyers, they may well be quite happy to sign up to this ADAM's rather different and in some ways rather fresher look, even if to get it, they must trade the higher-tech and sportier handling that some other rivals from this era will offer. And of course, as with most cars of this kind, they must be prepared to forgo the greater space they'd have enjoyed in an ordinary run-of-the-mill supermini that would have cost much the same.
The growth of this particular little market niche within the used car market suggests that there are many buyers out there making those sorts of choices and in meeting their needs, this is very much the kind of more interesting fashion-led product Vauxhall simply has to make for long term profitability. If it strikes a chord with you, well why not? It may well be time to say 'Hello' to ADAM.