Thinking of a MINI or a Fiat 500? Then you also need to be thinking about Vauxhall's trendy little ADAM. Jonathan Crouch drives the brand's little lifestyle citycar.
Ten Second Review
The ADAM is Vauxhall's refreshingly different take on the small car sector. It doesn't replace the brand's conventional citycar and supermini offerings but it does offer a more stylish option that sits somewhere in between for buyers bored by the sight of BMW's reinvented MINI on every drive and unmoved by Fiat's funky 500. Here's a fashionable alternative with an encyclopaedic list of options, bidding for individuality beyond the hatchback herd.
The model title's is a nod to Adam Opel, the founder of Vauxhall's European sister company, but is unlikely to start a trend for Biblical car names. It may though, start a trend for buyer personalisation, the like of which the market has never before seen. With over a million possible specification and trim combinations, the chances of two identical Vauxhall ADAMs ever being produced are statistically quite slim. Ground-breaking where it matters then - in the showroom. To disguise perhaps the fact that this car is actually quite conventional in arguably less important areas, running on the underpinnings of Vauxhall's old third generation Corsa.
The dealer network won't mind. It's the stylish look and feel that will sell this model. True enough, the Griffin brand has brought us some stylish designs in the past, but they've only appealed to a small percentage of the car buying population. Now at last, we've a Vauxhall with widespread chic appeal - a pretty new concept for British customers to grasp. Let's try it.
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. Though there's a 150PS 1.4-litre petrol turbocharged powerplant in the top shopping rocket 'S' model at the top of the range, most ADAM variants must use humbler engines. Of these, the pick of the bunch is the 115PS 1.0i Direct Injection petrol turbo unit that's well worth paying a premium for. This was first introduced on the convertible 'Rocks Air' bodystyle and has since been extended out across the range.
If you can't stretch to this unit, then you'll have to restrict your search to one of Vauxhall's older ptrol engines - curiously, there's no diesel option. These petrol choices include the 70PS 1.2i and a 1.4i unit with either 87 or 100PS options. To be honest, the entry-level 70PS 1.2-litre 16v engine does struggle a little with the task of pushing nearly 1.1-tonnes of ADAM up the road with any real zip, sixty two mph from rest occupying nearly 15s on the way to a top speed only just over 100mph. Better by far to find only a little more for one of the 1.4s. The 87PS unit manages 62mph in a far more acceptable 12.5s on the way to 109mph. And the 100PS engine improves things further to 11.5s and 115mph.
Design and Build
Though Vauxhall offers an unusual 'Rocks Air' convertibe version of this car, most buyers will be looking at the single three-door hatch bodystyle. At under 3.7m in length, this ADAM is actually shorter than many citycars and a full 300mm shorter than Vauxhall's Corsa supermini. 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, which 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 can 'comfortably seat four adults' requires for fulfilment the directive that those in the front should be very short-legged indeed.
And at the wheel? Well, as a buyer you'll have used the enormous trim choice range to complete a decor finish that's either restrained, wilfully extrovert or more likely, as in this case, a feel that's somewhere between the two. Most models offer a dash dominated by the optional 7-inch LCD colour Intellilink infotainment system, one of the first to be able to communicate with both Apple and Android devices and applications and operable either via the touchscreen itself or through steering wheel switchgear.
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.
Market and Model
The ADAM value proposition is based on a pretty simple trade of size against style. The idea is that, just as with a MINI or a Fiat 500, you should get a citycar-sized runabout (think tiny Ford Ka or Volkswagen up!) for the cost of something supermini-shaped (think Corsa or Fiesta), with compensation provided by a super-sized helping of style and desirability. Prices start at around £12,000 for the base 1.2i 16v petrol version, but we'd find the extra few hundred for one of the two petrol 1.4s that are notably less feeble. Or even better, we'd stretch to the £2,000 premium required over the 1.2 to get our selves the pokier, yet more economic 1.0i petrol turbo engine.
Is it equally important to go large when it comes to trim levels? When it comes to that, I'm not quite so sure. There are three main ones. From baseline 'JAM' (supposed to be what Vauxhall calls 'fashionable'), you can pay just under £1,500 more to go 'GLAM' (for a trim package that's apparently more 'elegant') or pay a further £500 on top of that for the top, supposedly 'sportier' trim level we tried - 'SLAM'. Given though that this car is all about bespoke tailoring, I can't help but think that a better approach would be to buy in at 'JAM' level, then individually select the options you actually want. If you want the unusual 'Rocks Air' convertible version, you'll need to think in erms of a budget starting from around £15,000.
Cost of Ownership
No small car has get by these days without an exemplary set of running cost returns - and this one's no different. You have to say that the decision to go without the option of diesel power from launch was a curious one given that all this model's obvious rivals all offer it. Mainstream buyers will be totting up the likely fuel and CO2 returns from the conventional 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engine line-up the car was introduced with, figures that would have looked a lot better if the ecoFLEX pack you're required to pay around £300 extra for was included as standard.
As well as low rolling resistance tyres, this includes a start/stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. All enough to make a difference of around 5% to your figures, stats you can hopefully replicate on a day-to-day basis thanks to an 'Eco Drive Assistant' - basically a section of the trip computer that monitors energy consumption and indicates when to shift up. It's a package I'd certainly want to bargain my way into when buying this car. Doing so will see you return a combined cycle reading of around 56mpg and a CO2 return of around 119g/km, whichever of the mainstream 1.2 and 1.4-litre models you select. Better though, to go for the more modern 115PS 1.0-litre ECOTEC unit this car borrows from its Corsa supermini stablemate. Despite its extra power, this unit delivers 57.6mpg and 114g/km.
So the name's unusual. And so, for Vauxhall, is the approach. This most blue-collar of all mass-market makers is now offering us a potentially more bespoke product than lottery winners can buy from Aston Martin or Rolls Royce. At a price almost anyone can afford. It's 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 has yet 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.
These people may well be quite happy to sign up to a newer, fresher look, even if to get it, they must trade the higher-tech and sportier handling that some other rivals 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 suggest 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.