The Vauxhall ADAM's late to the boutique hatchback party, but if you hanker after a bit of individuality, your car has arrived. Jonathan Crouch reports on the 1.4 87PS petrol version
Ten Second Review
The Vauxhall ADAM is undoubtedly one of the more interesting small car choices around. It's hugely customisable both inside and out and looks strong value for money. The 1.4-litre engines aren't that exciting but return decent fuel and emissions numbers. Here we look at the entry-level 87PS variant.
You didn't really think every other car manufacturer was going to let MINI have its own way as a manufacturer of boutique, highly personalised small cars did you? Other big companies eyed the profits BMW was raking in through MINI and set to work claiming a slice of that pie. Fiat launched its similarly retro-inspired 500 and then came Citroen with the DS3, a vehicle that owed nothing to prior designs. Vauxhall is now trying to elbow its way into this stylish clique with its ADAM, a small car very much in the DS3 mould.
But where Citroen, Fiat and MINI all have a certain chic appeal to their badges, Vauxhall has never enjoyed that benefit. It's caught squarely in the blue collar mass market, not even cheap enough to employ the inverted snob appeal of a marque such as Dacia. So does the ADAM have to try harder in a market sector where 'try hard' spells social suicide?
Time will tell how the market takes to this interesting car. We take a look at the 87PS 1.4-litre petrol model here as it's likely to be the biggest seller. If you like the thought of a car that's intimately personalised to your own tastes, this might just be your thing.
The nuts and bolts first. The ADAM rides on a cut down version of the Corsa's chassis. It's been extensively re-engineered to suit the demands of the shorter wheelbase but it's quite a simple setup with a set of MacPherson struts up front while the rear end utilises a torsion beam set-up. The ride quality is firm although low-speed manoeuvres are easy due to a CITY mode, which increases the electronic power steering system's assistance at lower speeds. At higher speeds the steering isn't the most feelsome system around, but then the ADAM isn't being targeted at those who might otherwise choose a sporty VXR model. As an urban scoot, it's nigh-on perfect.
There are two 1.4-litre engines with either 87PS or 100PS. We tried the lower powered of the two. Both are mated to a five-speed manual gearbox which again makes motorway journeys less than ideal as they could benefit from a longer gear for better refinement and economy. The engine is 'tried and tested' which means it's a little long in the tooth and needs working to get the best from it. Go with the 87PS unit and you'll see 62mph appear on the clocks in 12.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 110mph. In comparison, the 100PS engine's numbers are 11.5s and 125mph. Is the ADAM a great car to pedal along a back road? No. But then that's not what its focus is. A Lamborghini Aventador makes a lousy removals van.
Design and Build
This is a car that 's going to sell largely on whether the styling chimes with new car buyers and Vauxhall certainly can't be accused of going at it half-cocked. There's a lot going on, the design work attributed to Brit, Mark Adams' team in Europe. The ADAM incorporates a 'floating' roof which is visually disconnected from the body and which works particularly well with two-tone colour schemes. It looks like no other Vauxhall but still incorporates a bunch of existing styling cues such as the Astra's wing-shaped chrome grille bar and the blade shape in the lower doors. Like MINI, Vauxhall is looking to appeal to the customer's sense of individuality in the sheer amount of colour combinations and materials. Wheels range from 16 inches in size for entry-level cars and there are 17-inch options further up the range.
Unlike many cars which offer striking exterior designs but an interior that betrays a sudden curtailment of development budget, the cabin of the ADAM is, if anything, even bolder than the exterior. There's extensive use of body-coloured trim inserts, not only on the dashboard but also reaching along the centre console and onto the steering wheel and these can give the interior a real riotous personality. You can even swap them out for a different colour or finish if you get bored.
A seven-inch touch screen interface is the big point of interest from a technological perspective. It's both iPhone and Android compatible and can access internet-downloaded apps in the same manner as the latest Renault Clio and Peugeot 208. Where specified, the navigation and infotainment controls are all marshalled by the touch screen. There's even a choice of headlining, including an LED-lit starlight roof trim. The exterior colours include 'I'll be Black', 'Papa don't Peach', 'Purple Fiction', 'James Blonde', 'Saturday White Fever' and 'Buzz Lightgreen'.
Market and Model
The ADAM launches with three trim levels, JAM (fashionable/colourful), GLAM (elegant/sophisticated) and SLAM (racy/sporty) and both 1.4-litre engines are available with all three trim levels. JAM opens with air conditioning, a CD DAB radio with USB, AUX-in & Bluetooth, a leather trimmed steering wheel with deco elements, cruise control and infotainment control. Go for the GLAM and there's electronic climate control, front & rear LED lights, a fixed glazed sunroof and an exterior chrome pack. SLAM weighs in with 17-inch alloy wheels, Morrocana sports seats, and a two tone roof & darkened rear glass.
The latest generation ESP system is standard on all ADAMs and it also includes a Hill Start Assist function. That wonderful star-effect roof and a heated steering wheel are options that differentiate the Vauxhall from the run of the mill city car contenders and these surprise and delight features are key in a market that's not always led fully by upfront pricing. Talking of which, prices for the 1.4-litre models open at just over £11,500 and top out at little over £14,000. What's more, the options prices have been kept very reasonable (unlike MINI) so should you really want to stamp your own impression on the car, it won't cost you the earth nor destroy the residual value of the car. Unless, that is, you go for a distinctly questionable colour combination!
Cost of Ownership
Right, pay attention here because things get a little more involved. You remember I said there were two versions of the 1.4-litre engine. I lied. Only a little but there are in fact four. Each version of the 1.4-litre is available in either a standard guise or as an ecoFLEX version with Stop/Start. This clearly has the biggest impact on emissions. If you're a private customer, you'd probably need to keep the ADAM for at least three or four years before you realised the financial benefits but the few business buyers that will choose the ADAM might look straight to the ecoFLEX versions. Both 1.4-litre engines emit 129g/km in standard form, dropping to 119g/km with the ecoFLEX equipment. Likewise fuel economy goes from 51.4mpg on the combined cycle to 55.4mpg in the ecoFLEX version..
Can the Vauxhall ADAM compete with the likes of the Citroen DS3, the MINI and the Fiat 500 in terms of pure style? That's a subjective call, but even if you're not quite convinced, there's a lot else that could endear the ADAM to you, particularly in 87PS 1.4-litre form. The prices are reasonable and if you really want to go to town with personalisation and fun extras - and Vauxhall reckons there are over a million different combinations of options - it's a car without parallel. Remember, there's something about coolness which involves taking yourself quite seriously and not everybody wants to do that with their car. Sometimes it's fun to just be a bit goofy and not care and the ADAM fulfils that requirement perfectly with its wacky paint finishes, decals and interchangeable trim parts.
While it's not the most exciting car to drive in its class, it's soundly engineered and most agree that the styling job is neat and well resolved. It's no class leader but it might just have found the wiggle room for a new niche within a niche.