By Jonathan Crouch
Small Crossovers should be fun and fashionable, but that doesn't mean they can't also be versatile, capable and practical too. Like Vauxhall's little Mokka? Perhaps. Let's check it out as a used buy.
The Mokka was first launched in 2012 to represent the Griffin brand in the growing small Crossover market. The idea was to offer a trendy and relatively affordable way for a small, fashionable family to get a foothold in this segment. It was aimed directly at the one hugely popular rival that back in 2012 had really shaken up this sector of the market - Nissan's trendy little Juke.
Wild and wacky, the Juke had bought a super-sized serving of attitude to this conservatively-styled sector. But not everyone liked its wilfully outlandish looks or its cramped rear cabin. So this Mokka took it on with a slightly more spacious supermini floorplan and fashionable cheekiness designed for wider appeal. It was a package also created to perfectly position Vauxhall against other direct segment contenders like the MINI Countryman and the Ford EcoSport.
Most potential Mokka buyers wanted a diesel; the car was launched with one of Vauxhall's older CDTi units, a 128PS powerplant. In 2015, this was replaced by a quieter, more efficient 134PS 1.6 CDTi unit. In the Autumn of 2016, the original Mokka range was replaced by the Mokka X line-up, which featured a light re-style, a more powerful 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine option and an upgraded Intellilink infotainment system.
What You Get
When it comes to the size of their products, Vauxhall designers like to blur market segment boundaries - and have done so again right here. So just as Vauxhall's compact Meriva MPV is neither tiny (think Nissan Note) or family hatchback-formed (think Renault Scenic) but shaped somewhere between the two, so this Mokka also sets its own course amongst small Crossovers. Though supermini-based, like a Nissan Juke, it's nearly as big inside as a family hatch-style Crossover like Nissan's Qashqai.
But whatever your thoughts about this car's size, you'll probably agree that the way this Mokka looks will go a long way towards selling it. Cute and individualistic without being wilfully outlandish in the manner of a rival Nissan Juke. And better resolved than the rather awkward-looking MINI Countryman. The front, which features a neatly tailored chrome bar with the Vauxhall Griffin badge at its centre, was an area the designers worked hard on, the priority being to create a solid, masculine feel, even though Vauxhall is well aware that the likely clientele for this car will be very much female-orientated.
Sure enough, the Mokka has a look that'll have wider appeal across both sexes, with purposeful protective cladding around the bumpers and wheelarches. And nice touches like Vauxhall's signature 'blade' light-catching line on the body side, sweeping up towards the rear where you'll find a skid plate with a polished aluminium finish and a rear window that's been combined with a roof spoiler and distinctly shaped tail lights.
Under the skin are the underpinnings of a supermini - more specifically, the old Chevrolet Aveo. In the back, the rear seats benefit from wide opening doors that simplify the fitment of a child seat, though that sharply rising waistline might restrict the view out for smaller occupants. Once inside, there's more space than you'd perhaps expect from something based on a car from the Fiesta class, especially when it comes to headroom. True, if you fold up the cleverly concealed armrest with its integral cupholder and attempt to seat three adults across this rear bench, things would be a little tight, but no more so than in any ordinary Focus or Astra-sized family hatch.
As for luggage room, well, there's no high boot lip to negotiate and beyond it lies 356-litres of carriage space - about the same as you'd get in a MINI Countryman but 30% more than you'd get in a Nissan Juke. Push forward the split-folding rear bench and the Mokka really is spacious, offering around 1.5m of loadbay length and a total capacity of 1,372-litres. To put that into perspective, you get 1170-litres in a MINI Countryman, just 860-litres available in a supposedly larger Nissan Qashqai and just 550-litres in a Nissan Juke.
And at the wheel? Well forward visibility is great thanks to that high-set SUV-style driving position. Over-the-shoulder visibility isn't quite so good though, due both to thick rear pillars and side windows that rise towards the rear of the car. As for the cabin aesthetics, well, despite the appearance of Vauxhall's signature wing-shaped instrument panel that wraps around the door inserts, the interior isn't overly adventurous, most of the instruments and switchgear is lifted from the brand's more conventional models, which means that some of it isn't that intuitive to use until you get familiar with things. Still, this car's more conservative vibe might just mean it mops up sales from people left a bit cold by the sheer extravagance of the Nissan Juke.
Splashes of chrome around the centre console are supposed to suggest a 'premium' feel and build quality from the Korean factory seems good. The real emphasis though, is on practicality, with no fewer than 19 storage areas dotted around the cabin, including cubbies in front of and behind the gearlever, two gloveboxes and a lidded compartment to the right of the steering wheel. Most models also get a 230V three-pin mains power supply - ideal for game-minded kids.
What to Look For
Most Mokka owners we came across were very happy with their cars. Inevitably though, there were those who had complaints, so we'll relate these to you here to ensure that you know what to look for when buying used. One owner experienced a severe vibration on the steering wheel and felt general vibration in the car when applying light to moderate braking above 50mph. Another reported the car sticking in 5th gear; check out both of these things on the test drive.
We also came across an owner who'd had a power steering failure. Otherwise, the faults were limited to fiddly little things. On one car, the sat nav screen occasionally went blank. On another, the central locking failed and the rear electric window switch refused to work. One owner found the chrome trim around the gearlever flaking off. There was also an occasional complaint of corrosion on the alloy wheels. And one owner was getting an error message on the instrument display - 'Service AFL' - even though there was nothing wrong with the adaptive lighting system being referred to.
(approx based on a 2013 Mokka 1.4 turbo inc. VAT) An air filter will be priced at around £7, though you could pay up to £30 for a pricier brand. A drive belt will be around £20-£25 and brake discs we came across sat in the £70 bracket, with pricier-branded discs costing around £165. A brake calliper would cost around £250, while brake pads for around £30 for a set, though you could pay £42 -£50 for a pricier-branded set. Wiper blades cost in the £15 to £30 bracket. If you break a wing mirror facing, you're looking at a replacement costing around £10-£15. A water pump is around £65 and a thermostat around £105.
On the Road
Mokka buyers are people likely to be enthusiasts for life rather than for cars. That'll be part of the reason they're considering a car like this in the first place, rather than a conventional supermini or family hatch. They'll like the high-set seating position, the trendy Sloane Street styling and the optional possibility of off road shenanigans.
Whether they'll care quite so much about ride and handling perfection is another question. Certainly, this model isn't as sharp and wieldy as a rival Nissan Juke, nor does it have the 'big SUV' polish of a comparable Skoda Yeti, but a decent compromise between the two should please most potential buyers. Under the bonnet, there are three main engine options, the most affordable, as ever, being the least desirable of the trio, the 2WD-only 115PS petrol 1.6-litre variant which, with only 155Nm of torque, needs to be rowed along a little with the gear lever - a stick that only offers you five speeds.
A better bet for petrol people is the Mokka variant many will choose, the 140PS 1.4-litre turbo. Sixty is just 9.4s away enroute to 118mph, so it's usefully more rapid, and there's a healthier 200Nm of torque. Despite all this and the standard inclusion of 4WD, the provision of a 6-speed gearbox and more modern mechanicals mean that this pokier 1.4 is actually cheaper to run than the feebler 1.6.
The most practical engine choice though is the one most buyers will probably select, the diesel option. From launch, Mokka buyers got a 128PS 1.7-litre CDTi diesel capable of a top speed of around 116mph and rest to sixty in around 10s. This unit was replaced in 2015 by a much quieter and more economic 134PS 1.6-litre CDTi diesel unit. Whichever diesel you end up looking at, you get all the main mechanical choices - so you can specify your car with 6-speed manual or automatic transmission and with or without 4WD. Perhaps more importantly, you get a lot more pulling power - 300Nm in all. Every Mokka is theoretically capable of towing a braked trailer of up to 1200kg in weight, but the diesel variants are the only ones that'll really take such a task in its stride.
If that's the kind of thing you're going to be doing regularly, then you'll want to find a car fitted with the AWD system, one of those fully adaptive set-ups that reacts to the surface you're driving over. So there are no knobs and levers: just a set of sensors that constantly monitor things like your steering angle, the wheel speeds, the throttle pedal position and the engine revs. Based on all this data, the electronic torque transfer device that controls the whole set-up will always know when extra traction is required, at which point it will automatically and seamlessly send up to 50% of the engine's torque from the front to the rear axle.
That's particularly useful during mild off road use of course, during which you may also have an opportunity to appreciate the benefits of an ESP stability control system that's clever than most. Built into it is a Hill Start Assist system to get you up steep slopes from which you can descend using a Hill Descent Control system that'll keep the car at a constant speed as you slither to the bottom. Thanks to the rather restricted ride height of just 157mm, we can't imagine too many Mokka owners putting this technology to the test. Many more though, will find themselves appreciating the AWD system's advantages during high speed cornering, given that it can be activated to prevent wheelslip in just a fraction of a second.
Not too long ago, it was hard to think of a more conventional brand than Vauxhall. But that was then. Here's how the company is thinking now: looks a lot more appealing doesn't it?
True, this isn't the sharpest handling car of its kind but it's as good as it needs to be. When new, it wasn't quite as affordable as some expected, but it's better value as a used buy. Premium models still aren't cheap, but their cost only tends to be an issue if your comparison is with something smaller, much less well equipped and probably more feebly powered.
Look clearly, as we've tried to do here, at what you actually get for what you actually pay and a used Mokka makes fashionable sense. With styling and size almost perfectly pitched, it's practical, well equipped, affordable to run and, in 4x4 form, seasonally capable too. A car with an appeal that builds as your interest in it grows.