Hands-on: Vauxhall Adam review

If you’re the sort of person who names their car, then you’ll perhaps be pleased to hear that from early next year Vauxhall will sell you one that comes pre-named: Adam.

We’ll leave the obvious and easy name puns to you, but if you think Adam’s bad, know that it (he?) comes in the flavours of Jam (colourful), Glam (sophisticated – and the coffee-coloured car in our photos) or Slam (sporty – and the black coloured car in our photos). And we’ve not even got started. Paint colours include Men in Brown, I’ll be Black and James Blonde (no, we’re not making this up). Clearly, the marketing people had fun. Question is, will you, and should you buy an Adam?

There are more than a million different variations of Adam, according to Vauxhall, created - among other things - via 20 different types of alloy wheels, 12 body colours, 15 types of seat trim and 18 décor panels for the dashboard - it's as if they've been playing Need For Speed too much and really like the customisation you get in the in-game garage. 

Depending on the spec, it can appear extremely feminine or quite sporty and masculine. It’s fundamentally quite petite at just 3.7m long but its wide track and pushed out wheels make it look quite squat and planted on the road.

But despite Vauxhall’s protestations of being distinct and shunning retro, the 11-year intervening period since BMW first reintroduced the Mini, complete with numerous personalisation options (and the cars that have then followed it), means your mind can’t help cross-reference the Adam to a bit of Fiat 500 here and Citroen DS3 there.

It’s a case of follow-my-leader then, but while it couldn’t be called original, strip back the personalisation bits and as a set of forms and details it’s far from a bad piece of design. We like the floating roof design, which disconnects from the body at A and C-pillars. We like its new nose design and we like the chrome/gloss/colour (you choose) details too. But ultimately it’s all a little contrived. In our view, the 500, Mini and A1 all manage to have their own distinct personalities, without trying so hard.

Inside, the personalisation ramps up another level. Choose from four colour themes – the obligatory black and white but also cocoa and purple (not as bad as it sounds), together with 18 different "décor panels"(the main bit across the dashboard). And that’s before you look up and clock the (optional) starlight headliner, which puts 64 LEDs into the headlining to emulate the sky at night. And for a full-on Hunter S Thompson experience in your Adam, you can further augment your roof lining with blue sky and clouds, or leaves. We wouldn’t, though.

Otherwise the seats are comfortable and the quality is impressive – there are some nice touches like a crackle-pattern finish on the plastic of the dash top and a bejeweled gauge cluster. There’s not much space, especially in the boot, but then if you’re used to a Mini or 500, you won’t expect there to be.

But the real reason we thought it worth going to Portugal to try the Adam is something called IntelliLink. It’s a 7-inch touchscreen system, which – in a mainstream production car first – uses your iOS or Android phone to supply not only its media but also a series of Apps which run on the phone, which the car mirrors – and you can interact with – via the touchscreen. 

The cars we drove didn’t have the final version of the system, so it would be unfair to judge it too harshly. But it has, we believe, a slight flaw in its conception, because to run its navigation app (you can’t just stream your TomTom app through the screen) it relies on the phone’s in-built GPS sensor. In our cars, Vauxhall provided and ran this from an iPhone 4S.

The flaw, as you might guess, is that in built-up areas or where there’s little signal, the phone loses GPS connection, the nav then loses its position and can freeze up. It tends to pick up within 20 seconds, but we could see this getting annoying in a city you’re not familiar with, were it to lose GPS for a critical few seconds and you miss a turn.

Still, we’d recommend it, because it’s only a £275 option. The 7-inch touchscreen is well judged and high quality for this end of the market and we’d expect both the Apps themselves and phone GPS chipsets to go on improving. Interestingly, the system connects to your phone differently depending on OS. USB port for Apple iOS, Bluetooth on Android. 

The wider array of equipment is strong too, Adam is good value based on what you get. Jam (effectively base spec) gets you Air conditioning, DAB and aux-in radio and cruise control. That car starts, with a 1.2 engine, at £11,255. Expect to pay about £14-17,000 once you’ve specced up a Glam or Slam car to look like the ones in our pictures and opted for the 1.4 engine.

On the road, the first thing you notice is that even on the (massive for this size of car) 18-inch wheels, the ride’s more than tolerable. And with those big wheels come phenomenal levels of road holding. Unfortunately, an outdated, thrashy and neither quick nor frugal engine spoils things. Adam therefore feels like he’s doing "fun" on the road with gritted teeth rather than naturally feeling like he’s up for a good time.

But we shouldn’t write it off yet. Because UK-spec cars (we drove German market vehicles in Portugal) get their own suspension tuning and steering set-up. Meanwhile, a new, punchier, more economical 3-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine will arrive in about a year’s time. If you’re set on an Adam, we’d suggest maybe waiting for it.

But ultimately, should you be plumping for an Adam, when the range of fashionable, fun cars at this end of the market is so wide? Price-wise, and considering the equipment tally, it’s much more of a Fiat 500 rival than a Mini competitor. Which makes it an interesting alternative. Because it drives better, has more appealing technology for people like us and a higher quality cabin than the Fiat.

Yet for all its endless personalisation, in our view, the charming nature and effervescent quality that characterises the 500, Adam lacks. Blame that engine, or blame time dulling the excitement of endless personalisation options, but it feels a bit like the kid no one ever noticed at school, who one day turned up in fancy clothes and got a decent hair cut at long last. He’s no longer getting picked on. But he’s not part of the cool crowd, either.

Which sounds mean. But we can’t help feeling that without the retro reference points of the 500, engineering sophistication of the Mini, or the premium qualities or badge appeal of the Audi A1, Adam is simply another car to enter the crowded small fashion car market. Yes, there are a million personalisation options, but otherwise it offers little new or genuinely original (unless you’ve always been waiting for a dashboard panel covered in little leaves that's backlit from behind). So if having the latest thing and endless personalisation is top of your list, jump in. But if you’re truly after something chic, classy or just plain fun to drive, there are cooler cars in town than the one called Adam.



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