Vauxhall Mokka SE 1.7 CDTi 4x4 review

SUVs. We all love to hate them. Or do until we grow up, have a couple of kids or move to somewhere slightly suburban where driving up a farm track or dodgy side road isn't the same as in a city car. It's then that cars such as the 4x4 Vauxhall Mokka seem like a considerably better idea.

And with more manufacturers jumping into the SUV market - and with urban crossover options such as the Mokka - these cars have never been more accessible. Vauxhall's naming convention might seem a little off - it's more misspelled caffeinated bevarage than SUV on paper - but this is the motor to rival to the likes of the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008.

Is it as full of beans and sugary sweetness as its brand name suggests? We've been living the SUV life to find out.

What’s in a name?

Clearly someone’s put something in the coffee at Vauxhall marketing HQ. Because recently the company has given us the Adam (named after sister company Opel’s founder), and now the Mokka. Odd names for cars, we’re sure you’ll agree. Mind you, given that Skoda sells the Yeti and Kia offers something called the 'Bongo’ in other markets, perhaps we should be grateful. We just get the sense that all the good car names - you know things like Mustang - have all been trademarked long ago. So expect a future with even more silly entrants.



But a silly name equal a silly car though - as the Skoda Yeti proves. And judging by the number of Mokkas we’re seeing on the road, there are quite a few people who clearly don’t care about the name. Perhaps their attention has been drawn to a car that has - while not quite the arresting qualities of the Nissan Juke - a good dose of visual appeal nonetheless.

READ: Nissan Juke Acenta review

It’s not what you’d call beautiful, but hey what crossover is? Despite its comparatively narrow track and try-hard rising waistline, the Mokka avoids the tippy-toed old-fashioned look of Ford’s upcoming EcoSport. And the detailing is heading towards what we would call premium - the body surfacing has that familiar, somewhat Germanic, Vauxhall resolution and the contrast body cladding on our car gives it just enough of a walking-boots tough aesthetic to befit its type.

Reverse tardis?

Climb in and it’s not quite as big as you might expect. The Mokka’s officially a B-segment SUV - meaning it’s the crossover equivalent of a Corsa, in the same way a Peugeot 2008 is to 208. Except in the weird, parts-bin world of General Motors, that’s not strictly true and the Mokka shares its underpinnings with various small Chevrolets. This isn’t something you should care about in terms of source, but this is the reason it's relatively narrow inside.



The driver position sits closer to the front passenger compatriot than in many other cars, and we think the middle person of the rear three would be unhappy on pretty much any journey, regardless of its duration.

When not carting around live cargo the boot is of a decent size, which does mean the Mokka would could make a decent fist of family activities. If you can live with a Juke, you could cope with the Vauxhall - there’s a chunk more boot space on offer. But if you’ve sampled the lounge-like accommodation of a Pug 2008, you might feel claustrophobic.

READ: Peugeot 2008 Allure review

Like the inside of a coffee cup

Whether you like the Mokka's interior as a place to be will likely come down to taste. We thought it was quite nice to get in something that wasn’t just rendered in black, black and a dash of more black. Saying that the cocoa and terracotta colour scheme of our test car interior made it look like someone had taken the ‘mocha’ thing a bit too literally.

Luckily, if it’s not your cup of tea (sorry, we’ll stop now) you can have a Mokka that’s a safer shade of charcoal. Or if you’re really feeling brave Vauxhall can offer a dashboard top and seats in a kind of grey-blue.

What’s not in doubt is that it feels like a high quality item. The leather of our car was supple, the plastics nicely grained and soft, and the brushed-metal feature that splits the upper and lower dash looks like the sort of thing you’d find in an Audi. The switches mostly click and clack with the precision damping of German cars too. It’s just a pity that there are so many of them scattered across the dashboard, which can make it a little bit of an eyes-off-the-road nightmare when you want to adjust various settings.

Well equipped, at a price

The top-of-the-range SE model - it comes in above the Exclusiv and Tech Line trim levels, and please sort out those names Vauxhall - has an abundance of standard equipment you would perhaps not expect in this size or level of car. Thank the fact that in the US and China, a car similar to the Mokka is sold as an upmarket Buick. Which is why you get big-car features such as heated seats and steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, cruise control, high beam assist and leather seats as standard.



Just like pretty much every Vauxhall there's also DAB radio, Bluetooth phone functionality and a USB port. All of which is great, until you reach the fall-off-your chair list price of £23,490. We literally did a double take. And then went open mouthed when we realised our review car - with its satnav and upgraded stereo system, clever pull-out FlexFix bike rack and rear view camera - took the price further up the ladder to £25,045.

Of course, it’d be unfair of us not to point out that this headline figure won't translate to all of us. Given the kind of finance deals most people buy cars on today and the likely discount available the lower trim level models are far more reasonably priced. More to the point, we’d seriously suggest to think about whether you need things like leather seats and our car’s 4x4 system, when a slightly less powerful version of this same car, in two-wheel drive Tech-Line trim comes in at an entirely more sensible £18,024.

Technologically equipped, if not advanced

The problem is that, generously equipped or not, we found the operation of much of the tech in the Mokka a little old skool. We’ve sometimes slammed touchscreens' abilities to death, but all is forgiven with them once you’ve spent a week using Vauxhall’s dash-mounted control knob. And get it confused with the smaller radio volume adjustment knob for the fiftieth time and you'll want to scream.



Sadly, the graphics on the screen don’t make up for the human-machine interface butter fingers moments either. Instead they look like something you’d have last found in a BMW circa 2006. And while this applies to many manufacturers besides Vauxhall, the red dot-matrix dashboard display in the gauges doesn’t half look old these days. Memo to car makers: it’s 2014.

Still, signs are that Vauxhall knows all this, as on the recent Insignia facelift the company massively cleaned up the button-fest of a dash and made the whole media and satnav experience much more pleasant and intuitive. Hopefully the same update will apply on the Mokka before long.

A mixed bag on the road

Get the Mokka out on the road and the 1.7 diesel engine is punchy, as you might expect from something with 130 horsepower. That means it’s got more power than most of the opposition, yet it doesn’t feel faster and was less economical with us at the wheel.

We blame the 4x4 system, which adds weight. Of course, the tradeoff is you might negotiate those muddy tracks more easily than in a two wheel drive model. Our advice would be: if you’re set on a Mokka then ditch the 4x4 and just get some winter tyres if you need some low traction capability.



And while the engine is punchy, it makes quite a racket as it goes about its business, with nothing like the refined quality of the best new diesels we’ve recently tested in Peugeots and Hondas. And despite its standard stop-start and several motorway trips the Mokka averaged 42mpg with us. Not bad, but much worse than an equivalent Peugeot 2008.

Behind the wheel, the steering is weighted well and the handling vice-free. Not that you'll be expecting super sporty kind of handling, but that's a given for most people who buy cars like this anyway.

But there are issues. The hill-holder assist system seemed to work inconsistently and snatchily when it did - almost rendering it pointless. Our biggest complaint, though, was that the ride had a sharp edge to it and a good degree of choppiness at nearly any speed. This, along with the engine, spoilt the Mokka’s refinement, which is a shame because otherwise it would be up there knocking on the door of best in class.

Verdict

Good looking, well equipped and complete with Vauxhall’s lifetime warranty if buying brand new, there’s a good deal to like about the Mokka.

No car feels like it’s yet nailed the crossover SUV segment to us though - despite an increasing array of offers from different manufacturers. Each has a slightly different sweet-spot, which is perhaps representative of the current wide-ranging and disparate array of buyers to which this type of car appeals.

If you want something that looks relatively good, are buying new and like the idea of a long warranty and need the security of 4x4, then the Mokka could be for you. But in this spec, it reaches into the ether, cost wise - especially given the size of car and badge on the front. Most people with £25K to spend are probably thinking about Audis, rightly or wrongly, and we can’t help thinking that’s going to count against this car in this spec.

But it's not the only spec on offer. For the more urbanite driver, we think a two-wheel drive, lower spec £18K model makes much more sense. In fact we're fairly sure such a car would earn an extra half star or more.

As it is, we’d still rate the youthful image of the Renault Captur, or grown up refinement, space and brilliant diesel of the Peugeot 2008 above this Vauxhall. Ultimately, rather like its namesake beverage, it never quite seems to know what it wants to be. Hot chocolate and coffee? We’d rather take a double espresso.