DSC_1311_editedIAIN ROBERTSON

 

Admitting that he is exceptionally satisfied with Vauxhall’s most recent model offerings, Iain Robertson had steered clear of the company’s products for many years, a factor that has certainly aided his present ‘voyage of discovery’.

 

It is not so long ago that Skoda was still using its simplistic ‘Surprising’ descriptive appendage that it has now dropped in favour of something more Teutonically biased. I should now like Vauxhall to adopt the terminology, as its most recent Corsa, Astra and even the larger Insignia models are not merely market competitive (and market priced, naturally) but are capable of trouncing equivalent cars from its aeons-old rival from Cologne.

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Apart from the simply wrong Union Jack badging (£25 extra) on the flanks of the Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air tested here, at least the General Motors subsidiary can boast that it produces some models in the UK (the Astra and most of its light vans range), which is just unfeasible for Ford, despite its perpetual market-leading status. My suggestion is that we should all buy Blitish first (okay, I know that Nissan, Toyota and Honda purport to be UK firms), to ensure that factories based here continue to thrive, which is the only morally-upstanding, pseudo-political remark that you will read from me…today, anyway.

 

Managing, with great difficulty, to contain my enthusiasm for the Adam Rocks, I wish to state that it possesses the best ride and handling compromise of any tiddler sold in the UK, bar none. It sets a standard for all motorcars. I have puzzled and ruminated about its genuinely compliant spring and damper rates, which ensure that there is a complete absence of the harshness and jostling that one usually experiences in sub-compact hatchbacks and innumerable larger cars.

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Yet, its body control is the stuff of legends. Colin Chapman, of Lotus infamy, imbued his ethos of softer springing and firmer damping, allied to remarkably skinny tyre footprints, into every Lotus, thus formulating benchmark standards for all cars, as early as the 1960s. Lotus still produces sports cars possessing phenomenal ride and handling characteristics that are the envy of the entire motor industry and, much like Bugatti’s 1930’s method of casting light alloy road wheels, which people have tried but failed to emulate, it is starting to look as though the suspensive efforts of one, ironically-named, Mr Harder, of Opel, in Germany, warrant similar stellar recognition.

 

Sticking with the greasy bits for a few extra moments, the electronically powered steering of the Adam, although it demands familiarity to wield it properly, is in perfect tune with the rest of the car’s dynamic balance. Cornering is delightfully well-controlled and grip levels are stunning, although I think that I would stick with the standard 17-inch alloys (with higher tyre profile) and not the £800 extra cost Twister wheels, with ‘Manoogian ROCKS’ clip-on spoke trims. The significantly lower profile rubber, regardless of its style potential, is the only errant player in an otherwise exquisite tale of impeccable balance, because it is too readily deflected by ridges in the today’s broken road surfaces. However, I can ‘feel’ the difference, so my advice to potential buyers would be to save some ackers on the alloys front.

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Just look at the photographs of the Adam that I snapped in the final rays of a glorious day’s sunshine. The manner in which natural light bounces off the delightfully curvaceous surfaces is not at all expected in a tiny motorcar. It is sculpturally and emotionally lovely, even with its unusual plastic lower body and wheelarch cladding (in league with the ‘Rocks‘ badging). Most of the Adam’s rivals, which include the retrospective Fiat 500, are few and far between on the style front. The designers have a tough task to create interest and even fascination in curtailed profiles. They prefer longer bodies and rooflines by which to extol their art. Formerly of Detroit but now based at Opel, Darren Luke is the inspired young stylist who created the Adam.

 

His initial concept created the reality of almost 61,000 personalised exterior combinations but pegged at around 82,000, the interior mix-and-match details are equally fascinating. I can fully understand why the Adam’s interior has attracted so many awards. It is not just tactile, it even looks good, with, in the test car’s case, a plank of body-coloured trim across the fascia, which is topped by a technically finished, soft-touch moulding, within which are set the crystalline instrument dials. Although I prefer either blue, or green, illumination, which is more restful to the eyes than the customary Vauxhall red, it is legible and undoubtedly very stylish.

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Finished in black leather, the front seats are comfortable and adjust through a wide range, as does the hide-wrapped steering wheel. Both areas are electronically heated, although I am not a real fan of a heated wheel-rim, even though punting around in early-spring sunshine, with the full-length canvas roof wound-back electrically, it was chilly enough to warrant it! The sunshine roof explains the ‘Air’ element of the model’s name and, thankfully, wind roar is well-managed, while the draft is also minimal. The downside is that the car is slightly noisier when the roof is closed, thanks to its triple-layer canvas construction, although it does not leak at all.

 

While the seat reach adjustment is limited, partly because of the overall brevity of the car, which makes the cabin slightly cramped for anyone over six feet in height, the rear seats are best suited to very small children, regardless. The Adam’s boot is also a bit tight on space. Compared with the storage area of my own Skoda Citigo, which is not dissimilar in exterior dimensional terms to the Vauxhall, it loses out significantly. The more than adequate space in the Citigo does not suffer from the Adam’s voluminous tail-lamp clusters. Fortunately, the rear seats fold forwards for extra load space.

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Powering the test car is Vauxhall’s latest 1.0-litre ‘triple’ that complies with the current demand for downsized engines, in this case fitted with a turbocharger that boosts power to a respectable 112bhp, accompanied by a decent slug of pulling potency that weighs in from a lowly 1800rpm, tailing off (diesel-like) at around 4500rpm, beyond which engine speed there is little point in revving all the way to the 6500rpm limiter. Yet, this little gem of a motor spins so turbine-freely and quietly that it is all too easy to visit the soft limiter frequently.

 

Slicing up and down the six forward ratios is a delight and cruising near-silently at 50mph requires a smidgen under 2,000rpm. Even at the motorway legal limit, the engine is unstressed and a willing performer, requiring little more than a light flex on the throttle pedal to whisk past slower vehicles. This combination is another star turn for Vauxhall. The unit works exceptionally well in the new Corsa and is beautifully suited to the waft along high-end style of the Adam. The entire set-up is not only smart but sensible too, as the engine emits around 119g/km of CO2, for a zero-VED in year one and a cost-efficient £30 annually thereafter.

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However, it is the superb performance that sets this unit apart from its rivals. The Adam Rocks reaches the 0-60mph benchmark in a cool 9.6 seconds but manages to feel brisker than that. Its top speed is given as 121mph. Incorporating ‘stop-start’ technology, it managed to return a consistent 41mpg in my hands, in a mix of driving conditions, which compares unfavourably with its government guideline figure of 55.4mpg. It did reach 52mpg on one slightly lazy trip but most owners will be contented returning in excess of 45mpg.

 

While the great joy of Adam ownership might seem to lie in personalising the car to death, I would advise caution, unless you want to assume Audi-like standards of over-pricing. The well-equipped standard car costs a moderate £16,695 but the test example was whisked up to £20,335, with the addition of just a few accessories (mobile-phone linking, self-parking, winter pack, sight and light pack, metallic paint finish, optional alloys, leather, climate control and sports pedals) which I happen to think is starting to look a bit ridiculous. Reduce the wallet penalty and opt for the stock example.

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Conclusion:   Seldom have I enjoyed driving a recent model from any carmaker as much as I did the Adam Rocks Air. The only real ‘negatives’ I perceive are the costs associated with accessorisation and the cramped cockpit, for a driver of my size. However, the Adam looks brilliant and presents so strongly that I was constantly fielding a mix of excited questions from passers-by and envious, or desirable, looks from pedestrians and drivers of other cars. I love the Adam’s endearingly happy visage. It feels great and drives so incredibly well. Few other carmakers can even compete with its first-class mix of accessible power and style, in such a teensy package. I love it.DSC_1319_edited

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).