Vauxhall makes a Mokka that refreshes the soul
Rather than making a Mokka-ry of the compact SUV sector, highlights Iain Robertson, Vauxhall demonstrates that it can out-do Ford and its ’failed’ Fiesta-based Ecosport rival, by striking at the heart of the market.
SUV, or Sport Utility Vehicle, is the designation for one of the hottest and fastest developing sectors of the new car scene. Interestingly, the segment of it that is growing quickest is that of the compact SUV, which is populated by models such as Skoda Yeti, Nissans Juke and Qashqai and the in-demand Suzuki Vitara, among others, as almost every car manufacturer is fielding an appropriate model to largely unexpected, yet most fruitful sales successes in both retail and business sectors. Those carmakers not in the game soon realise that they are losing valuable ground.
However, it is also a very friable sector, largely because of its relative novelty value but also because consumer loyalty is very patchy. It is fascinating to note that both front and all-wheel-driven models proliferate across the board, although the actual drive-train is almost immaterial, as most buyers tend to opt for what they believe to be the ‘best looking’, or ‘best equipped’, variants. Equipment, which includes the all-important options list, is closely allied to the retail deal available, as so many new cars these days are sold/registered without the customer actually dipping into their own pocket, thanks to advantageous, manufacturer-underwritten PCPs and leasing opportunities.
Yet, new car sales are seldom made to the very market segment that might appreciate them most; the ‘yoof’ of today. The vast majority of junior-league SUVs are acquired by a mish-mash of ‘yummy-mummies’ and lower-grade business-users. Thankfully, because running costs are now almost on a par with the regular family hatchback, they tend not to be the precursor that they once were. In addition, as most of the electronic technology (stability and traction control, as well as 4WD) is now readily available off the shelf, they too become a means by which carmakers can earn a moderate crust from vehicles that might have, at one time, been priced in the stratosphere.
However, the biggest single raison d’etre still lies with the perceived safety of the SUV’s higher ground clearance and loftier seating position, although, once almost everybody scales the heights, thereby negating the perceived benefit, it does make you wonder what the next step will be for car manufacturers…
The Vauxhall Mokka is an interesting compact family car. Not as Essex ‘tip-toey’ as its aforementioned Ford Ecosport rival, not as glassy as the Yeti, or classily expensive as the Audi Q3, it remains an attractive design that first appeared around three years ago. While Vauxhall, a company for which I harbour immense respect, will deny being ‘wrong-footed’ at the outset of Mokka sales in the UK, not least because it was forced to share the stage with the equivalent (and notionally identical) Chevrolet Trax that is no longer marketed in our country, supplies from South Korea have now improved somewhat and it has become a most popular choice of the consumer.
Styled most nattily, its five doors open to reveal a spacious cabin, with a moderately roomy luggage area. Although the design is definitely European, it is produced at the former Daewoo factory, now owned by General Motors, in South Korea. It is also badged as an Opel in the rest of Europe. As there is little parity of wages between its country of origin and the UK, it can be regarded fairly as a decent little earner for Vauxhall.
Most of its interior accoutrements are familiar fayre to Vauxhall owners, from the busy centre console and its slightly cumbersome and not immediately logical sat-nav system, to the instrument faces and control surfaces. Not exactly ‘soft-touch’, the dashboard is clad in a resilient plastic coat but there are zero issues with the quality and fit of all components. It is well laid-out, if a trifle busy. As the test car is in Tech Line trim, it is actually very well equipped, with sat-nav, 4WD, ‘stop-start’, dual-zone climate control, digital stereo, cruise control and 18-inch alloy wheels. Priced at £18,594, it represents excellent value-for-money in the class and, armed with strong residuals and relatively low operational costs, it should stand up to any budgetary criticism in the boardroom.
Once again, as something of a ‘parts-bin special’, albeit a well-designed one, the 1.4-litre, four cylinder, turbo-petrol engine that powers it is the same as that fitted to Corsa, Adam and Astra models. Developing 137bhp at a fairly low 4,900rpm highlights that, while it will tolerate revving to 6,500rpm through the deliciously slick, six-speed manual gearbox, there is no real need to. A decent slug of torque/pulling potency (145lbs ft) from 1850rpm makes the Mokka a superb towing vehicle and its competence in an off-road environment is equally impressive.
Although it does not feel like it, because the on-road ride quality is comfortably firm and body-roll is exceptionally well-controlled, the damper rates are exceedingly compliant and long travel, which means that occupants are not bounced around the cabin, when indulging in some light boondock bashing. The car’s steering is both nicely weighted and reactive to driver input, absorbing most of the worst on-road imperfections and not displaying any unfortunate side-effects. Interestingly, a colleague, who was testing another version of the Mokka, which was equipped with the optional 19-inch alloy wheels and 225/45-profile tyres (my test car was fitted with 215/55×18 alternatives), complained that it tram-lined badly and felt like it had only limited suspension movement, which underscores the need to consider wheel and tyre options very carefully. Just because chunkier alloys and tyres look good, does not always mean that they will deliver on the comfort front.
Despite its relatively small capacity, the 1.4-litre lump delivers almost 100bhp/litre, which suggests that you can expect a most positive power delivery and it does not disappoint. Despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in a zesty 9.3 seconds places the Mokka at the ‘very warm’ end of the class performance spectrum and it is allied to a top speed of 118mph. Yet, I returned a satisfying 50.4mpg, on my local test route, which compares most favourably with its 42.2mpg Official Combined figure, which was most unusual, as so many new cars fail to reach their posted results these days. Mind you, pedalling it around the same 50-miles route to test the ride and handling, I was still pleased with the 39.6mpg attained, a figure supported and confirmed by refilling the fuel tank.
Unfortunately, a CO2 rating of a fairly steep 149g/km equates to an annual VED charge (at present) of £180, a figure that many of the Mokka’s rivals can trounce with ease, even though they might not be able to clamber up its performance graph. Boasting a kerb weight of just less than 1.4-tonnes, while explaining its first-rate stability, it clearly does not aid its exhaust emissions. Yet, provided with a truly low insurance group rating of just 11E, cost-effective life with a Mokka is a distinct possibility that highlights the snakes and ladders of balancing operational costs. You win in some areas but can lose in others. Fortunately, overall, the Mokka falls into a less-than-average classification.
While the Mokka does boast the high-riding stance of the typical class contender, it also allows elegant and easy access into and egress from the cabin, which is one of the inevitable attractions of this type of car. A decent range of seat and steering column adjustment ensures that a comfortable and safe driving position is achievable for almost all occupants of the driver’s chair. Storage slots abound in the doors, dashboard (with both upper and lower cubbies), the centre console and the boot, which also possesses a decent bin below the floor for valuables. Naturally, the boot can be extended, thereby almost trebling the car’s carrying capacity, by flopping forwards the 60:40-split rear seats, an easy action that can be carried out single-handedly.
Apart from the radiator grille shape, which is marginally different to the current frontal signature of the latest Vauxhall models, the reverse-flip hockey-sticks on the flanks and the cheekily kicked-up rear-three-quarters make the Mokka look every bit a Vauxhall product, albeit less glassy and more compact than it is. However, it is a pleasing car all-round, possessing strong dynamics in all the important areas, along with the customary complement of safety addenda, while boasting a modest price tag.
Conclusion: Vauxhall deserves to feel proud of its present achievements and the Mokka is a model that sits well in its current line-up, not least because it is an essential range in an exciting market sector. By keeping costs within bounds (a factor helped undoubtedly by its South Korean origins), yet equipping the car to a high level, very few cries of dissent will be heard from either retail, or business, customers. The value proposition is a good one and it does appear to be leaning Vauxhall’s way at this time.