The Adam shop in Westfield Stratford

The Adam shop in Westfield Stratford

View 2 related images

Vauxhall invited just-auto along to the London launch of the Adam, which was based in a pop-up shop at the giant Westfield shopping centre adjacent to the site of the 2012 summer Olympic Games.

It’s hard to understate how important this little car is for both Opel and Vauxhall. This is GM’s chance to prove to the doubters that its European mass-market brands can be cool enough to tempt people out of their Minis and DS3s.

The covers were pulled off this three-door hatchback at the Paris motor show last September, but production didn’t commence until January. While its platform is unique, it does share a lot of modules with the X4400 Corsa, which is why it is built alongside the three-door version of that car at Eisenach. The plant location is being played up in some European markets - the subtle suggestion that you don’t get German build quality in a Fiat 500, Citroen DS3 or Mini – but Vauxhall isn't making a thing of it.

Adams began rolling into Opel showrooms in left-hand drive countries in February, while deliveries to Ireland and to Vauxhall retailers commenced a few days ago. The decision to have cars ready for the March registration plate change in the UK will no doubt have thrilled dealers.

As some readers might recall, Opel-Vauxhall’s then head of Engineering told just-auto last year that the Adam had not been designed to be sold by other GM divisions outside Europe. In particular, there is no chance of the car being given Chevrolet or Buick badges and pitched into competition with the Mini in the USA. The reason? Crash regulations and emissions norms. Might it go to China, South Africa and/or Australia as an Opel? For now, that's doubtful, one reason being that  automatic transmission is not yet available.

The Adam is 150mm longer than a Fiat 500 but shorter than a Mini, its two main rivals according to Vauxhall. One of the interesting things about this new car’s proportions is its extra width compared to a Mini, which should mean benefits for the handling. The Adam is 3,700mm long, while the Mini measures 3,723mm from stem to stern. Just goes to show the smaller size differences between what were once the classic A and B segments. Now both models are part of the A Premium segment.

The big thing about this car is the whole idea of customisation, something it shares with the Mini and DS3. You can order not only the roof in different colours but also painted plastic add-on clips for the wheels as well as parts of the dashboard and door trims. Model grades are another novelty. They are named Jam, Glam & Slam, and that applies across all markets.

I had a good look over the cars at the shop that Vauxhall rented for the media launch and which remained open for a short time afterwards. I then drove various models, each of which was fitted out with all manner or options and accessories. A base Jam (on the road price: GBP11,255) had 16-inch alloys, A/C, a DMB digital radio/CD player and USB facility, steering wheel mounted audio controls, leather covering for the steering wheel plus cruise control. This car also had a fixed glass sunroof (it comes with a sliding blind), which costs £500.

Another model I sampled had £300 worth of climate control system, £450 of park assist, £250 tyre pressure monitors, a £200 black roof, £525 metallic paint, multi-coloured interior lighting (£125), and Intellilink (£275) which in short means anything on your phone will automatically transfer to the car. A further £70 gets you BringGo, a navigation app: with that and Intellilink you have a low-cost SatNav system.

There’s one more option, and it’s one that is unique to the Adam in this segment: a heated steering wheel (it's bundled with warming for the front seats). I was amazed to hear that BMW doesn’t yet offer that in the Mini.

Surprisingly, when Opel and Vauxhall are under such pressure to lift income, no OPC or VXR versions of the Adam are said to be planned but I would expect that to change in a year or so. Equally curious are the decisions to offer neither a diesel engine nor an automatic gearbox but again, come 2014 or 2015 and that should have been remedied. Before then, a new three-cylinder Ecotec petrol engine will be added. This Hungarian-made unit is likely to be revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in September and will also be fitted to S4500, the next Corsa.

For now, there are two four-cylinder engines: a 70PS 1.2 or 87PS and 100PS versions of a 1.4. Each comes with a five-speed manual gearbox. While the media preview was based in East London, it wasn’t far to the M11 motorway so testing on the legal limit was possible. The car isn’t overly noisy at 70mph (and beyond) but a sixth gear would be welcome.

You will want to know about C02 numbers. For the 70PS engine, it’s 124g/km and 129 for both versions of the 1.4. Now here is something I haven’t seen before – stop-start is available but you have to pay for it no matter which engine you choose. The cost is £295. It lowers the number to 118 or 119g/km. The turbo three-cylinder engine due in 2014 is expected to deliver an average of 99g/km.

So, who’s going to buy this car? Obviously, younger customers are the target audience and Vauxhall is making it easy for them with some flexible finance deals. PCP packages tend to be very popular in this segment, but older customers are not being ignored either – the Adam would make a perfect second runabout for many families. The overall sales mix is so far running at about 60/40 in favour of female buyers.

The UK is not expected to be the car’s largest market, which surprised me. Car sales have been up for 12 successive months now, but I do suspect Vauxhall is playing the under promise and then over deliver card. Maybe Opel really will sell more Adams in Germany – we’ll see.

Vauxhall didn’t want to talk too much about the possibility of a cabriolet to come, given that the launch was all about the three-door hatchback. Let’s presume that there will be more to say on that topic at next year’s Geneva or Paris motor shows.

How about a small open-topped crossover? Such a vehicle was previewed by the Adam Rocks concept at last week’s Geneva motor show. The Opel people wouldn’t confirm a production future for that model but it might be a case of watch this space.

The Adam is fun to drive and is certainly a worthy rival to the 500 and Mini. It has also been launched at just the right time. Its two main competitors have been on the market for quite a few years now so Vauxhall might well find itself making quite a lot of conquests. That’s got to be especially welcome news for two GM brands that took a lot of knocks in 2012. Next month will see the launch of the Cascada as well as an announcement concerning new powertrains, and then it won't be long until a major update for the Insignia appears. As long as the UK market stays strong, it's looking like being a good 2013 for Vauxhall.

Author: Glenn Brooks