If you’re going to arrive late to the crowded premium city car party, you’d better make sure you get noticed. So it’s just as well the bold new Vauxhall Adam is going out of its way to make an impact.
Thanks to the extensive range of cosmetic options – which includes a choice of three contrasting roof shades, a trio of decal packs and 20 different alloy wheel designs – you’re unlikely to see two Adams that are the same. Still, all the glitzy colours and stickers in the world couldn’t make an ugly car look good.
Fortunately, Vauxhall has done a fine job with the exterior styling. There’s a hint of the Fiat 500 in the curved roofline and rounded side profile, but a low grille and swept back headlights create a sporty nose, while a slim tailgate gives the rear a distinctive look.
The interior will attract plenty of attention, too. As on the exterior, the options list allows your imagination free rein. You can pick from four base colours, 15 different seat treatments, 18 interchangeable decor panels, three headlinings, ambient light packages and a starlight roof that uses 64 LEDs to create the same ‘sky at night’ effect as you get in the Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Fans of hi-tech gadgets will love the £275 Intellilink system. The seven-inch touchscreen allows you to access up to four smartphones, wirelessly stream music and connect to the internet. Look past this array of choice and the cabin is smart and well put together. With classy materials and plenty of adjustment on the seat and steering wheel, the Adam feels more upmarket than the 500.
Elsewhere, the three-spoke leather wheel is great to hold and you get glitzy red highlights in the dials, plus chrome-ringed buttons. There are plenty of places to store stuff around the cabin, although the boot will only swallow 170 litres of luggage, which is 15 litres less than the already cramped Fiat. Adults can just about squeeze into the back seats, but despite its bigger exterior dimensions, passenger space is no better than in the 500, which is disappointing.
The Vauxhall trails under the bonnet, too: its 1.4-litre engine has 130Nm of torque, which is 15Nm down on the tiny 875cc Fiat’s. Factor in the Adam’s 190kg heavier kerbweight (at 1,120kg) and it’s no surprise to find the new car feels sluggish compared with the perky 500. And while throttle response is crisp and there’s a slight rasp to the exhaust note, the Vauxhall’s 1.4-litre engine sounds strained at high revs and feels flat under acceleration.
The vague five-speed box isn’t great, either. But one of our biggest complaints is the road noise, which takes the edge off refinement.
As does the firm ride. Cars fitted with 17-inch wheels (like our test car) or 18-inch wheels get a sports chassis with firmer damping and revised steering. We’d avoid this, as the ride is irritatingly unsettled.
The steering also disappoints. The wheel initially responds sharply, but the weighting is artificial, so while there’s a hint of hot hatch-style involvement, the Adam doesn’t have the feedback of the class benchmark, the MINI. On the plus side, body control is better than in the Fiat and there’s plenty of grip. With standard stability control, strong brakes and vice-free handling, the Adam feels like a more robustly engineered product than the 500. We just wish there was more fun to be had.
However, considered as a whole, the Adam is certainly a desirable machine. And while it’s more expensive than the 500, it arguably looks good value against the likes of the Audi A1 or MINI. But residual values aren’t great – a worry for private buyers – while business users will be put off by the Vauxhall’s higher emissions, which will bring bigger company car tax bills. The question is whether the Adam can offset this with its quality, design and individuality.