The Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air is a jacked-up, crossover version of the MINI-rivalling Adam. And if that wasn’t a bizarre-enough combination, it’s also a soft-top cabrio – as standard. Like the Fiat 500C and Citroen DS3 Cabrio, the Adam Rocks Air uses a fabric centre roof panel that folds up above the rear window at speeds of up to 85mph. It costs around £1500 more than a regular Adam, and Vauxhall tells us there will be a hard-top Adam Rocks and a soft-top Adam Air next year.
Open-top party trick dealt with, let’s deal with the ‘crossover’ bit. To create an Adam Rocks, Vauxhall raises an Adam’s ride height by 15mm, and widens its tracks. The cars are equipped with either 17- or 18-inch alloys – giant wheels for such a small car – and housed in utilitarian plastic-shrouded wheelarches.
There’s more plastic cladding around the front and rear bumpers to pump up the Adam’s workmanlike attitude, and you get grey front and rear skidplates. It’s all garnish, however – there’s no off-road mode for the traction control, no all-wheel drive, nor all-season tyres. It’s ‘a symbol for fashion-led, active drivers wanting to stand out from the crowd’, according to design chief Malcolm Ward.
As such, the best thing about the Adam is that its willfully funky and finely finished cabin hasn’t been clad in hose-down surfaces. You momentarily notice the drop into the driver’s seat is a touch shorter, and the sense of sitting ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ the car is more pronounced than before.
Once aboard, the endlessly customisable cabin is as before. The intricate instruments, £275 Intellilink 6.9-inch touchscreen and main dash materials are a delight, but the same problems remain. Unacceptably cramped rear seats, a tiny 170-litre boot with a very high lip and rubbish plastic lurking lower down the cabin limit the Adam Rocks’ appeal. At least the fabric roof doesn’t limit headroom or boot space, though.
The regular Adam’s lacklustre drive and wheezy old naturally aspirated engines have always been a major downfall. Half of that reputation has been immediately repaired in the Adam Rocks (and all 2015 model-year Adams), because it’s the first Vauxhall to get the brand’s new 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder.
Developing 113bhp and with a lusty thrum where once there was a thrashy drone, the Adam has finally got the peppy engine its fun-factor looks deserved. Direct injection helps towards a 55.4mpg claim, and while the new six-speed manual is as vague as the old five-speeder, you don’t use it as much because there’s more torque in more of the rev range. The dated, dirtier 1.2 and 1.4 engines also struggle on – avoid them if you can afford to.
That’s because the new three-cylinder is so good; Vauxhall’s engine has a balancer shaft, shields for the chain drive and even an acoustically insulated aluminium-steel oil pan to reduce noise and vibration. It’s worked admirably: this is an exceptionally refined three-cylinder, even when labouring hard. The three-pot happily tractable enough to pull in sixth gear from 30mph.
Despite revised suspension settings to cope with the loftier stance and supposedly improved steering response, the Adam Rocks remains disappointing dynamically. In the bends you cling onto its ridiculously thick steering wheel rather than thread it incisively – there’s enough grip and ride comfort to cope with what most drivers will throw at it, but the Adam Rocks is too numb and unwilling to indulge or entertain.
A pity, when its disparate rivals like the Mini Cooper and Nissan Juke are downright grin-worthy, and the Citroen DS3 Cabrio more comfortable over bumps. Tyre noise from the huge 18-inch wheels is the main disrupting influence in what is otherwise a remarkably quiet cabin.
It can get awfully expensive too. While the standard car with the must-have 1.0-litre engine is a touch under £17,000, our test car rocketed that up to £19,800, thanks to 18-inch wheels, leather seats, the Intellilink touchscreen and winter pack with heated seats and steering wheel, plus automatic parking with distance sensors. At that money, the Audi A1 and Mini Cooper S are far harder to ignore, in spite of the Adam’s unique crossover-convertible proposition.