Vauxhall Adam review
Vauxhall’s stylish city car challenges the Fiat 500 and DS 3, but isn't as competitive in some areas
While Vauxhall has the new Viva to compete for the budget end of the small car market, the Adam caters to a more style-focused audience. It was the success of the MINI and DS 3, and Luton's city car has proven a big hit so far.
Like rivals, the Adam aims to attract buyers with distinctive looks and looks and a wide variety of customisation options to let buyers make their mark - according to the company, there are more than 30,000 different combinations on offer.
However, while the compact proportions look good on the outside and bring obvious benefits when it comes to town driving, they make themselves known inside the Adam, too. There’s plenty of room up front, but passengers will find sitting in the back a very tight squeeze.
There’s less space in the Adam than there is in the MINI, for instance, and the rather cramped rear is matched to a tiny boot. When the back seats are in place, the car has a load capacity of just 170 litres, so prospective buyers shouldn’t expect to fit a lot of shopping in.
Another big contrast to the MINI is the driving experience. Sadly, the appealing looks do not add up to much involvement from behind the wheel, with the Adam suffering from light steering and a hard ride on models with sport suspension. Vauxhall has attempted to address this with the introduction of an Adam S – the range-topping ‘warm’ model has a great chassis, but as it’s fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, it still suffers from a firm ride.
Due to its style, but also its compact size, the Vauxhall Adam can count as rivals everything from the retro Fiat 500 to the modern-looking Volkswagen up! and premium cars like the MINI, DS 3 and Audi A1.
Vauxhall offers some fun-sounding trim levels: Jam, Glam and Slam. The range grew in late 2014 with the arrival of the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air – these are pumped-up SUV-style models, and the latter features a full-length fabric sunroof.
Then, in early 2015, came the Adam Grand Slam: a performance version packing a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Vauxhall also added an 'Energised' spec to the price list, which offers and out-of-the-box customised look that makes things easier for buyers.
However, Vauxhall has performed a U-turn on the naming policy for the top-spec Adam. In Europe, the Opel version was badged S, and while Vauxhall stuck with Grand Slam at launch (to fit in with the other trim names), S logos could still be seen on the car’s bodywork and in the interior. Accordingly, the fastest and most powerful Vauxhall Adam is now also known as the S. It’s also the most expensive model: while the Grand Slam started at £16,995, the Adam S is priced from around £250 more.
For the regular Adam range, there are three engine choices: a new and punchy 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, introduced first in the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air, and two older 1.2 and 1.4-litre normally aspirated units. There are no diesel engines in the Adam line-up.
The 1.4i comes with a choice of 86bhp and 99bhp power outputs, while stop/start is an option on all engines bar the 86bhp 1.4i (where it isn’t available at all). The 1.0i comes with the fuel-saving feature as standard. The 1.4-litre turbo engine is only available in the Adam S.
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All Adams are three-door hatchbacks, and all are also front-wheel drive. Despite their rough and ready appearance, the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air are not available with four-wheel drive.
Transmission choices comprise a standard five-speed manual on the 1.2 and 1.4-litre normally aspirated engines, and a six-speed manual on the 1.0i and 1.4i turbos. There’s also a five-speed automated manual called Easytronic, although this is only an option on the 86bhp 1.4-litre engine.
The Adam is one of a trio of small cars from Vauxhall, alongside the big-selling Corsa supermini and the more recently introduced Viva city car. The focus is more on style with the Adam than in the other two models, although as a result it’s arguably less practical – both the Viva and Corsa are available in five-door format.
Engines, performance and drive
As with the latest Vauxhall Corsa, quick steering ensures the Adam feels keen and alert on winding roads. Turn-in is sharp and there’s lots of grip, plus the stiffer suspension in the top-specification Adam S helps reduce body roll. However, push harder and the car starts to lose its composure.
The combination of harsher sports suspension and large 17-inch alloys on the Adam Slam also has a negative impact on ride comfort, because the car thumps into potholes and fidgets over small bumps. With their softer springs and smaller 16-inch rims, the Adam Jam and Glam are much better suited to the UK’s poorly maintained roads. Yet the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air deliver the best ride in the range, with their 15mm increase in ride height meaning longer-travel suspension.
Whichever model you go for, a City steering mode makes the wheel light around town for parking and then disengages at 30mph-plus to deliver a more natural feel. Combined with the Adam’s small dimensions, it ensures the car is a natural in the urban jungle. Even so, the blend of small rear windows and thick C-pillars means the optional parking sensors are worthwhile.
If fun behind the wheel is your priority, then the performance-biased Adam S will appeal to you most. It uses a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo engine, sits on a VXR-tuned chassis and borrows the larger brakes from the Corsa VXR. It’s quick for a car of its size and engaging to drive, but the firmer set-up and 18-inch alloys can make it a little rough at slower speeds.
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The Adam arrived with a choice of dated engines already seen in the previous-generation Corsa supermini, and these did little to help its appeal. Although they’re largely well proven in terms of reliability, on the performance front they don’t offer enough power and torque to make the most of the Adam’s light chassis.
First up is a 1.2-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine that is normally aspirated. It delivers a paltry 69bhp at 5,600rpm and 115Nm of torque at 4,000rpm – resulting in a rather sluggish 14.9-second 0-62mph time and a top speed just the right side of 100mph.
Following on is the 1.4-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder, which has a choice of 86bhp or 99bhp outputs. Both develop peak power at 6,000rpm and deliver 130Nm of torque at 4,000rpm.
Neither model is quick, but the 99bhp Adam does 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds and goes on to 115mph, ahead of the 86bhp car’s 12.5 seconds and 109mph. Equip the 86bhp engine with the Easytronic auto, and the sprint time slumps to 13.9 seconds, although the box’s longer gearing improves the top speed marginally, to 111mph.
To get the best from any Adam, the engine under the bonnet needs to be turbocharged – and the real star is the 1.0-litre three-cylinder. With 113bhp and 170Nm of torque, it takes the car from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and on to a 121mph top speed. But this data doesn’t tell you how sweet, smooth and free-revving this unit really is. It’s one of the best of its type and something for Vauxhall to be really proud of.
The 1.4-litre turbo powers the hot Adam S, and delivers 148bhp from 4,900-5,500rpm, along with 220Nm of torque from 1,800-4,500rpm. It’s an impressive engine, and gives warm hatch performance: 0-62mph takes 8.5 seconds and the top speed is 130mph.
Engine choices are much more limited in the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air. Buyers’ only options are the 1.2 or 1.4-litre engines without ecoFLEX technology, or the 1.0-litre three-cylinder. The latter is the obvious choice.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Just as the Vauxhall Adam trails the class leaders on performance and driving fun, it can’t quite match its rivals on efficiency and running costs. Most of the alternatives on sale offer tax-friendly, sub-100g/km models in their line-ups, but the best the Adam can manage on the CO2 emissions front is 112g/km.
If you’re considering the 69bhp 1.2-litre or 99bhp 1.4-litre models, it’s worth opting for the ecoFLEX versions, as they come with stop/start and other fuel-saving measures for a premium of only around £300. These tweaks cut emissions from 125g/km to 115g/km on the 1.2 and 118g/km on the 1.4, and bring the cars down into a lower road tax band – so you’ll save £80 a year on VED from year two onwards.
The Adam S comes with stop/start, but doesn’t benefit from a full suite of ecoFLEX technology, so its CO2 emissions are relatively high, at 139g/km. That means it’s the only Adam to incur a ‘showroom tax’ of VED in the first 12 months.
At the other end of the range, the greenest Adam is the 1.0i three-cylinder. It uses ecoFLEX tech to match the claimed fuel economy figure of the 1.2i ecoFLEX model, at 57.6mpg, but it has lower CO2 emissions of 112g/km. That’s not enough to improve its VED rating, so buyers will face the same annual road tax bill as those who choose the 1.2, but perhaps their conscience will be clearer.
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All Adams claim official fuel economy in excess of 50mpg, with the exception of the Adam S (which returns 47.9mpg). Consumption figures range from 52.3mpg for the non-ecoFLEX, normally aspirated 1.4-litre model to 57.6mpg for the 1.2i ecoFLEX and 1.0i.
Fitting 17 or 18-inch alloys to models with smaller standard wheels can have a very minor detrimental impact on economy and emissions. Yet strangely, the Adam Rocks, which is 25kg heavier than a standard model with an equivalent engine and has at least 17-inch alloys, brings no penalty in terms of mpg or CO2.
Business users will be interested to hear that the non-ecoFLEX 1.2 and 1.4-litre models sit in the 20 per cent Benefit in Kind (BIK) company car tax bracket. The Adam S incurs BIK at 22 per cent, and 1.0i models on 16-inch wheels are taxed at 17 per cent. Every other Adam sits in the 18 per cent BIK bracket.
No matter which version of the Adam you go for, you can expect low insurance bills. The Rocks 1.2 sits in insurance group 2, and the Adam 1.2 in group 3. This rises to group 10 for 1.0-litre models, with the Adam S sitting in insurance group 15 on its own.
Picking the right options and not going overboard will be critical when buying an Adam, as it’s not predicted to hold on to its value anywhere near as well as rivals like the Fiat 500 or MINI. The fact Vauxhall doesn’t offer a diesel option won’t help the car’s residuals, although the crossover-style Adam Rocks should broaden the model’s appeal.
Interior, design and technology
There seem to be two ways for the modern city car to go on the styling front: they either try to look modern or retro. In the modern camp, we have the likes of the Hyundai i10, as well as the near-identical Volkswagen up!, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii trio, while on the retro side there’s the Fiat 500.
The Adam takes the modern approach, featuring the latest Vauxhall front-end design language with a prominent Griffin badge. Having said that, the curves of the roofline and elsewhere on the bodywork do give the Adam something of the cute profile that marks out the Fiat 500.
As you’d expect, there’s huge scope to customise the car, with graphics, different wheels and various paint finishes. It’s easy to get carried away, though, and some additions can make the Adam look a little garish.
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Climb aboard and it’s clear that Vauxhall has worked hard to create a classy atmosphere. From the slick dashboard to the high-quality materials, the Adam feels a cut above rivals like the DS 3. Highlights include the body-colour trim set into the dash, the chrome-ringed dials and the chunky leather steering wheel.
As with the exterior, the sky’s the limit when it comes to personalisation. There are 18 seat finishes to pick from, plus more than 20 trim insert colours and five options for the rooflining, including a ‘starlight’ version that uses 64 LEDs to create a sense of the sky at night.
Specs comprise Jam, Glam (for around £1,400 on top of the Jam) and Slam (which adds about £750 to the price of the Glam). The Adam Rocks is around £500 more than a Slam and has a broadly similar spec to that car, although climate control – standard from the Glam upwards – is an option. The Rocks comes as standard with manual air-conditioning, like the Jam.
As well as air-con, Jam models have a CD stereo with USB and aux-in connectivity, and controls mounted on the leather steering wheel, plus Bluetooth. They also get cruise control and a trip computer, plus ESP, ABS, a tyre pressure monitoring system, six airbags, 16-inch alloys and daytime running lights.
Glam trim builds on this with climate control, a fixed panoramic sunroof and DAB. Body-coloured door handles also set it apart, as does some chrome trim outside and on the door sills, while the daytime running lights and tail-lamps are upgraded to LED units.
Energised spec - based on Jam - is designed to take away the often confusing customisation choice and offer a specced-up, out-of-the-box model with less choice. It only comes with the base 1.2-litre petrol, which is a shame. It adds 17-inch nlack alloys, black detailing, and LED running lights, olus inside you get part leather seats, alloy pedals and Vauxhall's 'Intellilink' system.
Slam spec is mainly marked out by styling tweaks, with 17-inch alloys, sports suspension, a black roof and door mirrors, plus tinted rear windows. It also benefits from the Vauxhall OnStar connectivity package – this is featured on the Adam Rocks and Adam Rocks Air, too.
The higher-riding, crossover-style versions of the Adam get Morrocana seats and earthy interior trims, to hint at their rugged visual appeal on the outside. And the Adam Rocks Air is set apart from the Adam Rocks by its full-length fabric sunroof. The Air carries a premium of around £1,000 over the standard Rocks when specified with the 1.0 and 1.2-litre engines, but it isn’t quite so much extra with the 1.4-litre engine.
At the top of the range, the Adam S costs around £1,500 more than a 1.0i Adam Slam and has 18-inch wheels, a bodykit at the front, sides and rear, switchable ESP-plus and the brakes from a Corsa VXR. Buyers of this model can also specify figure-hugging Recaro sports seats.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
You’ll have to pay extra for the IntelliLink seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system on all models. It’s not the most intuitive set-up, but it lets you upload various music and sat-nav apps, with the sort of swipe functionality you’d find on a smartphone.
Every Adam features a CD stereo with USB connectivity and an aux-in socket, but Glam models upwards get a six-speaker surround sound system with DAB radio. For the best in-car sound, an optional Infinity premium speaker set-up can be added to all versions.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Realistically, you’ll probably find yourself using the back of the Adam for transporting shopping and other luggage. Although the boot is wide, it’s not very long or deep, and when you fold down the rear seats to free up more space, there’s a big step in the middle of the load floor.
Another word of warning: don’t go for that optional Infinity stereo upgrade if you need a big boot, as the subwoofer takes up a lot of space in the back. Still, for many customers in this market, audio enjoyment is likely to matter more than practicality.
The Adam is well short of four metres in length and is a relatively light car – kerbweights range from 1,101kg for the 1.2 to 1,178kg for the Adam S, including the chunky-looking Rocks models. That makes the little Vauxhall ideally suited to urban use; it’s an easy car to thread through city streets. Thankfully, it’s also not lost when you venture out on to the open road – the Adam never feels so flyweight that it gets buffeted by HGVs on dual carriageways and motorways, for example.
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
If you’re looking for a spacious family car, you’re probably better off with a Corsa or Astra than an Adam, given its compact dimensions. While driver and front seat passenger have plenty of room – as well as numerous storage areas and cup-holders – people sitting in the rear will feel distinctly claustrophobic.
Adults will probably only want to spend short journeys back there, so keep this in mind if you frequently give lifts to friends. Sliding front seats make getting into the rear easy at least, and children should be reasonably happy.
With the back seats in place, the Adam offers 170 litres of boot space – and that’s pretty poor compared to class rivals like the MINI (211 litres), DS 3 (285 litres) or Audi A1 (270 litres). Fold the rear seats down and you can carry 484 litres by loading the car up to the window line, and if you cram stuff up to the roof that increases to 663 litres.
Reliability and Safety
Vauxhall hasn’t performed very well in the annual Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey in recent years. While it ranked an impressive 13th in the manufacturers’ chart in 2012, it’s since slid down the rankings. The brand was 26th in 2013, 29th in 2014 and 30th in 2015.
The Adam seemed to have gone against this trend initially, as it clearly impressed owners, ranking in an excellent 23rd place when it made its Driver Power debut in 2014. But it’s also endured a bit of a decline – in 2015, it finished in 90th place out of 200 cars.
Even so, the car achieved decent individual category scores for build quality (68th), handling (84th), ride (58th) and ease of driving (63rd), plus a superb 13th for in-car technology. What let it down was owners’ criticism of performance (167th) and practicality (179th).
The stylish Vauxhall shares most of its platform with the tried-and-tested Corsa, so buyers shouldn’t have to worry about durability.
A four-star Euro NCAP crash test rating will disappoint Vauxhall, but it was achieved during the much tougher 2013 tests, and the Adam beat the likes of the DS 3 with its individual percentage scores. All versions get six airbags, stability control and a speed limiter, although there’s no option to add safety technology such as autonomous emergency braking.
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Vauxhall’s warranty is 60,000 miles or three years, extendable for a varying fee on cars less than seven years old and with fewer than 70,000 miles on the clock. That is capped to 100,000 miles in total. Any outstanding warranty can be transferred in a private sale of the car for £25.
Service intervals on all Adams stand at 20,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. Vauxhall offers fixed-price servicing packages, as well as service clubs, which provide discounts on labour, parts and MoTs.