Vauxhall Adam review
Vauxhall’s answer to the MINI, Audi A1 and DS 3 may have the looks but falls short on the driving experience
Vauxhall entered the sector in 2013 and has so far clocked up more than 22,000 sales in the UK with its Adam. The small Vauxhall offers classy looks all backed up with a large range of options allowing owners to personalise their cars to their tastes – there are more than 30,000 different combinations on offer.
Due to its style but also small size, the Adam can count everything from a retro Fiat 500 to a modern-looking Volkswagen up! through to the aforementioned premium cars like the MINI, DS 3 and Audi A1 as rivals.
The Adam can be specified in some fun-sounding trim levels – Jam, Glam and Slam. The range grew in late 2014 with the arrival of the Adam Rocks Air – a pumped-up SUV-style Adam with a fabric sunroof – and in early 2015 with the Grand Slam – a performance version of the Adam packing a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine. There’s also a muted cabriolet model arriving in the not-too-distant future.
There are three, choices when it comes to engines – a new and punchy 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo and two older 1.2- and 1.4-litre units - all petrol. The aforementioned 1.4-litre turbo is only available in the Grand Slam model.
However, while the small size looks good on the outside and is great for town driving, they make themselves known on the inside. While there’s plenty of room upfront, rear 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 poor rear space is matched to a tiny boot too. With just 170 litres on offer when the seats are up, prospective buyers shouldn’t expect to fit a lot of shopping in.
Another big contrast to the MINI is the driving experience. Sadly the sassy looks do not add up to an involving drive, with the Adam suffering from light steering and a hard ride. This is, however, addressed with the Grand Slam - it has a great chassis, but a firm ride thanks to the standard-fit 18-inch alloy wheels.
Our choice: Adam Jam 1.0 Turbo
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 and the Volkswagen Group triplets (VW up!, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii), on the retro side it's the Fiat 500.
The Adam is broadly taking the modern approach, featuring the company's latest front-end design language with a prominent Griffin badge and unmissable LED running lights. Having said that, the curves of the roofline and elsewhere on the bodywork do give the Adam something of the cute profile that marks the Fiat 500 out.
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. We'd always advise buyers to think of the residual values when speccing their car and avoid doing anything too outlandish, though.
Climb aboard and it’s clear that Vauxhall’s 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 rooflining options, including a ‘starlight’ version that uses 64 LEDs to create a ‘sky at night’ ambience.
Even if you keep things simple, there’s plenty of standard kit. You’ll have to pay £275 for the IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system, though. It’s not the most intuitive set-up, but it lets you upload various music and sat-nav apps. Elsewhere, there’s a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment, while the front seats are supremely supportive.
The sporty Grand Slam model gets a unique bodykit and a unique colour combination (red over grey) along with the option to specify figure-hugging Recaro sports seats.
As with the Corsa, quick steering ensures the Adam feels keen and alert on winding roads. Turn-in is sharp and there’s lots of grip, plus top-spec Adam Slam’s stiffer suspension helps reduce roll. However, push harder and the car starts to lose its composure.
The combination of a harsher set-up and large 17-inch alloys on some models also has a negative impact on ride comfort, because the Adam crashes into potholes and fidgets over small bumps. The softer springs and smaller 16-inch rims on the Jam and Glam are much better suited to the UK’s poorly maintained roads.
The Adam arrived with a choice of dated engines already seen in the last-generation Corsa supermini and these units do little to help matters. Although they will most likely be reliable, on the performance front they don't offer enough power and torque to make the most of the Adam's light chassis.
The recently launched 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine provides a more fitting driving experience, its 113bhp and 170Nm of torque will see you hit 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and on to a 121mph top speed.
Around town, City steering mode makes the wheel light for parking and then disengages at 30mph-plus to deliver a more natural feel. Combined with the Adam’s small dimensions, it makes the car a natural in the urban jungle. Even so, the blend of small rear windows and thick C-pillars means the £275 optional parking sensors are worthwhile.
The performance-minded Grand Slam addresses some of these problems though thanks to a sports chassis and brakes pinched from the Vauxhall Corsa VXR hot hatch. Also the punchy 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine delivers a sporty driving experience.
Vauxhall has not done well in its ranking in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey recently. It’s gradual slide from 13th-place manufacturer in 2012 to a 26th place finish in 2013 has continued, with the British brand ranking 29th in 2014.
The Adam’s been around for nearly two years and it appears to be impressing owners, though, who placed it an excellent 23rd overall in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. As you’d expect it scored strongly for ease of driving, but a mid-table result for quality proves there’s still work to be done.
However, the baby 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 its individual percentage scores beat the likes of the DS 3. All versions get six airbags, stability control and a speed limiter, although there’s no option to add kit such as autonomous emergency braking.
If you're looking for a spacious family car, you're probably better off with a Corsa or Astra than an Adam with its more compact dimensions. There's plenty of room for the driver and front-seat passenger – as well as numerous storage areas and cup-holders – but people sitting in the back 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.
Realistically you’ll probably find yourself using the back for transporting shopping and other baggage, particularly given the wide boot is not very long or deep, and when you fold down the rear seats for more space, there’s a big step in the middle of the load floor.
Another word of warning: don't go for the optional larger stereo system if you need a big boot, as the subwoofer in the back takes up a lot of space – although for many customers in this sector audio enjoyment may well matter more than practicality.
The Vauxhall Adam doesn't quite match its rivals in this area, either. The vast majority 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 114g/km.
The best emissions returns are achieved with Vauxhall’s ecoFLEX Start/Stop tech, but the cars lacking it put out closer to 125g/km (or 149g/km in the Grand Slam’s case) which will have more of an impact on your wallet when it comes to paying road tax.
The 1.0-litre, 1.2-litre, 1.4-litre and the Grand Slam’s 1.4 turbo petrol units all offer similar average fuel economy, ranging between roughly 53mpg and 58mpg. There's no diesel engine available, as Vauxhall believes it would make the car too expensive and the typical Adam buyer doesn't want or need a diesel. The low insurance group keeps other running costs under control though.