Odd looks and a bit duller to drive than its peers. That’s what the others say about Opel’s city car. What does DTW think? After 300 km and three days we know the real truth.
The Opel Adam is a city car based on the Opel Corsa platform. Not unlike the Ford Ka Mk1, it is made up of the front of a supermini, with modifications (a reduction in length) starting from the A-pillar backward. The Adam’s selling point is customisation, with about 61,000 combinations of colour, trim and accessories available.
It is intended to compete against the Mini (£13,750), Toyota Aygo (£8,695) Fiat 500 (£9,655), Nissan Juke (£13,390) and Citroen C4 Cactus (£12,990) in terms of the zaniness and/or customisability of the vehicle. In the UK the Adam ranges from £11,255 to £13,150. The version tested here is the Adam Rocks with a 1.2 litre turbo engine, producing 70PS.
The Adam received a Red Dot design award in 2012 so some people definitely like it. My own view is mixed. The car has a welter of design flourishes such as the truncated C-pillar which looks as if the side glass continues uninterrupted into the rear screen; the roof comes in three colours and is edged with chrome trim; up front there is the new Opel corporate nose, with bright flashes on the fog lamps and cutely styled headlamps. Overtly styled plastic trim edges the wheel arches and on the bodyside is a distinctive reversing swage. The overall silhouette is compact and the large wheels do look fetching.
I tend to feel they’ve overegged this omelette yet on the other hand I am not the target market and perhaps this sort of decorative effect goes down well elsewhere. What changed my mind about the car was sitting inside. The good impression this made has led me to mellow my sometimes strict views about design rationalism. The car is supposed to be fun and not a statement intended for enduring aeons. In fifteen years it will have passed through “passé” to being a fun memento of this time. On balance I think I can accept it for what it is: a humorously expressive statement of intent to capture the 18-30 year old female demographic (and perhaps the 55 plus female demographic).
Sitting inside the car you can see why it has won awards such as the Automotive Interiors EXPO 2013 best interior prize. It is also impressive when you remember the price and the fact that it is made in Germany. The IP is lavishly complex and when you fire
up the motor the needles do a test-sweep in pleasing orange. The steering wheel seems to be the same as the Insignia’s, with a large number of controls to hand. The material textures are creative and you’ll notice the door cards have a higher than average number of parts and real stitching on the arm-rests. It feels like a high-quality car and is far more convincing in this regard than the Juke, 500 and Cactus. I have not been in a Mini lately but the Mini costs more.
The seats are trimmed in this version with grey leather and striped cloth panels and are comfortable and supportive as well as looking suitably sporty with their pronounced bolsters.
Driving: performance, handling and ride.
Setting off, the Adam is quiet. The engine has been well-insulated. The gearchange is nicely weighted and the detentes are clear and unobstructive so stirring the ratios is a pleasant experience. I found the performance to be entirely sufficient for the kind of assertive motoring I sometimes indulge in and at 140 kmph the car was peaceful inside, apart from some wind-rush from the cloth folding rooftop.
I have no observations about handling other than I didn’t notice anything unsettling. Just one thing stood out, when I set off on my gravel stage test. I jammed the accelerator down and the car rushed forward, its tail waving about somewhat and my steering corrections set up an overreaction which meant the car swerved about its own central vertical axis a little before I and the Adam calmed down.
The Adam’s steering is believable and undemanding. The car has decent turn-in and no road vibrations travel up the steering column to annoy. I particularly liked the lightness of it and enjoyed the City function which makes the steering even more assisted than standard. It is ideal for its intended purpose, parking, but I left it on all the time (it re-sets to standard when the engine is turned off though which means the fact the steering wheel hides the button is unfortunate).
On almost all roads the Adam’s ride quality is what we expect from ordinary cars these days, almost. It’s alright most of the time, with bumps muffled and no trim shaking about. The one type of surface the Adam hates is lumpy asphalt, where the depressions are smaller than a metre in length. A succession of these makes the nose rise up and down in faithful replication of the surface’s uneven profile. It is marked, irritating and out of keeping with the rest of the ride characteristics. In brief: the ride can be extremely lumpy under certain conditions and then generally is unremarkably competent.
Over 300 km of the test, the Adam returned 41 mpg. The fuel tank holds 8.4 gallons and that means you could expect to go 344 miles between fills. I should note that the fuel gauge is honest and immediately shows the fuel level falling as you drive unlike cars I have recently tested such as the 500 and Cactus that deny fuel consumption until a gallon and half are up in smoke. It is a proper analogue display too, not an LCD with insufficient increments.
On the standard Calais to Cap Ferrat test you’ll probably refuel three times.
I had no problem getting comfortable in the Adam. The steering wheel and pedals are all correctly situated. Smoothly twirling dials allow one to adjust the heating and ventilation controls. A nice touch is the way the illuminations are styled: small red dots on the fascia (which turn on individually) plus lights in the knobs. These aren’t cheap little controls. The radio’s a touch-screen device and easy overall to navigate though the station search arrows could be bigger and easier to prod. If you change the volume via the screen there’s a loud beep for each step. If you use the steering wheel-mounted switch there is no beep. Twirling the volume control knob is also beepless.
Only one set of buttons is entirely obscured by the steering wheel (adjustable for rake), the city steering control and “Eco” selector. The headlamps are operated by a rotary switch to the left of and under the steering wheel which is dark until you turn on the lights. This means that when it’s dark enough to want to use the lights the control is hard to find. Only the fact I knew Opels used such a control meant I knew where to go feeling about.
A specific ergonomic characteristic relates to using the car with child seats. As the car is plainly not intended for this market I can’t hold this against it that fitting a child seat is a nuisance and getting a child into the car is another nuisance as you have to half-climb aboard. There is no interior overhead light serving the rear passengers so doing up buckles at night could be a menace.
Overall comfort in the Adam is very good. The materials, features, fit and finish make you feel like you are in the front one-third of an Opel Insignia. The rear accommodation is not Spartan in the sense that all of the surroundings have been styled well and there are map pockets in the seats and bottle holders left, right and centre. I’d not really want to sit as an adult in the back of the car for long but children up to about fifteen would be comfortable enough (there are side arm-rests).
The heating and ventilation work well and the sound-system made clear sounds. Most people will like the retracting cloth roof but never use it. It can’t be stated too clearly that the Adam’s style and manner of construction engender a thoroughly surprising feel-good factor.
For people who don’t have to ferry children and seldom have rear-passengers, the Adam’s usability is entirely sufficient. The 170 litre boot will hold a good amount of shopping (the sill is high) or two Ryanair-standard cabin suitcases with room to spare. With the seats down, two people could take this car on a holiday and not need to leave anything behind. The volume rises to 484 litres, measured to the tops of the seats. For anyone who wants to carry kids, a four-door car is essential and in this class that means choosing a Juke or an Aygo not an Adam. Neither is as a nice to be in and what the Juke wins on ride quality it loses on build-quality.
The Adam is a thoroughly nice car to be in, a fact made all the more amazing considering the price and the location of its construction. It is manifestly a more solid and well-designed vehicle than those of its peers I have tested. The few ergonomics flubs are not of the kind that make me want to maul the designers though it is odd Opel let them pass.
About the exterior styling: it’s not something I should like but as time goes by I have accepted it and feel that life’s too short to be too obsessed with ruthless efficiency at all times. If you don’t like the way this car looks, buy an Up! but you sacrifice festivity in a big way. Two things stand out: the fun-to-drive factor is precisely on a level with the other cars I’ve tested.
Received wisdom is that the Opel is somehow a bit stodgy and I think it needs to be said that this opinion is something hard-wired into the minds of motoring writers rather than an objective statement about the car. The Mini which is biased towards driving costs more, note. Only the pattery, lumpy ride on certain roads casts a shadow over the Adam but it’s a little shadow which is entirely insufficient to sway my view that the vehicle is a fine, fun car made to a noticeably higher standard than its peers.
[The vehicle’s dimensions and weights can be accessed here.]