PetrolBlog (eventually) reviews the new 2013 Vauxhall ADAM to see if it's capable of taking the fight to the MINI and Fiat 500 in the lucrative and oh so chic supermini sector. It's not your typical new car review because the ADAM isn't your typical new car. It's like a bit street, innit? Something to order alongside your skinny latte. A car to ‘like’ on Facebook and personalise in the same way you'd personalise your iPhone cover. These are different times, Granville. Different times.
Wondering if the Vauxhall ADAM is your kind of car? Then consider the following statements taken from the ADAM brochure, a piece of literature which invites you to ‘say hello to ADAM!”.
“You can change a whole stack of details and make your mark all over your car”
“Stop counting the likes and start counting the love”
“Shake up your street”
“Park your personals all over its front and muscular design”
Make your mark on a car? Counting the love? Park your what all over the car? The brochure stop shorts of pronouncing the ADAM (it's upper case apparently) to be totes amaze and telling you your friends will be well jel if you rock up outside their crib in Vauxhall's supermini, but you're left in little doubt who the car is aimed at. And it isn't me and it isn't you. Probably.
That is unless you happen to be a mirror image of one of the countless honorary dudes of coolness who adorn the ADAM brochure. Sadly my days of being able to rock a baseball cap inscribed with BOY are well behind me. And in my day an OMG mug would be a nothing more than a misprinted piece of merchandise leftover from an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark concert
Fact is, Vauxhall is positioning the ADAM to be too cool for school. A supermini to take the fight to MINI and the Fiat 500 and you have to admire Vauxhall's efforts. The company is leaving nothing to chance. It's like the Griffin left its job as a librarian, went backpacking with Skye and Charlie, smoked a bit of wacky backy and found itself somewhere near Alice Springs.
“Look out for Annie, Arabella and Antoinette coming soon”
To date, the ADAM has had a good run of things. First there was the name, which resulted in much cackling and hilarity when it was announced. But Vauxhall (and Opel) knew they needed to make an impact and the name certainly propelled the ADAM to the forefront of people's minds. Not an easy task when the playing field is dominated by the 500 and MINI. And besides, switching from -a (Astra, Insignia, Zafira) at the end of model names to A at the front makes some sense. Look out for Annie, Arabella and Antoinette coming soon.
There then followed a deeply impressive display at the 2012 Paris Motor Show - high impact, a clear proposition and a distinct signal of intent. And to prove that the ADAM is as far removed from the Chevette as possible, gone are the L, GL and E trim levels to be replaced by JAM, SLAM and GLAM. If you don't get it, don't worry, the ADAM isn't aimed at you.
Then to top things off, Vauxhall UK has chosen a far from conventional location to host the UK press and customer launches. The Westfield Shopping Centre on the very fringe of the Olympic Park may be an absolute pain to get to when you're travelling from Dartmoor (will save that story for another day), but taking residence in an empty retail unit is a stroke of genius. Finish terrorising your credit card in Zara, pop in for a skinny latte in Starbucks and take a wander around the ADAM store.
It looks and feels just like a typical fashion outlet and for petrolheads, it's much more of a draw to the high street than anything recommended by Mary Portas. Sound advice from PetrolBlog: if you want the high street to buzz again, simply line the pavements with car dealers, classic car specialists, cafés showing 24/7 motorsport, Scalextric tracks and autojumbles. Job very much done.
But back to the ADAM - just how do you park your personals all over the car?
Well first you need to get into the mindset that the ADAM isn't a car, it's a lifestyle thing. Nonsensical bunkum perhaps, but when you have a badge like Vauxhall and next to no heritage in the supermini sector, you have to think differently. The Fiat 500 and the MINI have been successful partly because they have a rich heritage, partly through great branding and partly through personalisation.
“A jaw dropping 4billion different combination of ADAMs”
And personalisation is one area where Vauxhall has gone to town. Apparently there are 60,000 different exterior options and a further 80,000 for the inside. The result is a jaw dropping 4billion different combination of ADAMs. It's possible to run through these options on the ADAM microsite (which itself looks like a social platform) or, as demonstrated on the ADAM launch, via a configurator to be situated in Vauxhall showrooms. With four billion combinations, Vauxhall dealers may need to get used to people spending an awful lot of time in their showrooms. Top tip - if you see potential customers eyeing up an ADAM a few minutes before closing time - run. Speccing an ADAM won't be a quick process.
It means Vauxhall dealers are going to be crucial to the short and long term success of the ADAM. They need to be totally onboard with what the ADAM is and how best to sell it. In the same way that an Apple store tempts you into (often needlessly) upgrading from a perfectly good phone, tablet or laptop, a Vauxhall dealer will need to adopt the same wizardry tactics for the ADAM. Alternatively there will be a friendly MINI or Fiat dealer patiently waiting to relieve you of some cash.
The other potential issue for the Vauxhall ADAM is age. The last I heard, the average age of a new car buyer in the UK was 52 – in other words, about three decades older than the ridiculously cool, hip and trendy people featured in the ADAM brochure. The MINI and 500 have been successful as they've managed to appeal to a broad group of people. Vauxhall on the other hand is taking a very direct and targeted approach - you're unlikely to hear Radio 2 blasting out of the standard fit DAB digital radio head unit. The question is, how much disposable cash do hip and trendy 20-somethings have lying around? Personalising your iPhone is one thing. Personalising a new car is a whole different game.
But despite my reservations, I really rather like the car. The ADAM looks and feels like a car designed for 2013, rather than one relying on heritage to pull on people's heartstrings. In 30 years time I'd much rather look back on a car that felt like it belonged in the 21st century rather than something still swinging from the 1960s.
“I wanted to test a ‘naked’ ADAM”
By the time I reached London I only had time for a couple of brief drives around the congested streets of Stratford so I chose a rather basic JAM 1.2i and the sportier SLAM 1.4i with a host of personalisation options fitted. With time tight, I wanted to test a ‘naked’ ADAM as it's easier to get a feel for a car without all of the additional frilly bits.
And you know what, of the two I tested, I much preferred the JAM 1.2i. It felt infinitely more playful and chuckable than the SLAM. Within seconds of pulling out of the multi-storey car park I was exploring the rev range and illuminating the ‘change up’ display on the dashboard. I didn't even know a shift light was fitted to the 1.4i I drove previously. The 1.2-litre engine feels that little bit more characterful than the 1.4-litre, to the extent that I can't see why you'd need the more powerful engine.
The difference in horsepower is negligible: 70 versus 87. The difference in maximum torque is equally low: 115Nm versus 130Nm. The 1.2-litre engine is also lighter and will be significantly cheaper to insure (band 3E as opposed to 6E). Yes, the 1.4-litre is marginally more efficient and economical, but enthusiastic drivers might just prefer the smaller unit.
It's good to know that underneath the multitude of tempting options, there's actually a rather good little supermini. The steering is a little on the light side but turn-in is sharp and body roll is no worse than other superminis of this ilk. On the rough roads surrounding the Olympic Park, the ride was okay if not brilliant. It was significantly better on the 16-inch ‘Horns’ (!) fitted to the JAM than it was on the 17-inch ‘Roulette’ rims on the SLAM, which tended to...er... slam and become easily unsettled over rough surfaces.
On a brief jaunt along a dual carriageway, I found the noise levels to be a little on the high side, but the driving position is good and it feels rather spacious in the front. The same can't be said about the rear which is lacking in head and legroom. The rear of the ADAM is...ahem...reserved for people a little on the small side.
“My iPhone 4 is rubbish at making calls, but I still love it”
But I don't think many ADAM buyers will care if the car will cock a rear wheel on a roundabout or lure you out of bed for a B-road blast. The ADAM is all about the interior and exterior styling. How it drives is of secondary importance. Heck, my iPhone 4 is rubbish at making calls, but I still love it.
You can go mad on the outside, choosing between colours such as Pump up the Blue, Papa don't Peach, Buzz Lightgreen and James Blonde. Or how about going two-tone with a different colour roof? Choose between I'll be Black, White my Fire and Men in Brown. Some will relish these colours, others may see them as Colour Me Badd.
It doesn't stop there. There's a multitude of alloy wheels to choose from, coloured inserts for the alloy wheels, interior personalisation packs and decor panels for the dashboard, centre console and doors. You can even get a cover for the rear-view mirror.
But why stop there? Why not change the headlining to a chess board? Or a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds? Or even a roof with 64 LED lights - who needs a Roll-Royce anyway?
It's all rather frivolous and fanciful. But there are some sensible touches too. I like the fact that digital radio comes as standard. I like the fact that Start-Stop is available across the range for just £295. And even in JAM trim, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted controls, cruise control and alloy wheels come as standard.
Can't help wishing they'd included a steel wheels option though!
The optional IntelliLink is also rather good. It's controlled via a 7-inch LCD screen or via the steering wheel controls and includes MirrorLink. This effectively mirrors the content of your smartphone on the 7-inch display - clever. There's also BringGo, a downloadable app that works as a sat nav when in the car, but can also be taken with you on your smartphone. Again - clever. At £275, the IntelliLink display is arguably one of the must-have options on the ADAM list.
“Even in its basic form, the ADAM isn’t cheap”
And you do need to be careful with the options. Even in its basic form, the ADAM isn't cheap. A JAM will set you back £11,255 - well within MINI and 500 territory. The SLAM I test drove would retail at £13,270, but with the various options fitted would eventually come out at £16,560. Big money for a small car.
Vauxhall dealers will undoubtedly be asked to encourage up-selling at all times, pointing to the tiny effect a ‘must-have’ night-sky headlining would have on the monthly repayments. Indeed, the press conference included a reference to ‘high value, customer relevant features and content to maximise transaction prices’. Buyers will be made to feel like they've missed an opportunity by driving away in a JAM without going wild in the aisles with a few fancy bits.
And to be fair, I'd tend to agree. If you buy into what the Vauxhall ADAM is about, then you'd be MADA not to indulge yourself with a few options. Don't buy the ADAM for the way it drives or how practical it is. Buy it because you like the look of it and love idea of making it your own. Isn't that what fame-hungry wannabes are told to do every Saturday night?
AFAIK the Vauxhall ADAM is on sale soon. And if you don't have a SOHF over the personalisation options and don't find them a little OTT, you might find the car to be GR8. If nothing else, NE1 interested should have a look at the ADAM website. It's different and different is KEWL.