Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air 2014 Road Test

When it comes to the fashion conscious small car market, it’s fair to say that Vauxhall has been playing catch-up. While the MINI and the Fiat 500 stormed ahead, Vauxhall had to stand and watch. That is until the Adam was launched last year.

But while this finally gave Vauxhall an ‘in’, the Adam’s success was limited. Firstly, Vauxhall lacked the hugely attractive finance deals that drew customers to the Fiat 500. Secondly, it didn't have a decent small engine option that offered both performance and low running costs. Thirdly, the late-to-market Adam range lacked a standout model, and standout performance.

But that could all change with the Adam Rocks Air. An odd halfway SUV version of the Adam that also has a fabric sliding roof. Hence the 'air' part of the name. For now at least, it has no rivals. It may share the chunky looks of the Fiat Panda Trekking and the open-roof design of the Fiat 500C, but there is no obvious rival to the Rocks Air.

So, how different is it to the standard and rather underwhelming Adam? Considerably is the answer. A quick glance tells you it’s wider and taller than the standard Adam But also more expensive, too. Prices start at £14,695, but if you want the 1.0-litre DIT we’re driving here then it wil cost you £16,695. You do get the a fabric retractable top though. Capable of being open or shut in just seven seconds at speeds of up to 85mph, the roof folds back on itself so that the (small) boot space isn’t reduced. It’s also pretty quiet with the roof open - at least until you hit 60mph.

Vauxhall Adam Rocks (7)

The last improvement isn’t quite so obvious from the outside, although you’ll notice it as soon as you pull away – the Adam Rocks Air’s suspension has been completely overhauled. The springs and anti-roll bars have all been tweaked and tuned. One of the things that most impressed was the steering. At speed, turn-in is quick and precise with only a little deadness when the wheel is straight. Around town, the Adam is simple and easily moves in and out parking spaces and around bollards.

But the even bigger news here is under the bonnet with the introduction of Vauxhall’s all-new three-cylinder engine. We know what you’re thinking – it’s a three cylinder, it’s noisy, it’s unrefined and you have to rev it hard to extract any performance. But that's not the case here.

The new turbocharged 1.0-litre Ecotec powerplant produces its maximum 170Nm of torque at just 1800rpm. Out on the road, the engine gives you power whenever you need it, especially in the all-important 50-70mph band. Whether it’s hills, horseboxes or motorhomes, you can leave them all behind you without even changing gear. It will be interesting to see how  performance is tweaked when the engine makes its way into the revised Corsa when it’s unveiled later this year, and the all-new Astra.

Helping to get the best out of the 115PS unit is a new six-speed transmission. It’s positive, slick and makes for a great change. It also helps the car hit 62mph from standstill in 9.9 seconds. It's reasonably efficient with CO2 of 119g/km economy at 55.4mpg, but lags behind other three-cylinder engines like Ford's 1.0 EcoBoost which has more power and is better on fuel too, in the Fiesta at least.

Vauxhall Adam Rocks (5)

Two things did take us by surprise, however. The first is the high biting point of the clutch – something that you will probably get used to. Something that you won’t get used to, however, is the way the Adam Rocks Air copes with badly surfaced roads. Over speed humps, the ride is crashy and aggressive, jolting passengers around – no matter how slow you approach the obstacle. Over roads packed with lumps and bumps, we found the ride to be jittery and harsh.

But let’s face it – most of the time the Adam Rocks Air will be moving in and around the so-called urban jungle. Here, style, comfort and toys are more important than a trick suspension or full-time four wheel drive. And one thing is for sure: one of the most attractive things about the Adam, is that would-be buyers can have it pretty much anyway they want it.

Standard kit includes LED daytime running lights, remote central locking and 17-inch alloy wheels. You also get air-conditioning, DAB radio and Bluetooth. If you’re feeling flush, you can also opt for park assist and blind spot alert or upgrade to 18-inch alloys. Electronic climate control will set you back £300 while the IntelliLink ‘infotainment’ system costs £275.

Aimed squarely at under-35s, the lack of interior space and room in the boot means this is definitely a car for those without kids. And, against that measurement, the Adam Rocks Air really isn’t a bad little car to cruise around town in. With the roof down, of course.

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