Vauxhall Agila

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Vauxhall Agila 1.0 Club

Driven March 2008

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New, practical, small cars are dull; new, cool, small cars aren't terribly practical. There are plenty of the former, and with the new Fiat 500, a growing contingent of the latter. Creating a combination of the two is a rather more elusive task.

This new Agila, styled by GM in Europe and shared with Suzuki, does look interesting though, if without any pseudo-retro detailing or proportion about it. After all, there is no design baggage with a small Vauxhall, unless they'd given it a Nova's box 'arches, of course.

Inside, you're struck by how airy the cabin is; how the excellent visibility doesn't come at the expense of feeling secure in a diminutive cabin. This car even has a brave slash of bright green trim on the dash to complement the green exterior. The latter's a worry, frankly.

Surprisingly, your knees aren't parked up around your chin when you clamber into the back, and neither will six-footers find their scalp brushing the roof lining. Try that in your Mini. And although the boot is small, the Agila counters with an easy fold flat of the rear seats that provides 1,050 litres of storage space.

I grab the keys to the entry-level 1.0 litre because it's Congestion- Charge-friendly (as is the diesel), looks great value on the spec sheet, and the child in me recognises that little three pots often sound like old-school 911 flat sixes. But it obviously doesn't go like one.

In fact, although only producing 64bhp, it has just 975kg to lug about (some 100kg less than the diesel) so the little motor does enough. It's refined too, with only a slight but archetypal offbeat tremor felt through the floor.

Nevertheless, overtaking tends to temporarily halt your breathing,and it's then that the smooth but pleasantly punchy diesel suddenly seems so appealing, squirting through traffic thanks to 140lb ft of torque. Still, even this petrol cruises comfortably and quietly at 80mph.

This maturity extends to the rest of the driving experience, with a well-judged ride, wind noise that's very contained, and well-weighted controls. The Agila may be mature, but don't be fooled into thinking that means a dull drive.

That's the essence of the Agila: it's mainstream practical, but it's far from dull. Not the accepted recipe for 'the new cool', I agree, but rather cool nonetheless.

Adam Towler

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