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Vauxhall Adam Rocks S review: crossover hot hatch driven

£20,035 when new
Published: 10 Feb 2017


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You’ve got some explaining to do…

Break up the name of Vauxhall Adam Rocks S into chunks. Vauxhall Adam – it’s Luton’s cutesy posh city car, based on the old Corsa and aimed at the Mini Cooper, DS 3 and Fiat 500. 

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Still with me? Okay, the Rocks is a plastic-clad crossover version, pottering about on a dash of extra ride height. It’s still front-wheel drive, but it looks slightly butcher, if no better in the mud, like a puppy in wellingtons. It also gets a full-length cloth roof that retracts electrically, so it’s sort of a convertible.

And the ‘S’ bit. Well, the Adam S – previously known as the Adam Grand Slam (not kidding) – is the fast Adam. The hot one. Powered by a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo engine, running bigger alloys, bigger brakes, stiffer suspension, and a big wing. 

But those are three separate cars…

Yep. Three rather different cars. And now someone at Vauxhall has bravely decided to combine those different cars. Hence, the Adam Rocks S. A hot hatch crossover convertible city car. When Adam Opel, who the car is named after, was mass-producing sewing machines and bicycles in mid-19th Century Prussia, I’m willing to bet this is not where he saw his company going.

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Oh, and it costs, before options (ready?) £19,355. Add in the infotainment, cabin addenda and excellent Recaro bucket seats of the one we’re driving and you’re closing in on £22,000. 

*Fevered spluttering noises*

I know, I know. But let’s approach this with a degree of maturity. The Adam just about pulls off its incongruous costume, though the standard Adam S’s ace sat-down stance has been lost. Inside, it’s a cheery, interesting place to be, though the £1,620 Recaros are bolted way too high (presumably for the ungainly crossover effect).

Then you set off, and, assuming you have to navigate a town – like you will leaving the dealership – things go rapidly downhill.

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I’m braced. Off you go…

Because the Adam Rocks S has the wheelbase of a roller skate, and is both stiff and tall to satisfy its confused brief, it has the worst low-speed ride I’ve ever come across. 

A Honda Civic Type R in +R mode is a Rolls-Royce driving across a feather duvet compared to the thumping, shimmying, shuddering Adam, which yields so little I think it might have concrete dampers at the front and none whatsoever at the rear. The wheels must be bolted directly to the chassis. If you’re into your mountain bikes, it’s that unpleasant sensation when you dismount a full-suspension frame and immediately ride a front-suspension hardtail. And wonder why your backside appears to have tinnitus.

You probably expect I’m about to reel off a list of increasingly hideous flaws that render the Adam Rocks S undriveable. Happily, I’m not. Somehow, this confusing little Frankenstein car has turned out to be a giggle – in a sometimes alarming way.

You’re not serious?

This is not a sophisticated machine, so don’t at all drive it like a sophisticated car. Give the engine death. It’s suffers plenty of turbo lag, but burbles naughtily at low revs, and even though it’s thrashy as the revs zone in on its 6,500rpm cut-out, it’s a quick little car, this. Vauxhall claims 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds and 130mph, which is Suzuki Swift Sport performance, but in gear, it hauls harder. 

Early Adams used questionable gearboxes. The Adam S is better, and that’s been transplanted into its tiptoe cousin. It’s not great, not delectable like a Fiesta ST, but good enough for a cheeky little hatch. So, nail the gearbox, and thrash the motor. 

And the handling?

Be a bit more circumspect. A square wheelbase, no body roll and almost no weight over the rear wheels means this is a ooh-woo-wooaaAHH tail-happy car. You could double the weight pressing the rear tyres into the road by placing a box of tissues on the parcel shelf. If you brake on the way into a roundabout, you remove it altogether. And the Adam’s lazy ESP is happy for the side windows to temporarily be used as the widescreen before it intervenes. 

If you’re a trendy chap or chapette about town who’s after a shopping chariot, this may make your first trip around Marble Arch a sweaty, flailing affair. But if you want a brand new car that can be provoked into (mis)behaving like a riced 1990s Max Power-mobile, you’re in luck. Like I said, not sophisticated. But bloody fun, against all the odds.

But you wouldn’t, would you?

We couldn’t possibly rationally recommend spending £22k on this random focus group concoction of a car. Not in a world where the Fiesta ST, the Peugeot Sport 208 GTi, or any semblance of common sense exists. 

Still, it’s a laugh, I don’t think it takes itself too seriously, and if nothing else, bookmark this review for the next time one of the big German carmakers boastfully claims to have invented a whole new niche segment. Is it a soft-top hot hatch crossover with a heated steering wheel? No, thought not.

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