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First Drive: Vauxhall Adam S 1.4i 150PS Turbo S/S 3dr (2015-2015)

£16,810 when new

Car specifications

Brake horsepower
Fuel consumption
0–62 mph
Max speed
Insurance Group


So why is Vauxhall’s fastest Adam named after a tennis major?

Silly name, isn’t it? Rather like naming your car after Adam Opel when it’s not badged as an Opel in the UK. Anyway, Vauxhall decided that because ‘S’ is a regular trim level for the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap Corsa, calling the fast Adam the Adam S would be confusing.

So, following on from the Jam, Glam and Slam versions, there’s the Adam Grand Slam. In all other European markets, the car’s original Adam S name will stick. Even on UK cars, the ‘S’ badging remains on the flanks and dials. Odd.

The name’s a bit rubbish. What isn’t?

The looks. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but boy does the Grand Slam looks punchy. Spot the new design of 18-inch alloy wheel, a lick of red paint for the brake calipers (nicked from the Corsa VXR) and a socking great rear wing that creates 400 newtons of downforce, according to Opel’s men in white coats. The idea is that this short-wheelbase, bulbous little city car is more stable than rivals when it closes in on the 124mph top speed.

You also get a visible exhaust pipe for the first time on an Adam, and a bit of extra skirting around the chin and sides. The hunkered-down stance is spot on, despite the Adam Grand Slam (sigh) not actually sitting any lower than a regular Sports Chassis-equipped Adam.

All mouth and no trousers then?

No - the suspension has been worked over with stiffer springs and a thicker anti-roll bar up front, and an entirely new, tougher twist-beam rear axle.

Up front lives a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It’s the four-cylinder unit used in middling Astras and Corsas - not very successfully. Vauxhall’s new 113bhp triple-cylinder turbo thoroughly embarrassed the lacklustre four-pot when we tried them back in 2014 - but the Adam Grand Slam has mercifully had a few tweaks. Power is up 10 horses to 148bhp, and it’s delivered to a slick, pleasant six-speed manual gearbox with shorter, closer ratios than we’re used to in cooking Vauxhalls.

Sounds good?

Sadly, the sound isn’t great. The uncovered chrome tailpipe promises much loudness and anger, but the 1.4-litre sounds thrashy where a warm hatch should snap, crackle, and occasionally pop. Vauxhall’s key rival for the Adam Grand Slam (sigh) is the Abarth 595 Turismo, which sounds much fizzier and, well, naughtier. When you haven’t got too much outright power, making a car sound faster than it really is becomes key to delivering a proper pocket rocket experience. You won’t find that here.

Is it quick?

Quick for an Adam: 62mph arrives 8.5 seconds after getaway. The acceleration is very linear - no boosty, diesel-style thwack up the backside at 1500rpm here - but with maximum torque not arriving until 3000rpm, you need revs. In the mid-range, the Grand Slam’s fairly flexible, and charges along at a decent lick, but you’re still very aware this is a warm hatch, not a hot one. And before you ask, no, Vauxhall isn’t plotting a lighter, faster Adam VXR. This is as tasty as Adam gets.

How’s the handling?

Better. The ride is stiff - it’ll be lively in the UK for sure - but better controlled than lesser Adams, and the car’s almost square wheelbase allows you to confidently chuck the nose at corners knowing the tail will scamper through behind at pace. It’s a likeable, agile, fun little runaround.

Our left-hand drive test cars got the European steering set-up, which is happily weightier than other Adams but suffers from that nasty ‘twang’ of elasticity that blights electric power steering. Here’s hoping British-spec ones will be better - but if regular Adams are anything to go by, the steering feedback will still have little to write home about. The gearshift is positive and snickety as it should be though, and the brakes have superhuman levels of tolerance to relentless punishment.

There’s loads of grip too, but an Adam Grand Slam is more likely to slide thanks to a hefty mid-corner bump than it is thanks to a delicately adjustable chassis.

You’ve not told me anything about the Grand Slam inside…

The Adam seats its driver far better than the Abarth 500 or the sadly missed RenaultSport Twingo - you’re nice and low, and the super-thick steering wheel telescopes miles out of the dashboard for comfortable, racy driving position.

The test cars benefitted from a pair of enormous Recaro bucket seats which wouldn’t shame a 911 GT3. Vauxhall originally intended to deny them to UK buyers - even as an option - ‘to keep the price at a sensible level’. That’d have been a crying shame, given what a difference they make to the smart but unsporting cabin. Happily, there’s been a change of heart, and Luton’s just announced you can spec the brilliant leather chairs for £1040.

That price, incidentally, is £16,695 - hovering just aft of serious hot hatch talent like the (admittedly less funky, but far faster) Ford Fiesta ST. Vauxhall’s more interested in nicking a around 750 sales a year from the Abarth 500 and middling Audi A1s, which both share the style over substance approach.

Ought I aim to be one of the 750 Grand Slam champions?

Come to peace with the cringeworthy name, and the fact this is more about being the fastest Adam than it is a truly sporting city car, and you’ll certainly enjoy the Adam Grand Slam. This is a nicely judged warm hatch, droney soundtrack and numb steering aside. It’s just up to you to overlook the fact that for not much more than £17k, there are some more ultimately satisfying fast small cars on offer, that won’t have you blushing beetroot-purple the next time a friend asks ‘so, what are you driving these days?’

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