They call it the first A-segment CUV in the world, which should be enough to make you run in the opposite direction. An SUV the size of a Fiat 500 is something that should never exist on any planet I want to live on. But, surprisingly, after driving one for a week, I realized that it may, in fact, have a point and a purpose.
And I came close to answering the crucial question – would Opel Adam Rocks make a good Buick David? Or would it be better to import something bigger?
Being European and a motoring journalist, I’m not a big fan of CUVs. I prefer my hatchbacks and wagons to sit low, how they’re supposed to, and not to try being something they’re not. Some jacked up wagons – Volvo XC70 and Škoda Octavia Scout come to mind – are better than standard versions, but those are the exceptions.
So why make a CUV out of a tiny little car? Why would anyone want an off-road city hatchback? What’s the point of putting plastic cladding and lifted suspension on a car that will probably spend its life on boulevards?
To answer these questions, I borrowed an Opel Adam Rocks for a week. In marketing speak, the Adam Rocks is a CUV based on the Opel Adam – which means someone put some plastics on already expensive, very small car, lifted its suspension 15 mm (slightly over half an inch), added a sliding canvas top and called it a new car, massively increasing the price in the process.
The interesting part is the Adam itself is not exactly a cheap car. Depending on the market, it costs about the same as the one-size-bigger Corsa, or a few thousand Euros more. In Czech Republic, it is almost as expensive as the Astra family hatchback (that’s the one the Verano is based on). Unlike the Volkswagen Up!, Renault Twingo and Peugeot 108, it’s not meant to be cheap city transportation. It’s meant to be stylish and to go after the Fiat 500 and Citroën DS3 and after people who bought the Mini before it turned into the Maxi.
Judging by what I see in the streets, it hasn’t worked, but that’s because Czechs haven’t really warmed up to the concept of an expensive small car and buy Škoda Fabias instead. In Western Europe, it’s apparently a sales success, which has emboldened Opel’s marketing department to think of more ways to milk money from their A-segment cash cow. Or at least I think it was the marketing dept., because I can’t imagine an engineer inventing such a thing as the Adam Rocks.
It may also be a good way to capitalize on the American obsession with CUVs and endear the tiny Adam to a new audience on the New Continent; maybe even improve the CAFE numbers for Buick’s truck fleet.
So I did my usual thing and imagined that I’m driving a Buick David instead of an Opel Adam. Would such a thing work? Could it improve Buick’s image? Wouldn’t it be better to make a Buick out of the bigger, cheaper Corsa instead?
Surprisingly, the last question was the easiest one. The new Corsa is touted as “all-new”, but it’s really an old model with a duckface stuck to the front and some new technology. The engine is brilliant (more about that later), but overall, it’s just an average European small hatchback. It’s not as good at playing the “big car” thing as Škoda Fabia, and it’s far less fun to drive than Mazda2. And it’s too close to the Aveo in most areas.
So, the Adam it is. But would it work? And would the Adam Rocks be better than the normal one?
I was very skeptical about this, but it took just a first few miles through Prague to change my opinion. Prague, being a large, old and crowded capital, has really terrible street surfaces. And while the raised suspension probably won’t help you on any off-road adventure, it does help on cobblestones, tram tracks and other urban obstacles. Even on the fancy (and ugly at the same time) 17” wheels, the Adam was fairly comfortable – or at least as comfortable as you can reasonably expect of a car with the wheelbase of a matchbox. It still rocks and bobs on road undulations, but it’s quite smooth, all things considered. And on some reasonable wheels (15-inches would be great) it would be really comfy.
Unlike the Corsa, which is notable for the tendency of its rear to hop and jump on broken surfaces so much it loses contact with the road, the Adam Rocks is quite sophisticated and well-mannered. The steering is a bit too sharp, but otherwise, the Adam Rocks is a nice car to dart around in, especially thanks to the wonderful engine.
The one-liter, three-cylinder turbo engine is probably the feature of the Adam that’s least likely to appear on the American market, but it’s also the best part of the package. I like downsized turbo engines in small cars, a lot. I loved the first 1.0 EcoBoost, and I’m pretty fond of VAG’s 1.2 TSI. But this one is the best I’ve driven so far. Like the EcoBoost or the TSI, it has lots of grunt in the low and mid range, and it’s even smoother than the Ford’s inline three. But at the same time, it is almost as revvy and as fun as 1.5 SkyActiv in Mazda2 that I loved so much in my previous review.
It was slightly more engaging in the Corsa than the Adam, probably because the engine is louder in the former, while everything else is quieter – which is probably result of the Adam’s canvas top causing significant aerodynamic noise. But in the lighter Adam, it was a perfect engine for the type of driver who’s likely to buy one. No matter the revs, it pulls – which makes it easier to forget about its slightly sub-par gear action and the engine would probably work very nicely with an automatic transmission.
The engine, in fact, does a great impression of a much larger mill – it’s quiet and torquey enough for an ordinary driver to think it’s a 2.0 or something similar, nicely complementing the car’s premium attitude. Unlike Corsa (and our Corsa press loaner was pretty much top-of-the-line), the Adam manages to convey at least some kind of luxury feel inside. Sufficiently nice leather is present not only on seats and steering wheel, but also on the door panels, center armrest and other parts of the interior that can be ordered in a cool black/white combination. The instruments have cool red needles, there’s chrome everywhere and everything feels “near-luxurious”. You will also find some features quite uncommon in such a small car, like a heated steering wheel.
On the other hand, most of the switchgear is still quite obviously sourced from the GM parts bin, and it’s quite apparent that striving for a “premium feel” was limited to the places most visible, while anything out of your immediate sight is your typical Opel/GM stuff. I didn’t notice that one of the HVAC control knobs has a different feel and sound than than others, but our photographer did – and the kind of person who pays almost $25,000 (including VAT, $20,000 without tax) for a tiny car probably will, too. The infotainment system feels like it was lifted from some $15,000 econobox, with its stupid controls and lack of proper buttons for anything, including the radio volume.
The Adam is not perfect, and the lifted Adam Rocks is probably even less so. But if Buick wants to aim at young urban customers in America, this may be its best shot at the moment. Being the only CUV in the segment (Mini Paceman and Fiat 500X are huge in comparison) would be a massive advantage, and Adam can also appeal to those who want a stylish small car, but hate the whole retro thing, which is getting a bit old by now. It also comes with an engine able to give it either Prius-like fuel economy or power required by a typical American driver, though not both (spirited driving sends fuel economy from almost 50 mpg to less than 30 mpg). And, last but not the least for those of us who believe brands should keep their mojo, with its soft suspension and torquey engine, it still feels a bit like a Buick, however tiny it is.
@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.
Photography: David Marek