By on June 16, 2015

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Verdict

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

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51 Comments on “2015 Opel Adam Rocks European Review...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    “They call it the first A-segment CUV in the world”

    Nah, Cozy Coupe.

    And just putting big, gaudy wheels on a penalty-blob hatchback does not a CUV make. Functionally, this is the missing ’08 Rio3.

  • avatar
    Instant_Karma

    It would have made a great Geo or Saturn.

  • avatar

    Kudos on the historical reference to David Buick.

    Where would a hypothetical Buick David Rocks slot in relative to the Encore?

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I kind of like it. The wheels don’t look that atrocious, though I am not sure about the chrome body line that swoops around the rear window. I don’t find the Fiat all that attractive and though this is similar, it looks better.

    I don’t think the Buick portholes should do this thing any favors, but I would bet with a bow tie on the front it would sell in decent enough numbers if the price was kept low 20’s.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      I like the Chevy suggestion but I think they’d have to keep the price in the teens.

      In the teens, I might be interested but only if it could tow something. Otherwise, there’s no “utility” in this “Compact Utility Vehicle,” as the interior is still tiny.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    “An SUV the size of a Fiat 500 is something that should never exist on any planet I want to live on.”

    Actually, Id be more than happy to have a very small (real) SUV. Case in point, the Suzuki Jimny/Samurai. Well-used examples still fetch decent money in the US. Theyre very popular with hunters and off-roaders for their nimble size and awesome off-road ability. Id certainly have one if given the oppertunity.

    The only think I dislike is the name. My jackass brothers name is Adam. And, by random chance, his son is named David.

    As for the Adam and Adam Rocks, I quite like it. I know its nothing like the Jimny, but it is pretty cool. I like the styling, and its high time someone entered the premium subcompact market with a stylish, non-retro entry.

  • avatar
    MK

    Damn, $25000 for that?

    I’m not a fan of the goofy Fiat 500 look anyway and at that price it’s definitely a no-go.

    • 0 avatar
      dancote

      “Goofy” looks aside. Go to your local Fiat dealer and take a test drive in the least expensive Abarth model. Your butt will be happy but your ears will never be the same.

      • 0 avatar
        dancote

        “Goofy” looks aside. Go to your local Fiat dealer and take a test drive in the least expensive Abarth model. Your butt will be happy but your ears will never be the same. The car is a hoot to drive … and the sound of the exhaust will have you never turning on the radio.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    CP

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Agree, too much money for it. And Americans don’t -NEED- such tiny cars for the most part. And they certainly don’t need a tiny Buick.

      In previous promo photos, the thing looked premium. Here, it doesn’t.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    The styling of cars is interesting. Black plastic in this case means rugged. Where I live, we can sometimes see cheap versions of cars with black, unpainted bumper covers. But that’s not rugged, right?

    On my base model Honda Odyssey LX, the mirror caps, door handles, lower skirts and rear “wing” are black plastic. On the EX trim and above, they’re painted. Guess EX and above are not as rugged as my van? And if you buy a VW Golf R (and most performance cars), for the privilege of spending more money, they’ll leave some parts in black. Maybe they’ll throw in a thin glossy finish, but it’s still black plastic.

    I guess I’m just fascinated with the way car makers pass the same parts as cheaper or more expensive, depending on the intended market. Maybe the next trick will be to revert to halogen lamps on premium models?

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Black, finely textured plastic is why I stopped Meguiar-ing my cars. No matter how careful you may be…

      Now I just wash & dry them, including door, hood and hatch innards. Let the topcoat do the work.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        It’s really not that hard. And on cars with a large amount of mold in color plastic; I always used painters tape along the edge.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Turtle Wax “Ice” is a good “wax” to use on your painted finish if you have a lot of that plastic – inadvertent contact wipes right off – actually, you can wipe it onto the plastic if you like, but it doesn’t seem to stay on (evaporates?) you would still need a “back-to-black” type stuff to prevent sun damage.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          +1 for Turtle Wax Ice Wax.

          I have had the same bottle since 2004 and haven’t gone through it all yet.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            I like it because you can apply it in direct sun – that said, it doesn’t have much cleaning power (for removing bug/tar spots), and only seems to last 2 months or so.

            I use NuFinish to wax before winter (but keep it away from the plastic!)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think the Ice Wax is purely “coating” only. I have never put it over bugs and tar spots. I clean those off with either Goo Gone or Purple Power (spray on, let sit a couple, wipe clean, rinse).

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      If you are the type of customer that is scraping together a new car payment, for whom price is the #1 most important deciding factor, then it does actually make sense. Not only does the $100 or so that it cuts off the price make a small difference to you, but also, it has one more key advantage. The charcoal Rubbermaid plastic resists scrapes and scuffs much better than glossy paint. Or at least they don’t show as much. If you are the type of buyer who has full insurance coverage, but has to consider each claim on its own merits, this can be an important advantage. That $500 deductible could buy gas, milk, and diapers for months. With the glossy bumpers, that kind of damage will hurt resale, or incur penalties upon lease termination. With the matte bumpers, you might be able to get out of taking it to the body shop at all.

  • avatar
    dancote

    “Goofy” looks aside. Go to your local Fiat dealer and take a test drive in the least expensive Abarth model. Your butt will be happy but your ears will never be the same. The car is a hoot to drive … and the sound of the exhaust will have you never turning on the radio.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “An SUV the size of a Fiat 500 is something that should never exist on any planet I want to live on.”

    The Suzuki Samurai was 5″ shorter, 4″ narrower, and admittedly 4″ taller.

    But … it probably should have existed.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Mini called, they want their design back.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Good review of the mini-Encore. The author has a great way of describing cars that uncovers their essence. In contrast to Encore, from which an all-pervading aroma of “cheap” wafts to me, this looks as though some effort has been made to justify the price. In particular, the interior makes the Fiat 500 look bad, and the fittings look about three times as strong.

    Makes the Spark look awkward, goofy and out-of-date.

    And the new turbo engine sounds good. Edmunds found the 1.4l atmo engines a bit thrashy – turbos quieten things down.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-unveils-new-clean-sheet-ecotec-family/

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “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.”

    If Fiat 500 and to a lesser extent Mini were lighting things up, I’d agree with you. But they don’t because its a limited audience who wants these in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’ve got a Fiat 500 and I think it’s the most fun car I’ve ever owned.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        You’re also the fellow who keeps pushing compact trucks IIRC. You fit the definition of limited audience.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I won’t argue that I’m a ‘limited audience”; that doesn’t mean the audience is limited to one.

          The point here is that the Opel Adam Rocks is by no definition a truck in construction, size or form. It is a mini compact car with (maybe) AWD and a half-inch lift. Were I to buy one (and I can’t really see doing that considering I already have an approximate equivalent at half the price or less) I would use it as a mini compact car with a half-inch lift.

          However, the odds continue to improve that compact trucks will make a return to market and that is far more likely to be my next vehicle choice over any CUV on the market, no matter the size.

  • avatar

    I have driven this car recently and you can find my road-test here:
    http://driventowrite.com/2015/06/08/2015-opel-adam-road-test/
    My view is that the car has a strong feel-good factor about the interior and I have just driven the new Opel Corsa which is nice enough but definitely a lot less fun, cheery or uplifting than the Adam. It works just the same but lacks all the shiny bits. The leather door panels on the Adam and the steering wheel all lift the cabin. I really was surprised how much I liked it. The one problem is the ride over patched or lumpy asphalt. It bounces around a lot, more so than the Aygo, Clio or i30 I tested lately on the same roads. Noticeably poor. And despite this I still see the point of the Adam and would take one over a three-door Corsa every time.

  • avatar
    readallover

    In an alternate universe it is a Saturn.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Wouldn’t even qualify as a Saturn. Until roughly ’05, they were still building their own bodies and not importing badge-swapped Opels. Maybe using the same drivetrains (my ’02 Vue used an Opel drivetrain and it was solid as a rock) but it was still Saturn bodies, not Opels. After they brought the Aura in, all bets were off on Saturn–they lost their mojo as a truly unique brand.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    How anyone–ANYONE–can call this thing a CUV is beyond me. This is someone (GM) trying to game the system in order to stretch their CAFE ratings. There ain’t no way this thing can be called a truck in ANY dictionary. It’s no bigger than my Fiat 500 and probably no better in any way except the supposed AWD. Or is it AWD? Going through the gallery, I couldn’t see any indication that this had any kind of off-road chops at all; it’s just a slightly-lifted A-series probably priced at double a Fiat 500 equivalently equipped.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I know it isn’t 1968 anymore and it’s a European car review, but I chuckled a bit at the “this 1.0L engine is so stout it could be a 2.0L!” statements.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    Eventually I figured out that “rocks” in the title wasn’t a verb.

  • avatar
    Bee

    Hm, I see a 500. Who in the world thinks this is a SUV much less a CUV

  • avatar
    SC5door

    “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.”

    That’s because it was lifted from an econobox. (Chevy Spark and Sonic)

  • avatar
    shaker

    Does GM intend to bring this over?

    I guess that in the “Bizarro World” where people routinely pay $30k for an Encore, $25k for something that would have a place in the first color scene in the Wizard of Oz may make sense.

    Oh, and if you buy instead of lease, order a spare top/gaskets/hardware, and lay the top flat in storage – you’ll need it.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Like Vojta said, this appears to be a western European fashion statement. This is no goofier than the VW Beetle Dune version, with it’s otherwise ordinary running gear, but with the bigger tires, wheels and fender flares.

    The regular Adam, OTOH, would be a worthy 500 and Mini competitor. Brought over as a Buick and priced to undercut the Mini I believe it might do well. I would be interested.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’ll be right back, gotta find a Poké Ball.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “Astra family hatchback (that’s the one the Verano is based on)”

    Is this technically correct?

    Since Verano = Cruze, and Cruze = Daewoo, then Astra = Daewoo?

    • 0 avatar
      Barba

      The Verano’s just a tarted up Astra saloon https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Opel_Astra_Stufenheck_1.6_Edition_%28J%2C_Facelift%29_–_Frontansicht%2C_10._März_2013%2C_Velbert.jpg
      The family history is more Delta 2 platform = GM Europe, Daewoo + Delta 2 = Cruze Europe, Cruze Europe + GM America = Chevrolet Cruze.
      Believe it or not the Cruze you get in America had better suspension and reportedly a better interior quality that what we received in Europe

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Buick David? How about the Buick DD (for David Dunbar)? Anyway, this could well be a new small Buick here in the USA, especially since the Encore proved that people will consider a tiny tri-shield. The best thing that this car could provide Buick, however, is a new grill. I cannot see the chromey waterfall grill on the front of this, and it would behoove Buick to introduce something beside shiny vertical slates up front. A wholesale importing of the Opel grill would be fine – and then use it on sport versions of the other models (Regal GS, Verano Turbo).


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