Updated: November 10, 2014
The story behind how I got to test Opel Adam is quite interesting, and maybe even sad. Having found myself owning an Opel Corsa OPC after an amazing initial experience during the test drive, the car ended up in the service shop less than 24 hours after the delivery, due to a faulty A/C unit. Which meant the Opel folk were quite embarrassed and they handed me over their Adam demo unit without argument, while my hot hatch was being mended and taken apart, losing its pristine virginity.
But the upside of this story is that I had an Adam in my hands, with nary 1,800 km on its clock, and a whole week to play with it, driving around, cruisin', doing all the pimpy stuff that posh neo-urbanite pimps like me do, especially when they find themselves seated in a posh little car like Opel Adam. We review.
The car what we have
Opel Adam is a curious creation. It's an urban car, in spirit and design. Short, cozy, with just two, maybe three doors if you count the rear cutout in the bodywork as a worthy ingress and egress point. It also comes with glamor as an ingredient, so you don't just treat it as a throwaway shopping box on wheels for those on a budget.
Indeed, there's a lot of upmarket stuff about Opel Adam. My test unit was a JAM-equipped 1.4-liter petrol, with 86 HP and 130 Nm, all atmospheric in nature. Speaking of engines and such, there's also a slightly uprated 98 HP unit. Then, a turbo 1.0-liter three-cylinder petrol, designed to compete with Fiat's tiny two-cylinder turbo-charged offering, is coming right about now to the markets. And there's an even weaker 1.2-liter version, which we will discuss when we get to the actual driving experience. All of these come mated to a five-speed gearbox, manual.
Speaking of equipment, Opel Adam also comes with a bewildering range of accessories and trim levels. Billions of them. Honest. But they come down to three major editions. JAM, which is meant to be happy, GLAM, which costs more, and SLAM, which is slightly sporty. Now, you might assume the basic level means plebeian, spartan furnishings. Far from it. JAM is actually surprisingly rich in, well, surprises.
You have a two-tone body paint, with the bright pearl-black roof and chrome trimming all over, plus beautiful alloys and large 195/55 R 15 tires. Soft, bright plastic and fabric with crazy patterns. An excellent multimedia system with USB connectivity and great graphics. Start/Stop, cruise control, really really nice.
Now, the price. It's not cheap. This specific one costs USD28,500 where I be, so it's less than Audi A1, but it is roughly equivalent to Fiat 500. It's also much more expensive than most of the small urban cars, like Mii, Citigo, Picanto, and friends. But I guess part of the price is being posh.
If you squint hard and look away quickly, you might mistake Opel Adam for Fiat 500. But then, as a friend of mine said, this smallest of Opels looks like an illegitimate child spawned by Papa Audi A1 and Mommy Fiat 500. Indeed, it blends modern with retro, more modern and less retro, though.
The car's happy yellow color caused quite a sensation with passersby and other drivers, especially women. I got even more attention and smiles that I normally do, which is always a good thing. Indeed, the car feels designer like, and I guess the target audience is mostly the ladies. No problem there.
On the inside, the good vibe persists. The interior metal is painted the same color as the exterior, and this really adds to the happy mood and the pseudo-60s feel without being tacky and weird like it is in Fiat 500. Hell, even the key chain is crazily cheerful!
There's ample room in the front, and the cabin is light, open and airy. Taller people won't have any problems fitting in, and their brains won't bang against the front of the roof or the side of the door. Surprisingly, there's even room in the back, for two normal adults. Similar to Corsa and comparable to Audi A1, which is a bigger car. The doors are wide enough, so you can hop in behind the driver rather easily. However, for a vehicle only 3.7 meters in length, something has got to give. Indeed, the boot is tiny. And the privacy fuzz flap is not helping, as it covers the access and makes loading and unloading of your recent shopping quite awkward. The boot is also very deep, or rather, the lip is very high, so you'll restrict the use of storage space to your shoes, maybe a recyclable bag of organic groceries, and little else besides.
The cockpit is quite pleasant. You even get a fancy road computer with a bunch of information, controls for the media system on the wheel, which has its own unique and funky design. The A/C unit is also good enough, and it will chill the relatively small interior very quickly. If you turn on the lights, the touch-enabled media display will switch from white to black ambiance, and if you roll into an underground parking lot or start driving at night, the dash lights up with splendid red-tinted fireworks. All of the buttons and knobs are within easy reach, the driving position is comfy and natural and even sporty, and the pedals are well-laid and spaced out.
The driving fun
Now, the interesting part. I have to say I did not expect Opel Adam to be fun really. Small, shiny cars are usually just that. But Adam is a vivacious, punchy little beast. Now, I haven't driven a car with an underpowered naturally aspirated engine in a long while, so the sharp and immediate throttle response came in as a lovely surprise. The pedal has instant bite, but then a lot of dead range afterwards, because the engine simply lacks power after that initial surge. Great for town cruising, not so for highways.
Indeed, all the fun is entirely in the first centimeter of the gas pedal, and you'll be rather disappointed if you floor it. Release it back, and Adam will gurgle joyously. Hammer it down hard, and it won't really do anything. That said, the engine is still quite capable. To a point. 0-100 takes about 12.5 seconds. Top speed 176 km/h.
If you need to overtake someone, you need to plan carefully and shift down from fifth to fourth and sometimes even the third. The engine is flexible, the fifth is very long, so you can even drive in town in the highest gear, but this means little to no acceleration. In comparison, the Volkswagen 1.4-liter unit is more flexible, though, despite the similar rating.
The downside is a relatively high fuel consumption. Since you have to rev the engine to make the most of it, you'll drink more fuel than you'd expect. True, if you stick to gentle cruising at 90 km/h and no aircon, you can probably average 4 liters/100 km without a problem. A little more vigorous driving will take you into the 5-5.5 liters range. Now, chilling the interior will hurt both your acceleration as well as consumption. In a mixed 80/20 highway/urban setting, plenty of aircon and aggressive driving, I averaged about 6 liters/100 km overall. This is quite close to a much bigger, heavier SEAT Leon and roughly equal and even worse than Audi A1. And all because the small engine has to work very hard, at very high revs. With the turbo, it should get much quieter and hopefully more frugal. The tiny petrol tank also means frequent visits to the fuel station, which can be annoying if you drive a lot, but okay for urban commuters.
However, the grip is phenomenal. Really. Too bad the gear changes are notchy, and the steering is entirely artificial. I guess it's calibrated for the ladies, so they don't have to work hard, but this means fidgety behavior in town, with about 10 degrees of dead response and then a sudden change. It gets heavier and more precise on the open road, but it's still not really fun. The seats could offer more support, but I guess that's GLAM and SLAM for you.
Parking is totally effortless. With such a small car, you can really maneuver like crazy. It makes for a hassle-free town experience, which is what Opel Adam seems to be all about. If I have to summarize the driving part of it, this car is ideal in the 40-70 km/h range, with lots of engine flexibility and sharp response. It starts to lag when you punch it up, and the steering can definitely benefit from some extra tightening. Not bad at all. Quite fun, and that's the defining characteristic of this whole thing.
No, not really. Nothing yet.
I am pleased with Adam, for two main reasons. The car delivers a consistent experience, if you happen to look at some other car reviews, all of which seem to focus on the same good and bad things when it comes to driving it about. Then, it's also way more fun than you hope for. It's bright and cheerful. Not the cheapest or the most frugal, but it does not presume to be an answer to life, the universe and everything.
If I had to restrict my driving to just the town, then this is definitely one of the top choices out there. A whole lot of pazzaz, a whole lot of good engineering, and a very good mid-range delivery. Now, if I can get my hands on the turbo unit, this will be even more interesting. If you're after more speed, then you should definitely consider the more powerful unit, or wait for the turbo version to hit your market. The only downside is the price, but that probably isn't your primary concern, with a car like this. Anyhow, for now, Adam gets a very decent 9/10.