Thursday, 19 March 2015

Vauxhall Adam Grand Slam

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

If I were a motoring magazine from the 1990s, I'd be saying something like 'Silly name, serious performance'. The exciting truth here is that the sportiest version of Vauxhall's baby Adam, the thrillingly-monikered Grand Slam, is a genuinely capable warm hatch. And not just good-for-this-price-bracket or good-for-this-sector or any other platitude you care to throw at it, but actually good.

OK, so let's get the name out of the way first. The model's called Opel Adam in Europe, named after Adam Opel, the company's founder. This link doesn't work quite so well when you prise off the Opel badges and glue on Vauxhall ones, but that's the modern car market for you. The Adam is available in a number of jazzy trim levels; Jam, Glam, Slam, hence the top of the tree becomes a Grand Slam. (Confusingly, it's also badged as 'Adam S' - best not to dwell on that...)
It's an enticing package for the cash; sure, a base price of £16,995 might seem steep for a car this small - although it's bigger than you might think inside, you can fit actual human grown-ups in the back - but you get a robust list of toys: a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot offering 148bhp, six-speed 'box, 18" wheels shod with lo-pro Continentals, really quite good brakes (that have red calipers, which makes them sportier), lowered and stiffened suspension, traction control, a fancy stereo, and a 'VXR Styling Pack', featuring a visible exhaust, which is an Adam first, and spoilers that apparently do create downforce rather than merely reducing lift. Should the whole thing have been badged as an Adam VXR? Hmm, possibly, despite being a warm hatch rather than a hot one. But sometimes the marketing department's hurdles are too high. Still, 200bhp and some different badges wouldn't go amiss, eh? Something to think about...

One option box you need to tick is for the leather Recaro seats. They'll add an eye-watering £1,610 to the price - possibly because they're woven together with hairs plucked from a unicorn's mane, I haven't checked - but they really are superb. This test car also has optional metallic paint and, if you're au fait with the Adam, you'll know that options are central to the car's core purpose. It's infinitely customisable, like an old Mustang; you can even have a Rolls-Royce-style LED starlight headlining if you fancy. Gosh.

The upshot of all this is a quirky little hatchback that's utterly hilarious to drive. You're never making excuses for it, it's a thoroughly capable little thing that devours country lanes like an angered panther. Despite the big wheels and firm suspension, it never crashes or jars, it just holds steady and true as you pounce across the countryside like some kind of laser-guided child's toy. That peppy little motor thrives on revs and spurs you on to do ever naughtier things with it (although it could do with being a bit less quiet), and the confidence inspired by the taught, square chassis and eager brakes means that you just keep pushing on, faster and faster, to optimise your lines and encourage ever-more tyre squeal. It's not a car you'll jump in for extended adventures into the unknown, but rather one that'll reward you on the right road, then inspire you to turn around and try that road again. And again, and again. It makes you feel quite scientific. The steering wheel's nice and chunky and has a decent weight to it, the gearbox is, while not the last word in refinement, pleasingly precise, and those Recaros are just tip-top.
Yes, this is a very good car. I'm a big fan. And not just in a placatory 'Oh yes, it's surprisingly good' way, but with heartfelt honesty: try one, you might like it. I did.

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