Vehicle Comparisons

Vauxhall ADAM

Vauxhall ADAM

The ADAM is Vauxhall's refreshingly different take on the small car sector. It doesn't replace the brand's conventional citycar and supermini offerings but it does offer a more stylish option that sits somewhere in between for buyers bored by the sight of BMW's reinvented MINI on every drive and unmoved by Fiat's funky 500. Here's a fashionable alternative with an encyclopaedic list of options, bidding for individuality beyond the hatchback herd.

So, what's it like behind the wheel? Slide into the seat and there's a very different feel from that provided by a Corsa - or any other conventional supermini come to that. The commanding driving position, the big chunky MINI-like wheel, the wide, low glass area. It all makes you eager to tackle the urban jungle, with the promise of secondary road sportiness beyond.

Not too much mind. Though there's a 150PS 1.4-litre petrol turbocharged powerplant in the top shopping rocket 'S' model at the top of the range, most ADAM variants must use humbler engines. Of these, the pick of the bunch is the 115PS 1.0i Direct Injection petrol turbo unit that's well worth paying a premium for. This was first introduced on the convertible 'Rocks Air' body style and has since been extended out across the range.

If you can't stretch to this unit, then you'll have to restrict your search to one of Vauxhall's older patrol engines - curiously, there's no diesel option. These petrol choices include the 70PS 1.2i and a 1.4i unit with either 87 or 100PS options. To be honest, the entry-level 70PS 1.2-litre 16v engine does struggle a little with the task of pushing nearly 1.1-tonnes of ADAM up the road with any real zip, sixty-two mph from rest occupying nearly 15s on the way to a top speed only just over 100mph. Better by far to find only a little more for one of the 1.4s. The 87PS unit manages 62mph in a far more acceptable 12.5s on the way to 109mph. And the 100PS engine improves things further to 11.5s and 115mph.

Though Vauxhall offers an unusual 'Rocks Air' convertible version of this car, most buyers will be looking at the single three-door hatch body style. At under 3.7m in length, this ADAM is actually shorter than many citycars and a full 300mm shorter than Vauxhall's Corsa supermini. But there's more to it than that. The tall height and the considerable width - it's actually wider than a Corsa - positions it visually as a bigger car than it actually is. A clever trick, which also pays dividends inside.

As in a Fiat 500, the high roof gives a spacious feel, something that here is further underlined by the greater width and glass area. But all the smoke and mirrors in the world can't create space where there isn't much and Vauxhall's claim that this design can 'comfortably seat four adults' requires for fulfilment the directive that those in the front should be very short-legged indeed.

And at the wheel? Well, as a buyer you'll have used the enormous trim choice range to complete a decor finish that's either restrained, wilfully extrovert or more likely, as in this case, a feel that's somewhere between the two. Most models offer a dash dominated by the optional 7-inch LCD colour Intellilink infotainment system, one of the first to be able to communicate with both Apple and Android devices and applications and operable either via the touchscreen itself or through steering wheel switchgear.

Out back, a prod on the rear Griffin badge reveals a 170-litre boot that lies size-wise somewhere between slightly smaller shape of a MINI and the slightly larger one of a Fiat 500.

So, the name's unusual. And so, for Vauxhall, is the approach. This most blue-collar of all mass-market makers is now offering us a potentially more bespoke product than lottery winners can buy from Aston Martin or Rolls Royce. At a price almost, anyone can afford. It's all rather intriguing.

The tiny lifestyle city statement this car represents is a well familiar one of course. But no rival MINI or Fiat 500 has yet offered scope for personalisation quite on this scale. Some of course will argue that these cars are trendier-looking to start with and so need less dressing up. But by the same token, many others are starting to find their retro-vibe tiresome and overly familiar.

These people may well be quite happy to sign up to a newer, fresher look, even if to get it, they must trade the higher-tech and sportier handling that some other rivals will offer. And of course, as with most cars of this kind, they must be prepared to forgo the greater space they'd have enjoyed in an ordinary run-of-the-mill supermini that would have cost much the same.

The growth of this particular little market niche suggests that there are many buyers out there making those sorts of choices and in meeting their needs, this is very much the kind of more interesting fashion-led product Vauxhall simply has to make for long term profitability. If it strikes a chord with you, well why not? It may well be time to say 'Hello' to ADAM.

Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall ADAM range
Skoda Citigo

Skoda Citigo

Skoda's first stab at citycar motoring has proved to be an impressive one, this Citigo borrowing Volkswagen technology and blending it with the value we expect from this growing Czech brand. This improved version has smartened up its act and those in search of a beautifully conceived, affordable and impressively space and fuel-efficient urban runabout will need to consider it.

So, what's it like, this small Skoda? Get behind the wheel and you've a solid, well-appointed cabin that promises a solid, well-appointed driving experience. Already, you sense, there's a depth of design here missing from this car's French, Korean and Japanese rivals. Most of these feature three cylinder 1.0-litre engines that are busily revvy at best and downright noisy at worst. A configuration shared here but delivered with a bit more finesse. Fire the engine and a more refined thrum filters out from beneath the bonnet ahead. Not refined enough, it must be said, to quite let you forget the cylindrical imbalance under the bonnet. But then the characteristic offbeat rasp isn't unpleasant and rather suits this design's rather offbeat charisma.

You'll certainly be hearing plenty of it if rapid progress is needed, for without a turbocharger to boost torque, this one needs to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line. And if you're wondering quite how much power we're talking about, the answer is not a great deal in the mainstream 1.0-litre variants on offer, cars offering a choice of either 60 or 75PS outputs, with an identical 95Nm of torque either way.

Most will be content with the base version, capable as it is of sixty in 14.4s on the way to 99mph, quite enough to keep up with the traffic. The performance gains offered by the 75PS variant seem relatively slight (0-60mph in 13.2s on the way to 107mph) but the unit is a little more refined.

So, what's different with this revised model? Well, the front section has been subtly revised, so there's a new bonnet, a redesigned radiator grille, modified bumpers and updated fog lights, all aiming to create a fresher, younger look. The front headlights are fitted with LED daytime running lights and the fog lights come with an optional cornering function, which lights up the area the vehicle is turning into on junctions with poor visibility. Plusher 'SE' models get tinted tail lights too.

The changes have increased this diminutive little car's body length by 34mm but it's still not much longer than a Fiat 500, yet offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car. How has this been done? By shortening the front and rear overhangs as much as the designers dared, something only possible at the front by mounting the radiator alongside rather than in front of the very compact engine.

Talking of the interior, well it too has been upgraded with a smarter instrument cluster and redesigned seats. There are also a range of new radio and media connectivity options. Otherwise, things are much as before, with the tardis-like interior just as big as that of Skoda's far pricier and apparently much bigger Fabia supermini. Something you especially appreciate on the back seat.

Both three and five-door models offer the same amount of rear passenger space and reach a standard that's impressive in this segment. It all means that there's comfortable room for two adults provided the journey isn't too long and there'd be space for three children if three belts were provided here. Unfortunately, there are only two, which is a little annoying.

No complaints about luggage space though. Though there's a high sill over which you've to lump your stuff, once you get it in, there's a 251-litre capacity that's nearly twice what you get in a Peugeot 108, a Citroen C1, a Toyota Aygo or a MINI.

Some citycars sell on cute and cuddly virtues. This isn't one of them. Here instead, the urban runabout has grown up, become mature, got itself properly sorted. If that puts off the twentysomethings who'd prefer something more fashionable, then Skoda won't mind. There are plenty of others in search of an urban runabout with big car virtues and small car pricing, spacious, efficient and beautifully built.

This, according to Skoda, is 'engineering excellence with a human touch' - a design someone's clearly thought very carefully about. For the Czech brand, it'll also help that their marketeers have thought equally hard about pricing. That sees this Citigo's value proposition looking strong alongside its SEAT and Volkswagen design stablemates. True, there are feistier citycars you could consider: maybe more charismatic ones too. But none that better deliver on the promise of two words that sum this Citigo up. Simply clever.

Click here to find out more about our Skoda Citigo range
Volkswagen up!

Volkswagen up!

A proper Volkswagen - just a smaller one. The up! has enabled the German brand to regain the initiative in the important citycar sector and this improved version sets a high standard for contenders in this class, adding in turbo 1.0-litre power at the top of the range. Frugal, fun, clever and competitively priced, the up! is a key model to consider, not only for those in the market's smallest segment but also for people buying a compact car of any kind.

Under the bonnet, the main news for up! buyers is the addition of an extra three-cylinder petrol engine to the range, a pokier 1.0-litre TSI turbo unit with 90PS on tap. This sells alongside the existing normally aspirated 1.0-litre powerplants most customers will continue to want, these generating either 60 or 75PS.

These feature a characteristic offbeat rasp that isn't unpleasant and rather suits this car's rather individual charisma. You'll certainly be hearing plenty of the volume engines if rapid progress is needed, for without a turbocharger to boost torque, the 60 or 75PS units need to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line.

Most will be content with the base 60PS version, capable as it is of sixty in 14.4s on the way to 99mph, quite enough to keep up with the traffic. I'm not sure I'd see the point of finding a lot more money for the 75PS variant, given that the performance gains are relatively slight (0-60mph in 13.2s on the way to 106mph). The 1.0 TSI turbo would be a fun choice though, offering performance that Volkswagen says is comparable to that provided by the first-generation Golf GTI. In its ultimate 115PS form, it powers the fun GTI hot hatch version.

The especially frugally-minded will be interested to try the full-electric e-up! version which has a battery powerplant capable of putting out the equivalent of 82PS.

Not too much has changed with the looks of this car. There are re-styled bumpers, a sleeker rear diffuser, door mirrors with integrated indicator lights, revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and smarter rear lights. Otherwise, it's as you were, so a length of around 3.5-metres, yet a wheelbase that takes up nearly 2.5-metres of that. Which is why, though an up! is no longer than a Fiat 500, it offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car.

How has this been done? By shortening the front and rear overhangs as much as the designers dared, something only possible at the front by mounting the radiator alongside rather than in front of the very compact engine. The result is a tardis-like interior just as big as that of Volkswagen's far pricier Polo supermini. Take luggage space as an example; as long as you can lump your stuff over the rather high sill, you'll find 251-litres of space or 951-litres with the seats folded.

The changes made to this revised model inside are even more subtle than those made to the exterior. There's classier background lighting, while plusher models get a redesigned 'Climatronic with Pure Air' air conditioning system and the option of a 'beats with a 300W' sound set-up. Otherwise, it's all very recognisable from before, the cool dished three-spoke steering wheel fashioned from light magnesium and framing an instrument cluster of refreshing simplicity. A pity though that it's still only adjustable for height, not for reach.

The interior design with its large speedometer is clean and easy to get to grips with, featuring high gloss back trim and a compact centre pod for many of the minor controls. True, there's no shortage of hard plastics, but this doesn't feel like a car that's been ruthlessly built down to a price. It just feels agreeably minimalist.

The up! remains the very essence of a small, affordable Volkswagen, a high-quality class-less car very much in the mould of the original Beetle. One of the lightest small runabouts you can buy, it still manages to feel solid, a triumph of packaging and design that's streets ahead of any citycar the brand has yet brought us. Highlights include superb space efficiency, a brilliant detachable infotainment system and a city braking function that'll pay for itself in peace of mind.

All very clever and in execution, all very German - which might have delivered to the showrooms a very impressive but essentially rather soul-less result. Fortunately, the up! has enough character to make you like it as well as admire it - and that'll be crucial in an increasingly fashion-led market segment.

If you like the look and you can afford to go beyond entry-level poverty spec, then there aren't too many downsides here. A few rivals can better the running costs - but not by much. And the SEAT and Skoda versions of this car are a little cheaper - but you'd likely lose what you gained in the probable trade-in value when the time came to sell.

Overall then, this is the embodiment of friendly functionality behind a badge you probably thought you couldn't afford. With potential cleverness you almost certainly won't be expecting from something citycar-sized. A thumbs up! then? That's about the size of it.

Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen up! range