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First drive: No auto delays Opel Adam decision

Adam's apple: The Opel Adam sub light-car has almost unlimited personalisation options, but is off the Australian agenda for now.

Off the list for now, Opel will revisited Adam when renewed drivetrains surface

11 Mar 2013


OPEL’S diminutive sub-B segment Adam baby remains in a holding pattern for Australia, as General Motors’ German arm awaits a fresh family of three and four-cylinder drivetrains.

Destined to also power the all-new Corsa E due for launch in 2015, the next-generation Ecotec petrol engines will range from 1.0 to 1.5 litres, offer direct-injection, turbo-charging and alternative fuel capability, and meet Euro VI economy and emissions targets.

They are based on General Motors’ SGE Small Gasoline Engine family developed with China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), announced late in 2011, and to be built in Hungary for the Adam from late next year.

Small-capacity three and four-cylinder turbo-diesel units of up to 1.6-litres are also said to be not too far ahead for the sassy Euro supermini.

More importantly, most are expected to offer an automatic transmission option essential for the Australian, Asian, and American markets – a vital piece of the Adam puzzle still missing in the existing version recently launched in Europe.

Right now, the German-built Opel is only available with the company’s decades-old ex-Corsa 52kW/115Nm 1.2-litre and 74kW/130Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol powerplants, driving the front wheels via an equally aged five-speed manual gearbox.

Tipping the scales between 1086kg and 1135kg depending on options, the Adam mirrors the B-segment chassis norm with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear axle.

Straddling a 2311mm wheelbase, it measures in at 3698mm long, 1720mm wide, and 1484mm high, and follows the trend-setting Mini in offering literally millions of personalisation option combos, a fact that both helps and hinders the Adam’s future in Australia.

At last month’s OPC launch, local managing director Bill Mott told GoAuto that long wait times upwards of four months between ordering and delivery ex Europe are unavoidable and potentially a deal breaker.

However he did add that special packs grouping expected popular specifications might be a way of bringing ready-built batches to this country.

Despite no Down Under launch plans in sight for at least another 18 months, GoAuto seized an opportunity for a brief drive in and around the picturesque town of Wiesbaden in south-western Germany.

The verdict? The Adam – in 1.4-litre five-speed manual ‘EcoFlex’ guise with Stop/Start technology – is much more ‘premium petite’ than ‘clever austere runabout’.

Think Fiat 500 rather than Volkswagen Up.

Backing this up is the heft and solidity of the doors and soft-feel quality of the interior surfaces and fittings, revealing a surprisingly roomy four-seater that definitely approaches the Mini in terms of presentation – but without being twee or falling into the caricature trap like the latter.

In the Jam base spec but with options aplenty as sampled, including personalisation features such as heated sports seats, 18-inch alloys, climate control air-con, leather-lined dash, and a ceiling with LEDs to make it look like a bright night sky, the Adam oozed brassy sass.

Throw in a chunky little steering wheel, ahead of art-deco esque instrument dials, and moody ambient lighting, and the Opel is all about faux retro coolness, since it shares the company’s founder’s name but nothing else from the firm’s past.

Actually, the past Ford Ka (1996 to 2008) sprang to mind when we sat in the rear, since the two share a similar arch roof design and window outline.

From a driving point of view, the feeling is still Corsa, but with a lightness of touch that’s been missing from Opel (and Holden) light cars for years.

Maybe that’s why the 74kW 1.4 accelerates with a bit more determination that we were expecting.

The engineers have obviously matched the slick-shifting five-speed gearbox’s ratios to make the most of the available torque, for right up to about the 140km/h mark (this was Germany, after all), the Adam pulls strongly, before finally running out of breath.

Overtaking scenarios, too, show up the ageing engine’s lack of capacity.

Compared to the Corsa, the smaller sibling seems significantly quieter in terms of mechanical and road/tyre noise intrusion.

Similarly, the steering is another plus point, providing eager and smooth responses for enjoyably sharp cornering characteristics – though there wasn’t any time to hit any meaningful twisty bits to really test the handling.

Most of the time, riding on the large optional 18-inch rubber over beautifully smooth roads, we had no reason to question ride comfort – until we hit a bump, which jarred through the cabin with rude suddenness.

We wonder how much coarser such an attired Adam would be on Australia’s crude surfaces?Another upshot of the big alloys is the equally large turning circle, a common issue amongst the premium petites like the Mini and 500.

Which, in summary, is exactly where the Adam is at.

Before slipping behind the wheel, we assumed the Up would be its natural competitor – after all, both are German four-seater sub-B runabouts.

But the spunky Opel is far too lavishly presented and equipped to be duking it out with the likes of the Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage, and Holden Spark.

So Opel is correct to hold out for the new engines and gearbox to come on line, because a trick little turbo heart would help justify the $20K-plus pricing that it would need to be at.

Unlike the VW, this isn’t a rational purchasing decision driven by the head.

With more oomph, less rubber, and some clever marketing, GM’s sophisticated German baby could work for the brand still struggling to find its feet in Oz.

But even as it is now, the Adam would be welcome here.

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