Aimed fairly squarely at a market that’s seen a rise in popularity of late – tackling the Mini Cooper and the Arbath 500, the ADAM S gives Vauxhall’s smallest car a bit of much needed pep. I tried one for a week to see how it fared.
Quite simply there’s a lot more ADAM for the money here. Although in terms of outright spec it doesn’t quite hit the ‘proper’ hot-hatch mark, that’s a little unfair, as there’s a heck of a lot of performance wrapped up in the ADAM S. A 1.4-litre petrol engine pushes out 148bhp (at 4900rpm) and there’s 162lb ft of torque on offer from 2750rpm. There’s a six-speed gearbox borrowed from elsewhere in the range.
As you’d imagine, there’s also bigger brakes and uprated springs and dampers. Borrowed from the previous generation Corsa VXR, the stopping power is especially effective, and was certainly used to good effect on my regular B-road hustle between St. Ives and Sennen in Cornwall.
In fact, the flowing curves and relatively progressive difficulty of the SCt. Ives to St. Just coast road lent itself to the characteristics of the ADAM S. The grip is impressive, with the car hugging the tarmac all the way through the bends, seemingly without it mattering what speed you entered or wanted to exit the corner. It’s an open differential – but there’s very little wheelspin or squeal out of corners and the whole thing feels relatively composed for a small, peppy hatchback. So far so good.
Driving along the coast road was a very good opportunity to test the mid-range grunt of the car – and thankfully this is really where it excels. Squirting between bends was a joy, and the downshifts provided an accompanying and satisfying exhaust note. The gearbox’s throw is slightly too long for my liking, and the feeling perhaps a little too rubbery, but the overall, basic sensation was very enjoyabe indeed.
In terms of look and feel, there’s a lot going for it too, especially the version I tested. There’s a lot to recommend the outside of the ADAM S, with some neat little touches including rear spoiler and large 18in wheels providing all the grip. Inside, it’s a pleasant enough place to be, but a few stickers and bits of stitching are really the only indication you’re not in a normal ADAM. That being said, the version I drove had the optional Recaro bucket seats, which are absolutely brilliant. They’re perhaps one of the best parts of the car, which goes someway to make up for the rather awkward driving position. I found that although the seats gripped well, there needed to be quite a bit more adjustability in the steering wheel column. I found that I was too close to the wheel and my knees were too high. Not a massive problem, but potentially uncomfortable after a while, anyway.
Potentially the biggest problem for the Vauxhall ADAM S is the cars that it’s up against. There’s stiff competition and the price of the ADAM S ensured it fits it in a category that can’t be justified as bargain-basement thrills, but it doesn’t quite have the performance to match the all-out GTIs of this world. So, it’s stuck being a very good car in a halfway house. Very good it definitely is, though, and I enjoyed my time with it very much. It has a strong chassis and plentiful grip, not to mention the lovely Recaro seats and touches that set it apart from the conventional ADAM lineup.
At least with the ADAM S however, it feel as though the car finally has a reason not to be taken seriously. The lineup has always had a character and a quirkiness, and it feels like the ADAM S takes the world even less seriosuly, and it doesn’t expect you to take it or the world seriously either. It’s carefree attitude it one of the most compelling reasons to own one – and the engine has a genuine amount of power and more than enough pull to surprise you and even put a fairly hefty grin on your face. As a car in its own right, it’s far better than it deserves to be.