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Opel Adam Rocks First Drive

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/27/2015 Frank Markus
Opel Adam Rocks First Drive

Small cars are super chic in gas-tax-y Europe, but we Two Buck Chuck Yanks only get a taste of the Mini and Fiat offerings, most of which no longer qualify as small. GM's slice of that strudel is the Opel/Vauxhall Adam, the latest iteration of which, the cheekily named Adam Rocks, is the most Americanized version of them all. To hint that it's ready to cope with rocks, the body is hiked up 0.4 inch on bigger tires and slathered in off-road-pretending wheel arches and rockers, with fascia cladding that consumes 1.9 more inches of parallel parking space. There's even a big cloth sunroof. Might this make a good Buick?

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Actually the whole Adam lineup endeavors to channel the hip, fashionable glamour that comes so naturally to Turin-based Fiat. To wit: Base Adam trim levels include Jam, Glam, and Slam. How fun is that? The exterior shape is curvier, cooler, and more opulently adorned (with extra chrome and black, white, or body-color roof choices) than the workaday Corsa from which its body was whittled. The interior design schemes pull exterior color in to break up the monotony, giving the schemes names such as James Brown, Red & Roll, and Greenspotting. You can even get an LED starlight headliner like Rolls-Royce offers! What Buick has that?

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Opel ADAM Rocks© Provided by MotorTrend Opel ADAM Rocks

First of all, don't get too excited. The car you see here is based on current Corsa D architecture that can't economically be Federalized, so hip, urban fashionistas will have to wait for its successor, due circa 2018. But to whet their appetites, I took a spin in the current-gen car, sporting its newest engine, which WILL certainly survive well into the next generation.

My Let it Blue-colored tester came powered by the top-performing version of GM Europe's new 1.0-liter, direct-injected turbo triple, which shares its bore diameter, bore spacing, valvetrain, and general combustion chamber specifications with the 1.5-liter Ecotec four that just had its U.S. premiere in the Volt. In the Adam, it churns out 114 hp at 4,000 rpm and a healthy 125 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm. Those nice low peaks are easily accessible without drawing attention when dashing between downtown stoplights. A slightly detuned, more eco-optimized version of this same turbo shares the torque output but trims power to 89 horses. There's also a 74-hp, naturally aspirated version, but we'll probably only get "the big one" Stateside.

Fancy tech to help the engine warm up more quickly (the holy grail of emissions compliance) includes a clutched water pump that only turns on after everything's toasty; an electrically heated thermostat with a high (221-degree) open point that can be opened at lower temperatures when needed (like at wide-open-throttle on a cool engine) by using the electric heater; and an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head.

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Opel Adam Rocks Interior And Exterior© Provided by MotorTrend Opel Adam Rocks Interior And Exterior

Three-bangers inherently suffer noise and vibration issues, all of which are exacerbated by direct-injection, so this clean-sheet design sought to stifle sounds at their source. Vibes are largely quelled by crankshaft counterweights and a balance shaft in the oil sump, the block casting is designed to reduce radiated noise, and the oil pan is a two-piece design combining stamped sheet steel and cast aluminum. And to shush their ticking, the injectors are each isolated from the cylinder head by a pair of rubber-coated springs (and they're snuggled up against the spark plugs in the center of each cylinder).

Setting off for a drive around Geneva Switzerland's centre ville, I was struck by how quietly and smoothly the little triple purred away. It is only after the revs pass 5,000 rpm that the engine note begins to betray this as a three-cylinder. The rumble you hear up to and just past the power peak sounds four-cylinder generic and well-hushed. The thrust available from 1,500 rpm makes the engine feel way bigger than one measly liter, and I dare say that in the United States of Whocareswhatsunderthehood this engine will get along just fine. After less than an hour at the wheel, I already prefer it to the Mini's three-banger.

Opel ADAM Rocks© Provided by MotorTrend Opel ADAM Rocks

The rest of the car makes a quite favorable impression, as well, offering the same nimble maneuverability, parking ease, and great visibility that folks love in the Mini and 500 but with a personality all its own. The six-speed manual's shifter isn't the smoothest operator in the biz, and today in Europe there is no automatic option, so that's a key piece of Buickification that needs to be well underway by now if the Adam's successor is to succeed on this side of the pond.

Current pricing in Europe is pretty much in line with our Fiat 500 range, so presuming the cost doesn't balloon too much in the Federalization process, a Buick Adam (or should they call it David, after Buick's founder?) ought to be able to compete well with the Italians while undercutting the Mini. But perhaps the best reason for Buick to bring us the Adam is that the new Cascada convertible really needs a cool kid brother.

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Opel ADAM Rocks© Provided by MotorTrend Opel ADAM Rocks

2015 Opel Adam Rocks 1.0 Ecotec
BASE PRICE$23,000 (est, Europe)
VEHICLE LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE1.0L/114-hp/125-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3
TRANSMISSION6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT2,550 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE91.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT147.5 x 71.1 x 58.8 in
0-62 MPH9.9 sec (mfr est)
EURO NEDC CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON37/54/46 mpg
ON SALE IN U.S.Not until the next product cycle, expected for 2018

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