Overall rating: 3.5/5
Opel has given the Adam a much-needed performance injection in the shape of the new S model. It transforms the car into a pukka junior hot hatch with the kind of performance that few rivals in the segment can offer, thus giving Opel the opportunity to win over some new fans.
In the Metal:
Since day one the proportions of the Opel Adam have never been quite right for us; it looked more like a less cute Fiat 500. That's despite some interesting design touches, like the roofline that doesn't appear to meet the C-pillar. Now though, in sportier Adam S guise, it looks much better. More purposeful too, as all hot hatches should be.
Making it stand out from its standard brethren are the larger 17-inch wheels that come as standard, though in the case of the launch cars, these have been upgraded to arch-filling 18s. Behind those lurk 308mm brake discs up front and 264mm discs on the rear. A subtly changed front bumper carries some additional ventilation slots across its lower section to help cool the more powerful engine. Along the sides are flared sills and at the rear the car's performance intent is capped by a prominent rear spoiler. The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine still needs just one exhaust outlet, which doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the image, although at least it sounds good.
Opel is offering ten different body colours and five roof options leaving plenty of room for personalisation, but choose wisely, as there are some less than flattering colour combinations. Inside, it's much the same as the standard Adam where bright flashes of contrasting colour stretch across the dashboard, as well as on the base of the three-spoke steering wheel, gear selector and handbrake. Drilled aluminium pedals and 'S'-branded dashboard instruments both add to the look. Enveloping Recaro sports seats cosset, but look too large for the cabin and make reaching behind to the rear seats virtually impossible.
The star of the show here is the engine. Featuring hollow camshafts along with a plastic intake manifold to help save weight, it serves up plenty of low down grunt. It's surprising at just how potent Opel's 150hp four-cylinder engine makes the Adam S feel. Forget the soft and cuddly sensation that a drive in the regular Adam might give you, as this car has far more attitude. Immediately apparent are the changes to the chassis, which consist of a redesigned rear axle and retuned spring and damper rates. This, combined with the optional 225/35 R18 low profile tyres, results a much higher level of grip. The ride is of course firmer, but doesn't become jarring despite the car's relatively short wheelbase of just 2,311mm.
Mated to the turbocharged engine is a six-speed manual gearbox that has been given shorter gear ratios to help it feel even sportier. Out of corners in second gear the wave of torque feels like even more than the 220Nm that it is. It pulls just as strongly in third and even into fourth gear, with an engine note that encourages you to keep pushing. The steering has been slightly retuned and it feels well suited to the performance characteristics of the car. It gives you the confidence to turn in late to sharper bends knowing that the front end will be placed just where you want it to be. Over a lengthy high speed run along flowing roads the car really comes alive with the larger brakes showing no sign of developing fade. At higher speeds the Adam S feels stable despite its nimbleness at lower speeds, while a reasonably long sixth gear makes motorway cruising a touch more relaxed.
You will need to be more judicious with the throttle pedal if you want to try to get close to Opel's official combined fuel consumption figure of 5.9 litres/100km and even then it will be a challenge. Its emissions of 139g/km places it into motor tax Band C accruing an annual fee of €390, which is more palatable than its bigger brother, the Corsa OPC's €750-inducing 174g/km.
What you get for your Money:
Pricing has yet to be confirmed for the Adam S in Ireland but with the Adam Rocks coming in at €21,695 we would expect the Adam S to carry a premium of at least another €4,000 to €5,000 on top of that. Standard equipment will include 17-inch alloy wheels and the uprated brakes and steering mentioned above. The seven-inch IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment looks set to remain an optional extra, which is a pity for this range-topping model. It is now compatible with Apple devices, however, and seems to work much better than Android handsets that use the MirrorLink system, but the system still relies on a user's smartphone app for satellite navigation rather than its own native programme.
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The Adam Rocks surprised us by being such an improvement over the standard Adam, but Opel has exceeded itself with the new Adam S. It ticks many boxes, mainly being a hoot to drive. Some will like the degree of personalisation while others will love the rapidness of its point-to-point performance. It falls short of being a true thoroughbred hot hatch when compared to the rivals we've mentioned but for many the Adam S is a genuine fun and fast small car.