Opel Adam S review
Is the S the best Opel Adam yet? Definitely, although that's perhaps not saying all that much.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Max Earey

Published on June 8, 2016

Good: sharp styling, willing engine, cabin quality, infotainment

Not so good: over-light steering, useless back seats and boot

I think it would be fair to say that I didn't like the Opel Adam when it first came out. I well remember a long haul down to Galway in a 1.4-litre model, which was wheezy, asthmatic and incredibly thirsty for such a small machine. And when you tried to have fun in it, to make up for the thirst, the steering was so light it felt like you were trying to alter the car's course by setting up wind vortices in the cabin. Twirl, twirl, twirl...

So, when the Adam S arrived outside to test, my heart kind of did the myocardial version of that Harrison Ford photo where one side of his face looks grumpy and the other side looks happy (Google it...). Happy that there was a small, hopefully agile hatchback outside with a 150hp turbo engine and low weight. Grumpy that it was an Adam.

I know what Opel is trying to achieve with this car - it wants a trendy, fashionable small hatchback that will ensnare a certain type of dazzling urbanite buyer, who will influence the opinions of his or her friends, and who will all carry on into later life thinking that Opel is a cool, funky, premium-ish brand. Fine. No problem with that at all.

Here's the problem - glitzy styling and giving your options packs and paint colours ridiculous names (our Adam S came in a shade referred to as Forget About Grey, which I will not dignify by further mention) does not a proper premium car make. BMW has imbued its MINI with the sort of handling and precision that you'd expect from a Munich product, even one built in Oxford. Fiat has given the 500 the kind of styling chutzpah and maximum-revs-everywhere engines befitting a small, nimble Italian car. Opel has given the Adam... what appears to be a recreation of a seventies Lincoln Continental 'Landau Roof' rear end. Sigh.

OK, let's get down to something more significant. Opel has been improving the Adam since my first, unimpressive encounter. Cabin quality has taken a jump up and the new IntelliLink infotainment system, which includes Apple CarPlay, works well and looks suitably expensive. And the 1.4 Turbo petrol engine (capitalisation Opel's own) is a gem of a thing. We've driven it before in the Opel Astra and Meriva, and here it has just 1,000kg to push around.

And it swiftly proves to be the best thing about the Adam. It's happy to rev, and sounds appealingly gruff when you do so. Performance is brisk (indeed, not so long ago an 8.5-second 0-100km/h dash was senior hot hatch territory) and yet it's also good at winding everything back and cruising relatively comfortably on the motorway. Opel says it'll do 47mpg, though we got closer to 35mpg, but if you're only doing short hops, then the 38-litre fuel tank should prove adequate. Just.

The cabin isn't bad either, as long as you're in the front. The new infotainment system is slick and easy (and nice) to use, quality feels good and the seats (usually an Opel speciality) are excellent - supportive and firm but forgiving to those of us of a broader girth.

The problem comes when you start poking around in the back. With a tall driver like me in the front, rear legroom is basically non-existent. The front seat back actually touches the rear seat squab. Put a shorter driver in and legroom advances to simply unacceptable. When you're making a three-door MINI feel like a stretch Lincoln Town Car (and I've now reached my quota of making Lincoln references in this review) you're doing back seats wrong. Against that, the 170-litre boot is merely hopeless. I'm still not sure why the Adam has to be so pointlessly small inside. It's based on the same platform as the Opel Corsa, which is a perfectly roomy car, so why not give it at least competitive cabin space?

Perhaps a drive in the mountains will help. Surely here, a hot hatch like the Adam S will come alive and start to make up for its practical shortcomings? And do you know what? It did, a bit anyway. The steering is still a bit too light for proper hot hatch duties, but it is better than it was, and if you can't feel anything through it, at least the Adam S responds with a pleasing degree of vim and vigour to instructions. The six-speed gearbox snicks nicely between cogs, the 1.4 engine plays a strong game of mid-range urge and even the ride quality isn't too bad. There is an unpleasant thump when you tag a pothole, and you can feel some wheel wobble over poor surfaces, but generally the Adam S is actually quite good fun. It seems to channels some of the sporting appeal of the old Ford SportKa, albeit with steering that's much less sharp and a cabin that's much, much better.

Has it turned me on to the Adam? No, not really. I just can't abide cars that are this impractical. It is quite well priced (you will struggle to find anything else with a 150hp petrol turbo for this kind of cash), well made and even I can see the visual appeal, with the red piping and big alloys. It still doesn't feel, to me, like a car that's seriously going to advance Opel's premium player ambitions, but at least it now feels good enough not to hate.


Tech Specs

Model testedOpel Adam S 1.4 Turbo
Pricing€24,400 as tested, Adam range starts at €15,795
Engine1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylecompact hot hatch
CO2 emissions139g/km (Band B2, €280 per annum)
Combined economy47.7mpg (5.9 litres/100km)
Top speed210km/h
0-100km/h8.5 seconds
Power150hp at 4,900rpm
Torque220Nm at 2,750 to 4,500rpm
Boot space170 litres (seats up), 663 litres (seats folded)
EuroNCAP ratingfour-star; adult 87%; child 72%; pedestrian 65%; safety assist 81%
Rivals to the Adam S