Review

Vauxhall Adam hatchback

£12,110 - £19,045

The Vauxhall Adam is a small three-door hatchback that competes with the Fiat 500, DS 3 and MINI hatchback. Like all these cars, the Adam is aimed at young customers who (if market research is to be believed) are increasingly after cars that can be personalised to their tastes.

This makes life difficult for carmakers, which face enormous development costs and safety criteria when mass-producing their cars in impersonal factories. In seeking to resolve this contradiction, the Adam offers over 80,000 interior and 60,000 exterior combinations – although most of these are cosmetic options. It would seem the researchers were right, however, as the Adam has been a sales success for Vauxhall. In fact, given the numbers sold, it's statistically unlikely that two identical Adams exist.

While the Adam is certainly a sleek, customisable and modern car, it does make some compromises. Chief among these are a tiny boot, cramped rear seats, uncomfortable suspension and the lack of a diesel option. If you’re willing to overlook these issues, though, the Adam's style and perceived personality clearly hold enough appeal to sway many.

The Adam's engine range starts with a 1.2-litre petrol that produces just 69bhp and returns 53.3mpg, increasing to 57.6mpg if you go for the stop-start option. It costs just £30 a year in road tax with stop-start, but without it higher CO2 emissions mean you’ll face a £110 annual bill. We’d avoid this engine if you can, however – mainly because its 0-62mph time of 14.9 seconds makes keeping up with traffic a struggle.

The next two engines are 1.4-litre petrols, producing either 86 or 99bhp. Both return 52.3mpg and cost £110 a year to tax, although the optional stop-start system increases fuel economy slightly and reduces road tax to £30. While these engines are slightly faster than the entry-level 1.2-litre, they’re hardly swift: 0-62mph takes 11.5 or 12.5 seconds, depending on whether you go for the more or less powerful option respectively.

The best engine in the range is a modern three-cylinder turbocharged 113bhp 1.0-litre petrol. You’ll have to spend £2,000 or so extra if you want this, but it's the most efficient choice in the range, returning 56.5mpg and costing just £20 a year in road tax. Despite its small size, its modern design means it has better performance than the others, reaching 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds.

Sitting at the top of the engine tree is the 148bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine of the Adam S. This provides lively performance (0-62mph takes 8.5 seconds), but you’ll have to spend over £17,000 if you want it. A Ford Fiesta ST is better to drive, faster and only about £300 more expensive – and if you get too carried away with personalisation options, a £20,000 Adam S becomes a very real possibility.

On the open road, the Adam disappoints. The three entry-level engines are slow, the steering is overly light and the suspension is unforgiving, causing the car and its occupants to bounce about unpleasantly over potholes. There's better news in town, though, where the car's limited power is less noticeable and the light steering is a positive, rather than detriment.

Stepping inside reveals a modern and pleasingly designed interior that's built using good-quality plastics. Front occupants get a good amount of head and legroom, but the rear seats are cramped. They’re okay for smaller children, but those sleek exterior looks translate into limited headroom, while anyone sitting behind a taller adult will find their legs unpleasantly squashed. The 170-litre boot is similarly compromised and smaller than the Fiat 500's, let alone more traditional hatchbacks’.

Although specifying an Adam can be a lengthy process, the three core trim levels are relatively straightforward. Entry-level Jam cars come with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. Moving up to Glam costs about £1,400 and adds upgraded air-conditioning, a (fixed) sunroof and LED running lights, while the top-spec Slam has 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, Vauxhall's OnStar assistance service (which doubles as a wi-fi hotspot) and a contrasting roof colour as standard. If you want the 1.0-litre petrol engine, this isn’t available with Jam and Glam models, while the Adam S gets its own high-spec trim level.

Aside from these trims, there's also a number of special-edition Adams. If you want a chunkier-looking car, Rocks models feature a raised ride height and more pronounced bumpers, while the Rocks Air adds a folding fabric roof to this package. Unlimited cars (as the name suggests) make every single personalisation option available, while the Adam Energised adds a black roof, larger alloy wheels and LED running lights to the entry-level Slam car.

All of these specifications offer numerous additional customisation options, including interior trim and roof colours and exterior body graphics. One option we do recommend is the infotainment touchscreen, which is reasonably priced and works well. If this all gets a bit confusing, Vauxhall's online tool has a selection of pre-configured trim and colour combinations for you to select from and then alter as you wish.

The Adam has a good reputation for reliability, coming 64th out of 150 cars in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Safety is decent rather than exceptional, though, due to a four rather than five-star rating from Euro NCAP.