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First Drive: 2015 Opel Adam Rocks [Review]

Join us as we put Opel\'s 500-punching city car through its paces in the French countryside.

Those who are old enough to remember the Nixon administration - or those who have carefully studied automotive history - have undoubtedly seen Buick-Opel ads. Built in Germany, a handful of Opel models including the Kadett and the Manta were sold through Buick dealerships in the 1960s and 1970s in a bid to fend off competition from Japanese and other European imports. The experiment failed for a multitude of reasons and the Opel brand was sent back to the Old Continent.

Re-badged Opels sporadically joined the Pontiac and Saturn lineups in the 1980s and the 2000s, respectively, but they didn't make a full-on comeback to North America until the fifth-gen Buick Regal was introduced in 2011. The Regal opened the proverbial floodgates. Today, the Verano compact and the recently-introduced 2016 Cascada convertible both trace their roots to Rüsselsheim, Germany.

Buick could soon expand its lineup with a new city car derived from the Opel Adam. Far from a wild, unsubstantiated rumor, the information comes straight from Duncan Aldred, the U.S. Vice President of Buick and GMC. Federalizing the Adam is easier said than done because it wasn't designed to comply with U.S. regulations, but Aldred hinted that Buick is trying to fast-track the process and the 500-fighting hatchback is likely to reach our shores by the end of the decade.

What is it? The Adam Rocks is Opel's answer to the Fiat 500C. In addition to gaining a cloth soft top that retracts at the push of a button, the Rocks stands out from the standard Adam hatchback thanks to a rugged appearance that is characterized by a slightly raised ground clearance and crossover-esque styling cues such as black trim on both bumpers, on the wheel arches and on the rocker panels. In that regard, the Adam Rocks is a unique offering in its segment.

A nearly endless list of options lets buyers spruce up the Adam Rocks. The available add-ons include stickers, caps for the door mirrors and, interestingly, the rear-view mirror, colorful trim pieces in the cockpit, several alloy wheel designs that can be accented with plastic clips and so forth. All told, it's highly unlikely to find two Adams that are exactly alike.

Designed primarily for crowded cities, the Adam Rocks stretches 147 inches long, 58.6 inches tall and 67.7 inches wide, dimensions that place it between the Fiat 500 and the MINI Cooper - two of its closest rivals - in terms of size. It tips the scale at about 2,450 pounds in its lightest configuration.

Throughout most of Europe, the Adam Rocks comes standard with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 86 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 95 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission spins the front wheels, and a five-speed automated manual is available at an extra cost.

Tested here, the Rocks' optional engine is a brand new turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder unit that generates 114 horsepower between 5,000 and 6,000 rpm and a healthy 125 lb-ft. of torque between 1,800 and 4,500 rpm. Linked exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox, the direct-injected triple sends the Adam Rocks from zero to 62 mph in a claimed 9.9 seconds and on to an Autobahn-friendly top speed of 121 mph - it's built in Germany, after all.

Life AboardUp front, the Adam Rocks is surprisingly roomy considering its small footprint and space is never an issue. The HVAC controls are found at the bottom of the center stack and all of the buttons are grouped into two clusters located on either side of the touch screen, a setup that creates a refreshingly clean-looking dashboard. That being said, the touch screen would be a lot more user-friendly if it was moved up by two or so inches.

The instrument cluster is made up of four easy-to-read analog gauges and a configurable thin-film transistor (TFT) screen that looks rather dated. Similarly, the steering-wheel mounted switches for the cruise control and the stereo are generic units that are found in a number of General Motors products and they take a certain amount of time to get used to. The rest of the interior is made from quality materials that help the Adam live up to its near-premium aspirations.

The Adam comes standard with IntelliLink, a touch screen-based infotainment system used in a wide number of Opel and other General Motors products. IntelliLink lets the passengers control the Adam's connectivity and entertainment functions, and it can be paired with iOS and Android devices to run applications like BringGo navigation. This makes it possible to get detailed step-by-step navigation directions without having to tick a three-digit option box, a feature that the Adam's relatively young target audience is certain to appreciate.

The rear seats are adequately spacious for such a small car, though it goes without saying that they're better suited to carrying children than NBA players. Trunk space checks in at six cubic feet with four occupants on board and 23 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

A small button located next to the map light opens and closes the canvas top in a little over five seconds. It can be opened at nearly any speed and closed at up to 87 mph.

On the RoadThree-cylinder engines are hit or miss - they can be frenetic but ineffective, kind of like a hamster trying to push a dresser, or they can be quiet, punchy and well-rounded. The turbo three bolted in the Adam's engine bay is the latter type thanks in part to a wide torque band and a balance shaft located in the oil pan.

The Adam is equally at home on back roads, where it's lively and engaging to drive, as it is in the city. The six-speed 'box is well geared, and we appreciate that the shift lever is located on the center console, not on the dashboard like in the Fiat 500. The electric power steering is a little on the assisted side. In fact, Opel admits that one of the first modifications it made to the Adam when it was designing the 150-horsepower S model was to stiffen the steering in order to increase road feel.

On the other hand, the suspension setup is more oriented towards sport than towards comfort. This helps reduce body roll but it also makes the Adam a little rough over poor pavement. The brakes quickly bring the Adam to a stop, though it should be noted that the 114-horsepower model is the only member of the Rocks lineup to benefit from four discs. Adams ordered with the less powerful four-banger get by with old-fashioned drums out back.

We came close to 46 mpg in mixed driving, which is about on par with what Opel says the Adam should return. The 1.0-liter comes standard with a seamless start/stop system that stands out as one of the best units we've tested on any car regardless of size and price.

Leftlane's Bottom LineOpel's first entry into the lucrative near-premium city car segment is a winner. Some might find the 500C's retro-inspired design more charming, but the Adam Rocks is unquestionably better built than its Italian rival and more comfortable, especially on longer drives.

With a few market-specific tweaks such as a slightly softer suspension, we're confident that the Adam will have what it takes to give the current crop of subcompact hatchbacks a run for their money if it is added to the Buick lineup.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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