In 1957, Vauxhall introduced the Victor. Apparently, it was OK, but everyone was too busy admiring the 500 to notice.
Such is the weight of history Vauxhall faces with its new Adam. By setting its sights on the all-conquering 500, it is attempting to overhaul not only the metrosexual market leader, but 56 years of history. The new 500 has been such a cash calf for Fiat, not simply because it’s a fine little city car but because it allows feckless urbanites to buy into that whole La Dolce Vita, ciao bella thing. The Adam has no such recognisable image on which to trade, so it’s attempting to catch the 500 from a standing start.
Can it? To find out, we’re in London’s reassuringly expensive Shad Thames district to conduct the most purple twin test in history. Going face-to-face are the Adam Glam and Fiat 500 TwinAir, decked out in colours to resemble, in the words of passing Londoners, either “some lovely aubergines” or, more prosaically, “a pair of plums”. Officially, the 500 is painted Chillout Purple, while the Adam is wearing Purple Fiction. The latter should give you some idea how Vauxhall is marketing its latest creation: a combination of quirky branding and appalling puns. You want colours? How about The Greyfather (grey)? Or Sweet Greens (yep, green)? And why not a contrast roof in White My Fire with Red ’n’ Roll spoke clips on your alloys?
Point is, the Adam is a) very annoyingly branded and b) truly, extraordinarily customisable, making the lurid paint and decal options available on the 500 look veritably pallid in comparison. You can have colour-coded wheel inserts, decals and stripes galore, foil-overlay dashboards, or, most inadvisably, clouds-and-blue-sky headlining replete with LED “stars”. Unless you are Katie Price, you must under no circumstances spec your Adam with the last of these options.
But peel back all the branding and punnery, and the Adam turns out to be – shock horror – a car. A decent one. With a wide footprint, it hangs onto the road nicely – hardly an eye-widening sports car but a more-than-acceptable thing to punt down a B-road. We’re driving the first Adam to get Vauxhall’s UK-specific dynamic tweaks, which have focused on the Adam’s steering software to add more weight and improve the feeling of connection to the front tires. The Brit boys have done a good job. The steering on Euro Adams felt over-light, but the new UK set-up is much heavier and more progressive. So the Adam steers well and doesn’t ride badly, even on the sports suspension that’s standard with 17- or 18-inch wheels. It’s compliant enough, only turning a little crunchy on truly bad roads, but we suspect the comfort chassis with 16in wheels might be the sweeter set-up.
Stepping from the Adam into the 500 is like unclipping your leash from an obedient poodle and attaching it to a hyperactive cocker spaniel. It is decidedly boingy (not a word? Should be), springing and burbling about in a fashion that immediately turns you into the goodie in a Seventies car chase.
It topples more through the corners, the 500, feeling taller than the Adam. That’s because it is, at least proportionally: though 15cm shorter and nine centimetres narrower than the Vauxhall, the Fiat is the same height. It’s softer-sprung, too, making it less harsh over potholes but bouncy over bigger undulations.
With road-tester hats on, we’d concede the Adam handles more tidily than the 500, but there’s an ineffable zing about the Fiat. Yes, you’d be more comfortable going fast down a greasy road in the Adam, but the 500 puts a bigger smile on your face.