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2013 Opel Adam First Drive

GM Builds a Mini Cooper for Europe

Maybe you've never heard of Adam Opel, but he's the man behind the German automaker Opel, and the 2013 Opel Adam hatchback is his namesake.

Putting your company founder's first name on a city car might seem eccentric, but Ferrari sold us the Enzo supercar, so why not? Besides, humanizing the Opel Adam a little can't hurt, especially since it's Opel's answer to the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper. If you've driven either one of these subcompact hatchbacks, you know that personality and style matter as much as acceleration or handling.

Although Opel is late getting to the cute hatchback party, the GM subsidiary will try to make amends with European customers by offering them countless customization options and all manner of smartphone connectivity. If the 2013 Opel Adam looks good to you, don't get too excited yet — it's for Europe only, since the similarly sized Chevrolet Spark covers the same ground in the U.S.

Footprint of a Fiat
The 2013 Opel Adam shares its platform architecture with the Opel Corsa, a subcompact that competes with the 2013 Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit in Europe. Opel engineers shrunk down the chassis for the smaller Adam, which has about the same footprint as a standard Cooper hatchback, 500 or Spark. Its 91-inch wheelbase matches the Fiat's, but the Mini and Chevy put a few more inches between their front and rear wheels and have more legroom as a result.

Indeed, the rear seats in the Adam are as upright as dining room chairs and best left to children or, better yet, shopping bags that won't fit in the hatchback's tiny 6-cubic-foot cargo hold.

Folding the rear seats opens up a more usable 23.4 cubic feet of capacity, though the Chevy and Fiat offer more than 30 cubic feet of capacity with the seats down.

A Million Ways To Option It
On the upside, there are no fewer than 15 upholstery options and 18 interchangeable dashboard and door panels (two of them backlit) to cheer up the 2013 Opel Adam's small cabin. Our test car also has impressive fit and finish for a budget hatchback, while its optional headliner lights up like a starry night sky and takes us right back to our freshman-year college dorm room (sans annoying roommate who drank our beer and stole our socks).

Opel will sell the 2013 Adam in three trim levels: base Jam, luxury-themed Glam and sporty Slam. From there, you have 12 exterior paint options (paint names dredge up the 1980s and '90s with I'll Be Black, Papa Don't Peach, Purple Fiction and James Blonde); three roof colors; 20 alloy wheel designs; and incredibly, a rainbow of clip-on wheel covers in case you get tired of looking at the wheels themselves.

However you option it out (and there are over a million ways to do that, according to Opel), the Adam bears a striking resemblance to Fiat's 500 with its rounded roof line, fat rear fenders and rear side windows shaped like slices of pie. That flies in the face of Opel's quest for individuality, but the Adam looks handsome anyway. Our test car garners nods of approval as we drive through the streets of Lisbon.

So How's the Power?
Predictably, there's a selection of small-displacement gasoline engines to power the 2013 Opel Adam. There's both a 1.2- and a 1.4-liter four-cylinder, and the latter comes in two different states of tune — one with 87 horsepower and a powered-up version with 100 hp.

Only the 87-horse version is at our disposal, but it's no grave disappointment since the 1.4-liter engine offers just 96 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm no matter how it's tuned. A five-speed manual transmission drives the front wheels.

Immediately, we notice the engine's vocal presence in the cabin, and once we rev it past 5,000 rpm, we're pretty sure it's making more noise than power. Opel's mid-12-second 0-60-mph claim confirms that impression. Our long-term Fiat 500 was a full 2 seconds quicker to 60 and it sounded better to boot.

Sometime in 2013, GM will slot a new turbocharged and direct-injected, 1.0-liter inline three-cylinder engine into the Adam line, which along with a new six-speed manual gearbox, should provide performance and fuel efficiency more in keeping with the car's progressive ambitions. In addition, the 1.4-liter turbo inline-4 that provides solid performance in our Chevy Sonic is also slated for the Adam.

Not as Sporty as It Looks
The 2013 Opel Adam shares its suspension design with the Corsa, so you'll find a pair of struts up front and a semi-independent twist-beam setup out back. Buyers can either stick with the base suspension calibration or opt for a sport-tuned version with 17- or 18-inch wheels.

Our sport-tuned tester has the 18s, and surprisingly, a pretty compliant ride — a credit to the Adam's impressively robust structure. Of course, with the ridiculously short sidewalls on the car's 225/35ZR18 summer tires, major ruts still send a shockwave through the cabin.

Those tires provide lots of grip as we tour the Portuguese countryside, but they're overkill on a small economy car. We also notice the Adam doesn't like to rotate off-throttle, while the electric-assist power steering is overboosted around turns. A wannabe hot hatch, this is not.

We're told that the Vauxhall-branded, U.K.-spec Adam will get a revised steering and suspension calibration for a more dynamic drive, but for those stuck on the European continent, a Mini or Fiesta would be a far better choice for carving up back roads.

It Has Plenty of Tech
But never mind back roads. Company officials hope the 2013 Opel Adam's target buyers will be more excited by the car's arsenal of tech features.

Headlining the list is the Intellilink system, which harnesses the driver's smartphone (only iPhones and Androids so far) to deliver GPS navigation, music libraries, photo galleries and various app functionality to the car's central infotainment screen.

It's a clever idea, given that many buyers will already own expensive smartphones, plus the BrinGo navigation app is configured so that European drivers won't pay roaming charges on the move. Software updates are also easier than they would be with a full-on factory nav system. The obvious downside to this setup is that the accuracy of navigation instructions depends on your phone's signal strength. We'd also like to see Opel come up with a more secure storage option, as our prized iPhone lay vulnerable in the Adam's open center console.

Should Intellilink prove overly engrossing, Opel offers an optional blind-spot warning system to help you avoid punting other motorists into the guardrail, along with an automated parking system that can both parallel-park the Adam and back it into tight garage spots. You can also get a heated steering wheel — an uncommon luxury for this class.

Is It Cool Enough?
It may look like a Fiat 500 from some angles, but the 2013 Opel Adam is a stylish car in its own right, and prospective customers are sure to find their perfect color scheme. In addition, the Adam offers a cleaner, more up-to-date interface for smartphone integration than the 500 or Mini Cooper. It's easy to disregard such technology as non-crucial to the driving experience, but a growing population of drivers are demanding it, even in budget hatchbacks.

As it stands, though, the Opel Adam is let down by an unpolished drivetrain, slow acceleration and dull steering. The arrival of GM's lighter, more potent 1.0-liter turbo motor should add a little extra pop, but there's no denying that driving dynamics come second to looks and feature content on Opel's latest subcompact hatchback.

The real acid test, then, involves the fashion-conscious city dwellers Opel wants to attract. Will they find the 2013 Opel Adam desirably cool or dismiss it as an awkward attempt to get down with the kids? Officials at the struggling European automaker certainly hope it's the former, and you can bet they'll also have their eyes on America to see how the equally small Chevy Spark fares here.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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