Why Vauxhall's Mokka is set to go down well
V AUXHALL'S bland brand reputation has been firmly banished. There are new models in the firm's dealers which are anything but bland and they're doing a power of good for the General Motors operation.
The muscular Mokka featured here has given the manufacturer an entrant into the fast-growing crossover car market while the stylish new Adam supermini provides tough, fresh competition for Citroen's popular DS3 and the BMW Mini.
Also factor in the stunning Astra GTC coupe and the forthcoming Cascada cabriolet and Vauxhall certainly has an eye-catching quartet to attract an even wider audience.
Breaking new ground for Vauxhall, the Mokka is a small SUV that's pleasing on the eye, offers a roomy cabin for a vehicle of its size, and has compact dimensions that make it easy to park or manoeuvre in congested city streets.
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Vehicles of its type are now hugely popular, with Nissan doing very nicely by having two entrants into the sector in the Qashqai and Juke.
The Mokka is positioned between them, so will be considered as an alternative to both as well as to the Skoda Yeti, which is a similar size.
The Vauxhall feels a lot more grown up than the Juke and is also a more practical proposition. I reckon it will prove attractive to those seeking family transport but wanting a more distinctive vehicle than a regular compact hatchback.
Vauxhall expects to woo technology-savvy drivers by offering new technologies unique in its segment, including the Adaptive Forward Lighting system which was a £790 option on the Tech Line version I drove.
Nicholas Waite, dealer principal at Evans Halshaw in Nottingham, says the Mokka has proved a huge hit with customers.
"Sales have been going extremely well since its launch in November and we've had some excellent feedback," he says.
He reports a wide variety of motorists have been interested in the vehicle, "which just goes to show how diverse this new SUV is".
The dealership has created a bespoke edition of the model and it is on display in its showroom.
Lee Madin, business manager at Evans Halshaw in Chilwell, adds that drivers love the versatility of the vehicle – from the easy-access Motability options to features which are ideal for adventurous types.
With its muscular wheel arches and lots of body cladding, it looks a real bruiser – and up for off-roading in the case of vehicles with the benefit of four-wheel-drive.
However, you would have to be careful where you ventured off road because the Mokka has limited ground clearance. Furthermore, quite stiff suspension could mean a bumpy ride on deeply-rutted tracks.
The vehicle's AWD system automatically transfers power to the rear wheels when greater traction is required, up to a maximum distribution of 50 per cent on each axle.
A tall bonnet gives the impression that the Mokka stands higher than it actually is, as well as reinforcing its striking off-roader styling that's further emphasised by its large headlight units and wide grille.
Soft-touch plastics and some neat trim details give its roomy cabin an upmarket feel, with its cockpit mirroring that of the firm's larger Astra hatchback.
Finding a comfortable driving position is easy and a high seating position gives a good all-round view. Not so good is the positioning of the unusually-shaped handbrake lever which could do with being moved slightly forward and less close to the driver's seat.
There's good leg, head and elbow room no matter where you sit and the back seat is wide enough for three adults on short journeys.
Boot space is outstanding for a vehicle of its size with far greater carrying capacity than both its Nissan rivals when back seats are folded.
Seat bases lift up and the backs fold down to provide a flat, extended load deck, with boot capacity growing from 356 to 1,372 litres. A split back seat brings greater versatility.
The roomy cabin is one of the strengths of the Mokka. Buyers also get a lot of equipment for their money and enjoy reasonable running costs.
I was surprised a satellite navigation system with a colour screen was a standard feature of the 1.6-litre, petrol engine Tech Line car tested, along with a digital radio, USB connection with iPod control, a mobile phone system with Bluetooth, plus cruise control.
Aimed at company car drivers, the favourably-priced Tech Line cars also have dual-zone electronic climate control, automatic lighting control and rain-sensitive windscreen wipers.
The two-wheel-drive Mokkas currently start at £15,995 in the case of the 1.6-litre Tech Line vehicle driven by me, while 4x4 cars are priced from £18,200. This will buy you the same level of trim but with greater power under the bonnet because this gets Vauxhall's splendid 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine delivering 25PS more power.
The line-up also includes Exclusiv and SE cars as well as a range-starting S car with the engine choice extending to a 1.7-litre diesel. All manual gearbox versions benefit from start/stop technology that improves fuel economy while also cutting emissions.
I found it difficult to get an accurate reading of the fuel economy of the 1598cc engine of my transport but I reckon it was well over 35mpg, judging by the economy trend graph of the trip computer.
Vauxhall quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 43.5mpg. The CO2 emissions are 153g/km, putting the car in VED band G with annual road tax being £170.
The engine was mated to a five-speed manual gearbox in my test vehicle and I felt the need for a sixth gear when cruising on the motorway. I would also have appreciated slicker gear-changes. But no complaints about steering, this is very sharp.
Although the Mokka has firmly sprung suspension, occupants still enjoy a well-damped ride. Above all, it feels stable, sturdy and very safe. It's also agile and there's little body roll when cornering at higher speeds.
Check it out and I reckon you will be impressed, highly impressed. The Mokka gives Vauxhall a formidable rival for the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Juke, the Kia Sportage and Skoda Yeti.