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Vauxhall Mokka review (2012 onwards)
What - Vauxhall Mokka
Date - October 2012
Where - Hamburg, Germany
Price - £15,995 - £23,490
Available - November 2012
GM finally has a stake in the compact soft-roader sector – the Mokka can’t come soon enough.
We like - Chunky soft-roader styling, high equipment levels and decent space
We don’t like - Agricultural-sounding diesel and a fidgety ride could jar on UK roads
Make no mistake, GM needs this car. The compact soft-roader/crossover market is where it’s at in the B-segment right now – and the Mokka is gunning for a slice of the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti’s showroom success.
It may be late to the party, but when it comes to grabbing a chunk of the booming crossover market, the Mokka’s positioning could prove quite savvy – it’s larger than a Juke and not far shy of the Qashqai, which sits in a class above, with a price tag that straddles both.
Unlike the Juke, the Mokka plays it safe in the styling department – it looks like the mini SUV that it is, which should please buyers who don’t buy into the small Nissan’s more challenging visage. It’s a far more mature car to look at – pert, well-proportioned with a rugged edge thanks to chunky 18” alloys and plastic cladding around the sills and bumpers. So far, so good.
From launch, the Korean-built Mokka gets a choice of three engines – a 115hp 1.6 and 140hp 1.4-litre turbo petrol unit – and a 130hp 1.7-litre CDTi diesel. It’s the latter coupled with front-wheel drive that Vauxhall expects to take the lion’s share of UK sales.
In front-wheel-drive form, the oil-burner manages a creditable 62mpg and emits 120g/km of CO2, which is strong for the class – although on a mixed route taking in motorways and some town work, we saw closer to 50mpg. That’s forgivable given the route included derestricted autobahns and some twitchy right feet.
Yet it falls short of the diesel’s grunt
What isn’t forgivable is the agricultural nature of the 1.7-litre CDTi unit – it’s got that uncouth black cab clatter going on. When worked hard it’s plain noisy and unpleasant, which is hardly becoming of a modern diesel.
Some other diesel attributes are more welcome – there’s strong torque (221lb ft) from 2,000rpm, which gives effortless cruising and overtaking ability. But refined, it most definitely isn’t.
If you don’t fancy a diesel-flavoured Mokka, then the 1.4 turbo is the more sprightly of the two petrol options – relatively speaking. Yet it still falls short of the diesel’s useful grunt in the ebb and flow of motorway traffic. Light on torque, the 1.4 needs stirring to wake up and when it does, it’s quite raucous.
Ride and handling
This isn’t a car that’s going to spend time axle-deep in mud – so we’ll judge the Mokka on its road manners.
There’s a pleasing fluidity to the small SUV’s on-road demeanour – it corners with little of the roll or wallow that the jacked-up ride might suggest. The electric power steering is also light and accurate – if devoid of feedback. Arguably, that’s not important in this sector – it’s just not as fun as the Juke.
While we didn’t ask too much of it thanks to a largely smooth, straight launch route – a missed sat-nav instruction and an impromptu sortie into Hamburg’s urban sprawl exposed the flip-side of that firm ride – it’s easily wrong-footed and crashy when dealing with potholes and sunken manhole covers.
Vauxhall’s chassis man, Gerry Baker, told us they had prioritised a smooth ride and easy handling when developing the Mokka’s suspension. But it’s one of the few recent Vauxhalls not tuned for UK roads – when it arrives on our shores we’ll be able to tell for sure, but the fidgety ride on broken German tarmac doesn’t bode well.
About 45% of UK buyers will choose four-wheel drive (the only drivetrain available on the 1.4), which sends 100% of drive to the front wheels or splits it 50/50 front to rear when the Mokka’s electronics detect slip.
The marketing guff may harp on about ‘active lifestyles’ and the kind of trite buzzwords you’d expect when a manufacturer describes a small SUV, but the baby Vauxhall’s off-road pretensions do extend to more than just mounting a high kerb. Some gentle green-laning is a distinct possibility thanks to reasonable ground clearance and big-car tech like hill descent control and hill start assist.
The Mokka’s footprint is not far shy of a Qashqai – it’s about 50cm shorter, at 4,278mm – and almost as wide. That means cabin space is strong. Four generously proportioned adults wouldn’t feel cramped in the Mokka at all – legroom and headroom are good front and rear. The high waistline and thick C-pillar means there’s a hefty blind spot over the shoulder though.
The boot also deserves a nod – at 356 litres with the rear seats in their upright position, it’s a sight more spacious than the Juke’s and not far off the Yeti and Qashqai. The Mokka ticks the family-friendly box then.
Fumbling can take your eyes from the road
It has contemporary Vauxhall fare inside – and is similar to the Astra in terms of dash layout. Which means it’s quite busy at a glance – and fumbling for the right controls can take your eyes away from the road too much of the time. The materials, fit and finish are good though – hard plastics were only in evidence on the lower part of the dash.
Four trim levels are on offer – from the business spec Tech Line (Bluetooth, sat-nav, USB, cruise) through S, Exclusiv and SE. All are well-equipped and get the off-road driver aids as standard.
The top spec SE trim gets leather-faced sports seats – which were a bit kung-fu in their grip, and despite eight-way electric adjustment, proved hard to get comfortable in. But there is plenty of kit on the bells-and-whistles models – lane departure warning, collision mitigation and traffic sign recognition all give the small SUV some big-car tech.
Economy and safety
With start-stop and front-wheel drive, the gruff diesel is the tree-hugger of the Mokka line-up, achieving a claimed 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 120g/km. The 140hp 1.4 turbo manages a reasonable 44.8mpg and 149g/km, but working it hard to get the Mokka moving sees that drop – we saw closer to 32mpg in mixed driving.
The Mokka is too new to have any EuroNCAP crash rating, but safety kit abounds – along with the obligatory ESP, there are eight airbags and brake assist – so it should bag four or more stars in the all-important tests.
The MSN Cars verdict
The Mokka isn’t a game-changer – Skoda, Nissan et al have already shaped the small crossover market and Vauxhall is playing catch-up here. So it needs to offer something different – which it does, up to a point.
It’s appreciably bigger than the Juke and plays the Qashqai very close for practicality, while looking like an appealingly rugged little package. That’s going to appeal to buyers who want to be seen in a fun-sized off-roader – not everyone embraces unconventional in this market.
But our concern is that the unrefined engines and fidgety ride could prove to be the Mokka’s undoing on British roads. It’s got much to offer – and early signs in German showrooms are encouraging – but we’ll reserve final judgment until driving it over here. The Mokka gets a qualified thumbs up, for now.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder
Engines, diesel: 1.7-litre turbo-diesel
Power, hp: 115-140
Torque, lb ft: 114-221
0-62mph, secs: 9.6-12.2
Top speed, mph: 106-116
Mpg, combined: 43.5-60.1
CO2, g/km / Tax: 120-153/17-21%
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