A small, trendy little Crossover model can also be a practical choice. If you doubt that, take a drive in Vauxhall's Mokka. Jonathan Crouch does just that.
Ten Second Review
Small Crossovers should be fun and fashionable but that doesn't mean they can't also be versatile, capable and practical too. Like Vauxhall's little Mokka? Perhaps. Here's the new face of this changing brand and it's one you might very well find yourself growing to like.
Suddenly, Vauxhall design is all about the delivery of that most current of automotive traits, the 'lifestyle statement'. Has been ever since brand parent General Motors belatedly realised that profit, not market share, was of most importance in achieving commercial respectability. And the result has been a whole wave of interesting new models wearing the Griffin badge - the individualistic ADAM premium supermini, the stylish Cascada convertible and our subject here, the interesting Mokka small SUV Crossover. It's aimed directly at the one hugely popular rival that's really shaken up this sector of the market - Nissan's trendy little Juke. Wild and wacky, the Juke bought a super-sized serving of attitude to this conservatively-styled segment. But not everyone liked its wilfully outlandish looks or its cramped rear cabin. So this Mokka takes it on with a slightly more spacious supermini floorplan and fashionable cheekiness designed for wider appeal. It's a package also created to perfectly position Vauxhall against other direct segment contenders like the MINI Countryman, the Ford EcoSport and this Mokka's own design stablemate, the Chevrolet Trax. A Vauxhall then, that is in every way a car of its time, very much chiming with the new face of a changing brand. Let's try it.
Mokka buyers are people likely to be enthusiasts for life rather than for cars. So they may not care that this car isn't quite as sharp and wieldy as a rival Nissan Juke, nor does it have the 'big SUV' polish of a comparable Skoda Yeti. Instead, there's a potentially pleasing compromise between the two. Under the bonnet, there are three main engine options, the most affordable, as ever, being the least desirable of the trio, the 2WD-only 115PS petrol 1.6-litre variant which, with only 155Nm of torque, needs to be rowed along a little with the gear lever - a stick that only offers you five speeds. A better bet for petrol people is the Mokka we tried, the 140PS 1.4-litre turbo. Sixty is just 9.4s away enroute to 118mph, so it's usefully more rapid, and there's a healthier 200Nm of torque. Despite all this and the optional inclusion of 4WD, the provision of a 6-speed gearbox and more modern mechanicals mean that this pokier 1.4 is actually cheaper to run than the feebler 1.6. The most practical engine choice though is the one most buyers will probably select, the 130PS 1.6-litre CDTi diesel capable of a top speed of around 119mph and rest to sixty in around 10s. You get all the main mechanical choices with this unit - so you can specify your car with 6-speed manual or automatic transmission and with or without 4WD. Perhaps more importantly, you get a lot more pulling power - 300Nm in all. Every Mokka is theoretically capable of towing a braked trailer of up to 1200kg in weight, but this diesel variant is the only one that'll really take such a task in its stride.
Design and Build
This Mokka sets its own course amongst small Crossovers. Though supermini-based, like a Nissan Juke, it's nearly as big inside as a family hatch-style Crossover like Nissan's Qashqai. But whatever your thoughts about this car's size, you'll probably agree that the way this Mokka looks will go a long way towards selling it. Cute and individualistic without being wilfully outlandish in the manner of a rival Nissan Juke. Under the skin are the underpinnings of a supermini - more specifically, the Chevrolet Aveo, mechanicals Chevrolet has also used in its Trax small lifestyle Crossover that's one of this Vauxhall's sharpest rivals. In the back, the rear seats benefit from wide opening doors that simplify the fitment of a child seat, though that sharply rising waistline might restrict the view out for smaller occupants. As for luggage room, well, there's no high boot lip to negotiate and beyond it lies 356-litres of carriage space - about the same as you'd get in a MINI Countryman but 30% more than you'd get in a Nissan Juke. And at the wheel? Well the interior isn't overly adventurous, but this car's more conservative vibe might just mean it mops up sales from people left a bit cold by the sheer extravagance of some rivals.
Market and Model
So, this Mokka's a small, trendily-styled five-door little SUV/Crossover isn't it? Well yes. So it'll be priced directly against the other car we tend of think of in this market sector, Nissan's Juke, won't it? Well, no. Vauxhall points out - correctly - that their car is a significantly larger thing - hence the price span for the range that lies in the £16,000 to £24,000 bracket. To put that into perspective for you, that means you'll be paying a price premium of around £2,500 for this Mokka over an equivalent Juke. Perhaps the most telling comparisons though, come when, as many will, you begin to stack this Mokka up against something more conventional. Why, for example, would you buy a conventional 1.6-litre petrol-powered Vauxhall Astra family hatchback when a Mokka with exactly the same engine would save you around £1,500 and offer you more luggage space? A diesel Astra with the same 130PS 1.7-litre CDTi engine you'll find in this Mokka would also be around £1,500 more. If, having considered all of this, you decide that it is indeed a Mokka that you actually want, then you'll be pleased to find that whichever of the five-door models you choose - 1.6-litre petrol 2WD or 1.4-litre petrol turbo 4WD or 1.6-litre 130PS CDTI diesel in 2WD or 4WD configuration - it'll come well equipped.
Cost of Ownership
As far as cost of ownership is concerned, it would be fair to call this Mokka 'class competitive'. As you'd expect these days, a start/stop system is fitted across the range (though only on manual gearbox models) to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, even the oldest engine in the line-up, the 115PS 1.6-litre petrol unit, doesn't lag too far behind its 1.6-litre petrol Nissan Juke or MINI Countryman rivals, returning 41.5mpg on the combined cycle and 158g/km of CO2. As for the 140PS 1.4-litre petrol turbo 4x4 Mokka we tried, well despite the extra power and weight, the figures are nearly as good - 45.6mpg and 144g/km of CO2. Much pricier all-wheel drive petrol Juke and Countryman models use much bigger, thirstier, dirtier engines that don't ultimately take you much faster. Stacking up even better is the Mokka in 1.6-litre CDTi 130PS diesel form. Thanks to 'Clean Tech' technology that optimises combustion control, NOx nitrogen oxide emissions are reduced and overall efficiency is dramatically improved. To the point where the figures for this variant - 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2 - get close to those of a MINI Countryman Cooper D that, with around 20PS less, takes around a second longer to get you from rest to sixty.
Not too long ago, it was hard to think of a more conventional brand than Vauxhall. But that was then. Here's how the company is thinking now: looks a lot more appealing doesn't it? True, this isn't the sharpest handling car of its kind but the pre-launch tweaks have made it as good as it needs to be. Nor is it as affordable as some might expect - but that's only an issue if your comparison is with something smaller, much less well equipped and probably more feebly powered. Look clearly, as I've tried to do here, at what you actually get for what you actually pay and the Mokka makes fashionable sense. With styling and size almost perfectly pitched, it's practical, well equipped, affordable to run and, in 4x4 form, seasonally capable too. A car with an appeal that builds as your interest in it grows. The kind of car Vauxhall needs to make. For a more fashionable future.