Vauxhall undercuts established crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai with a supermini-sized SUV of its own

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The days of the dreary old Vauxhall are numbered. Or at least that’s the message being transmitted loud and clear at the moment by General Motors’ UK outpost, and a vision that's further reinforced by the launch of this, the Vauxhall Mokka.

It joins Vauxhall's revised and updated range, sitting alongside the handsome Astra GTC, the boulevardier Cascada convertible and the perky Adam supermini.

Vauxhall aims to become a more desirable brand

The Mokka enters the competitive and rapidly expanding compact crossover segment, so it has its work cut out to stand tall among well established rivals such as the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti.

Fortunately, it has several factors in its favours. It's offered with both two and four-wheel drive, with either petrol or diesel engines, and there are automatic versions of the two-wheel drive models for those who don't want to row their own gears.

Its relatively low price should also help attract buyers, particularly when you account for its decent kit levels and 'Lifetime' warranty, which covers the car over a limitless period of time up to 100,000 miles.

Past caring about overall market share, Luton says its new strategy is to target private buyers with models desirable enough to tempt them into spending their own money.

Achieving that should also mean generating something Opel/Vauxhall hasn’t known in longer than a decade: profit.

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Sounds straightforward. But the strategy won’t be achieved unless the reputation of the Griffin badge can be transformed from something that harms the perception of a new car into something that enhances it. It won’t be the work of a moment.

Time for a temperature check, then. Is Vauxhall on course to achieve its ambitious goal? And will the Mokka take it in the right direction?

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The plastic trim is designed to promote ruggedness on the Vauxhall Mokka

The first thing to congratulate Vauxhall on is clever product positioning. Someone at Russelsheim realised that the firm’s cars will never stand out if they blindly conform to class norms.

In the Meriva, then, it made a compact MPV that bridged the B and C-segments both in terms of size and pricing. And in the Mokka, we’re seeing the same trick repeated. Strictly speaking, this car is neither in the Nissan Qashqai’s class nor in that of its little brother, the Nissan Juke. It’s somewhere in between.

The Vauxhall Mokka's well defined bonnet bulge is a very masculine design feature

It’s a double success in effect, because a distinctive product position means you don’t need to rely on 'smack in the face' styling in order to stand out. A Vauxhall wouldn’t wear an outlandish design comfortably, so a smart, contemporary, quietly rugged look will do for the Mokka, which is small mercy for anyone who doesn’t like the Juke’s muscular aesthetic.

The Mokka is about 50mm shorter than a Nissan Qashqai and 100mm shorter than a Peugeot 3008, but you’d take it for shorter still. The proportions fool you because the Mokka is also taller than both the Nissan and the Peugeot. It’s more of an upright, old-school kind of mini-SUV than the crossovers we have become used to.

Vauxhall's Mokka diverges from the norm under the skin, too. Most cars in the class are built on C-segment platforms, but beneath the Mokka you’ll find GM’s Global Small Vehicle Gamma II platform. It’s the one that was due to be used for the Adam and the next Vauxhall Corsa until the bean-counters and union reps intervened.

Engines are all four-cylinder units producing between 113 and 138bhp, while suspension is via MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. Four-wheel drive is offered on both the 138bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol model and the 128bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel.


The view from the driver's seat of the Vauxhall Mokka

The Vauxhall Mokka’s driving position is high and more easily accessed even than that of a Skoda Yeti or a Nissan Juke. The cabin features wide doors and abundant headroom.

It is a little more spacious for four occupants than the average family hatch, and much easier to access for those fixing child seats into the back. But the major compromise imposed by the Chevrolet Aveo’s platform is narrowness. The Mokka wouldn’t be a comfortable car for five-up families.

Here is a small crossover with digital radio as standard. Top marks, Vauxhall

The 356-litre boot is bigger, above the window line, than your average C-segment hatchback’s, and a flat load lip makes it easy to lift heavy items in and out. The rear seats don’t slide, but you can flop the bases forward and fold the backs down for a perfectly flat extended cargo bay of about 1.5 metres in length up to the front-row seatbacks.

You can always rely on Vauxhall to give function priority over form when it comes to cabin design. In contrast to the wilfully ostentatious Juke, the Mokka is dedicated to service.

Want somewhere to throw your phone and house keys? There are two storage areas in each door, two cubbies in the centre console, two gloveboxes and a lidded compartment to the right of the steering wheel.

There isn’t as much oddment space in the rear, but many will love the 230V three-pin mains power supply that’s standard on every model. It's ideal for charging mobiles and laptops on the go.

The driver will feel comfortable and well provided for, although not excited by the Mokka’s interior. Picking the brown and blue colour scheme brightens the ambience a little, but it doesn’t give a lasting feel-good factor.

Standard kit won't disappoint, however. Every Vauxhall Mokka gets niceties such as climate control, a digital radio, USB connectivity and cruise control, all of which make the compact crossover easier to live with.

The battle on practicality may be won, but Vauxhall still has work to do to inject some true quality, ingenuity and panache.


The Vauxhall Mokka 1.4T's torque is limited by its ECU

The Vauxhall Mokka is offered with an unremarkable but perfectly adequate range of engines. Buyers can pick from a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol, a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol or a 1.7-litre diesel. All are capable of accelerating the Mokka from 0-60mph in less than 12 seconds, so most will rarely be frustrated with the degree of performance on offer. 

Choose the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol or 1.7-litre diesel and the Mokka is flexible and capable. It may be a supermini underneath, but the four-wheel drive 1.4-litre turbocharged Mokka in particular is in a strong position here. The petrol-powered rivals available for similar money are mainly heavier cars with less powerful normally aspirated engines, and they don’t offer four driven wheels.

The Mokka is much more flexible and refined than its engine options would suggest

And just as you’d hope for with credentials like that, the Mokka turns out to be a small car with much of the flexibility and refinement you’d expect of a much bigger one. The Vauxhall’s turbocharged petrol engine provides decent response and plenty of accessible torque, as does the diesel.

The 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol is quiet and well mannered below 3500rpm and drives the car onwards smartly, authoritatively and without fuss. Harder work is taken to with some reluctance. Wind the revcounter past 4000rpm and you’ll know about it. The motor’s straining, resonant buzz at high revs isn’t all that pleasant, and beyond a certain point it just isn’t worth tolerating. 

Ultra-conservative ECU settings don’t help 1.4-litre turbo versions of the Mokka off the line. They limit throttle and engine speed when the clutch is engaged (to protect a slightly vulnerable four-wheel drive system, we must assume) and make the car feel a little like it’s overcoming a treacly quagmire every time you want to make a quick getaway.

The 1.7-litre diesel can be noisy, particularly under load, but it's only fractionally noisier than rival units. It also has the additional benefit of granting the Mokka a substantial range, ideal for those who regularly undertake longer trips.

Cut back on heavy applications of the throttle, though, and the Vauxhall Mokka begins to impress again. The pedals feel well weighted and fluent, and reasonably brisk progress comes easily. While it’s all a bit unexciting, it’s probably all that most owners will be expecting.

All engines in the line-up come with a six-speed manual gearbox, which shifts acceptably, and two-wheel drive versions of the 17-lire diesel are available with a six-speed automatic transmission if desired.

While opting for the four-wheel drive model may seem worthwhile, there's very little benefit in day-to-day use. Unless you intend to be regularly dealing with rough, muddy trails, you may as well stick to the front-drive option.


The Vauxhall Mokka has a keen steer and feels secure

You’ll have read plenty on this subject before, because Opel initially launched the Mokka to the European press, and we reported on it.

That was before Vauxhall decided not just to retune the Mokka’s steering and suspension for UK consumption, but to respecify it. At which point we reported on it again.

Rather than being intrusive, the ESP actually improves control at the limit

However winding its route to this point may have been, the Mokka is now finished, and it’s good. It isn’t great to drive and isn’t as finely honed as a Nissan Qashqai, or even a Kia Sportage. But it’s competent, inoffensive and good enough.

Vauxhall’s attentions have delivered light, smooth and consistent steering and a fairly pliant ride, while also preserving strong grip levels, good body control and clean directional responses.

The Mokka can be threaded through corners precisely and with balance, and it feels wieldy as you feed on more steering angle at roundabouts. It’s quite an agile, compact-feeling machine – more so than you’d expect from something so high-sided. It will understeer, but only when provoked with power.

The car’s default real-world handling is neat and tidy, then. It’s not outstanding and neither is it a reason to buy, but it’s quietly creditable.

Rolling refinement isn’t quite as good. Vauxhall’s softer dampers for the front axle permit adequate compliance over bad roads, but the rear end of the car is less settled and bobs gently but ceaselessly as your speed increases.

At times, it’s as if you’re driving a car that’s half modern family hatchback, half rough-and-tumble 4x4 – but in this case, divided right across the B-pillars.


The Vauxhall Mokka, the Griffin's first crossover

The Vauxhall Mokka model range is quixotic, to put it mildly. There are three trim levels but, on paper, the second richest in terms of standard equipment – Tech Line – is actually the cheapest.

The model hierarchy only makes sense in a world where fleets demand plenty of equipment for a low taxable list price, while private buyers haggle harder and can be controlled using list price incentives and dealer finance.

Vauxhall's "Lifetime" warranty should help keep costs low

Fleet buyers will get the value-added Tech Line cars, while retail buyers will be encouraged by discounts and finance offers to buy Exclusiv and SE-trim vehicles.

In light of which, the obvious advice, if you’re not happy with the deal offered by your local salesman on an Exclusiv spec car, is to arrange your own finance on a Tech Line model of the Vauxhall Mokka.

Do that and you’ll end up with a car offering a surprising amount for surprisingly little outlay. Want an equivalent all-wheel-drive petrol Yeti or Kia Sportage? It'll cost you more. Tempted by a Mini Countryman? Again, it'll cost more.

The Mokka's engine line-up is also relatively efficient – about par for the course – and not bad for a car of its type. CO2 emissions are low enough to be competitive, and servicing costs are sure to be likewise. Vauxhall's 'Lifetime' warranty, which covers the car up to a mileage of 100,000 miles, should help keep unexpected bills to a minimum.

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The competent and practical 3.5 star Vauxhall Mokka

A mid-table ranking for the Vauxhall Mokka may seem hard on a car about which there’s so much good news to report.

It’s true that this car quietly overdelivers in most of the important ways, but like so many of Luton’s current crop, it falls back on attention-grabbing value for money.

It walks a fine line between the Juke and the Yeti

“It’s not bad,” you’ll end up thinking. “Quite good, in fact. For a Vauxhall.”  Broadly speaking, perceptions will go unchanged by this proficient but unexceptional small family car. But a great many needs will be met, and many owners will be satisfied.

While the Mokka may not be outstanding to drive, it's a well rounded and neatly styled package that delivers plenty of kit and a decent level of practicality, all without commanding a high price tag.  

This car may not stand out, but in a small crossover market that’s yet to reach maturity, it represents something worth having: a pragmatic middle ground between the madcap Nissan Juke, the highly strung Mini Countryman and the worthy Skoda Yeti.

That – and the price – may be enough to deliver some much-needed encouragement for Vauxhall on the forecourt. If you were buying on badge credibility alone, however, the Vauxhall may come third to the likes of the Skoda and Nissan

Nonetheless, the Vauxhall Mokka is a competitive car and one that's worth considering if you want a small crossover.

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Vauxhall Mokka 2012-2016 First drives