Vauxhall Mokka TechLine 1.4 Turbo 4x4 - First Drive

Vauxhall enters the baby SUV market - and the battle is hotting up

Engine: 1.4-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power: 140 PS between 4,900 and 6,000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm at 4,900 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 43.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 149 g/km
Top speed: 121 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 9.8 seconds
Price: from £18,200

Vauxhall, in case you hadn’t noticed, is changing. Long a supplier of solid fleet favourites such as the Insignia and Astra, General Motors’ British operation has decided it needs to offer models with a bit more dash if it’s going to survive and thrive. Like other mainstream car makers, Vauxhall is being squeezed between the premium manufacturers on the one hand and the budget brands on the other – the latest is Renault-owned Dacia, which arrives in the UK in January.

So first, Vauxhall introduced the Ampera, an innovative electric car with a “range-extender” petrol engine based on the US-market Chevrolet Volt. Then came the Adam, a small city car designed to compete with the Mini and Fiat 500, which offers more in the way of personalisation options than just about anything else on the market, and now the first photos have been released of the Cascada, a large, handsome convertible that’s expected to arrive next year.

Another unusual Vauxhall model badge we’ll have to get used to is Mokka – that’s the name of the company’s new baby SUV, a car designed in Europe but made by GM’s Korean arm. Like the other new cars, it won’t sell in the sort of numbers that the Astra or the Corsa do, but it will get the company into another niche and do its bit to make Vauxhall more interesting.

Western brands have used Korean-built SUVs to round out their ranges before. Renault had the Koleos, which it imported into the UK from Renault Samsung Motors for a few years, and Vauxhall’s own Antara is based on the Chevrolet Captiva from GM Korea. The single most notable thing about the Mokka compared with those two is that it feels a lot more “European” in terms of its cabin design and trim quality. My test car had an unusual, slightly hard-to-look-at two-tone blue-brown dash to go with its deep brown paintwork and interior; that didn’t do it any favours, but the overall impression still was of a decent, well executed, well-made design. And in my book at least, the Mokka picks up a lot of points for having a DAB digital radio as standard; Vauxhall has done more than most manufacturers to get DAB into cars.

The Mokka also provides plenty of space for passengers and luggage, and the turbocharged 1.4 petrol engine is quite smooth and provides plenty of torque – that’s good, because SUVs often struggle with small petrol engines. Other options include a larger but less powerful non-turbo petrol 1.6, and a 1.7-litre diesel. Like the Adam, the Mokka is getting some UK-specific chassis tweaks. I drove an early right-hand drive car which I understood to be UK spec and felt OK on my relatively short test run but some reports say a few early cars didn’t get the mods – best to check.

Overall, the Mokka is a worthwhile addition to the Vauxhall range. It has few direct competitors – the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35 are all larger, the Daihatsu Terios is no longer on sale in the UK and Suzuki’s traditionally popular small 4x4s are starting to get a bit long in the tooth. Ford, though has a rival to the Mokka in the form of the EcoSport. That has its origins in Latin America rather than Korea, and it will arrive in Europe before too long. Then the real fight will begin.