First Drive: Vauxhall Mokka

SMALL is now big business in the car world, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the SUV sector. With fuel prices rocketing and space in our cities at a premium, large, lumbering 4x4s are taking a back seat to their compact cousins.

It doesn’t mean that the basic 4x4 concept – looks, high driving position – has gone stale, though. In the minds of many it remains a winning combination and is challenging the family hatch for popularity. And seeking a piece of the action is Vauxhall, with its Mokka mini SUV.

Positioned close to Nissan’s Juke, Vauxhall hopes the Mokka can add a much-needed slice of excitement to its range. The lifestyle SUV is pitched as the fun-loving foil to the sensible shoe-wearing Corsa and Astra.

From the outside the Mokka is easily identifiable as a Vauxhall. The car’s bold grille and streamlined profile is very much in keeping with the rest of the range. In typical Vauxhall style this is a conservative lifestyle look with a small ‘c’.

Step inside and Vauxhall fans will feel very much at home thanks to the familiar fascia design and cabin layout. From the look and feel of the various cabin materials and switchgear, there’s little here that will confuse an Astra owner. However, that’s where the similarities end, as the Mokka’s lofty seating position is something the family hatch can’t match.

On a practical front, the Mokka’s elevated rear load lip is a direct result of the car’s raised ride height - a useful feature. Factor in the car’s split-fold rear seating, ample 1,372 litres of load space with the rear seats folded, and it’s clear why so many buyers are trading up from regular family hatchbacks.

The well-worn cliché of 4x4s never leaving the city might still be true in some quarters, but Vauxhall would like you to think of the Mokka as more than just a suburban runabout.

By assembling familar engines from the maker’s wider range and offering the Mokka with both front and four-wheel drive, it’ll do more than climb supermarket car park speed humps.

Maintaining its conservative approach, Vauxhall is offering the Mokka with two petrol engines (1.4 turbo, 1.6) and one diesel (1.7). It’s manual gearboxes all round, with the option of an auto unit for the 1.4 petrol and 1.7 diesel. Power outputs range from 115 to 140 horsepower, and there’s the promise of 60-plus mpg from the front-drive diesel variant and a tax-friendly 120g/km CO2 rating.

If you do opt for all-wheel drive, the potential to keep you on the Tarmac when the roads are extra slippery is there, along with the ability to tow modest amounts and get you closer to your favourite mountain bike trail.

With the focus on fuel economy the system directs all the power to the front wheels, with up to 50 per cent going to the rear wheels if it detects a loss of grip. Vauxhall’s keen to stress that such a system can also help maintain composure and traction during hard on-road cornering.

Boasting UK-specific handling and steering tweaks, the Mokka acquits itself well to the challenges of city life. The steering is accurate and there’s enough weight to inspire confidence, while the suspension copes well with most of what the urban environment can throw at it.

Of the petrol pairing the 1.4 turbo motor delivers the more satisfying experience and, although in this guise the Mokka is no rocketship, it will can keep up with the traffic and maintain a relaxed motorway pace without breaking into a sweat.

With a generous level of standard kit offered across the range to tempt buyers into the Mokka fold, it’s good to see Vauxhall resisting the urge to cut corners. From the basic but useful Hill Start Assist to plenty of safety kit plus Bluetooth, high-end audio and sat-nav on high spec cars, the lifestyle boxes have been well and truly ticked.

Designed to appeal to both private and company car drivers with its generous levels of kit and practical cabin, it’s good to see Vauxhall represented in the compact SUV sector. The competition is tough but the Mokka displays enough potential to hold its own in the marketplace.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Vauxhall Mokka Tech Line 1.4 16v Turbo Start/Stop 4x4 5dr, from £18,200 on the road.Engine: 1.4-litre turbo petrol unit developing 140bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels through part time 4x4 system.Performance: Maximum speed 121mph, 0-62mph 9.8 seconds.Economy: 43.5mpg.CO2 Rating: 149g/km.

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