Road test: Vauxhall Mokka
A small, trendy little crossover model can also be a practical choice. If you doubt that, take a drive in Vauxhall's Mokka, like Jonathan Crouch did.
SUDDENLY, Vauxhall design is all about the delivery of that most current of automotive traits, the "lifestyle statement". 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 brought a super-sized serving of attitude to this conservatively styled segment, but not everyone liked its wilfully outlandish looks or its cramped rear cabin.
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The Mokka takes it on with a slightly more spacious supermini floorplan and fashionable cheekiness designed for wider appeal. It's also perfectly positioned against other segment contenders like the MINI Countryman, Ford EcoSport and its own design stablemate, the Chevrolet Trax.
Mokka buyers 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 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 9.4 seconds away on the way to 118mph, so it's usefully more rapid, and there's a healthier 200Nm of torque. Despite all this and the standard inclusion of 4WD, the provision of a six-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 is the one most buyers will probably select, the 130PS 1.7-litre CDTi diesel capable of a top speed of around 116mph and rest to 60 in around 10 seconds. You get all the main mechanical choices with this unit so you can specify six-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 1,200kg in weight, but this diesel is the only one that'll take it in its stride.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Though supermini-based, like a Nissan Juke, the Mokka is 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 the Mokka's cute and individualistic looks will go a long way towards selling it. Under the skin are the underpinnings of a supermini – more specifically, the Chevrolet Aveo, which Chevrolet has also used in its Trax small lifestyle crossover – one of this Vauxhall's sharpest rivals. Rear seats benefit from wide opening doors that simplify the fitting 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 in a Nissan Juke.
And at the wheel? The interior isn't overly adventurous, but this car's more conservative vibe might mean it mops up sales from people left a bit cold by the sheer extravagance of some rivals.
MARKET AND MODEL
So, the Mokka will be priced directly against the other car we tend to think of in this market sector, Nissan's Juke, won't it? Well, no. Vauxhall points out – correctly – their car is a significantly larger thing, hence the price span in the £16,000 to £24,000 bracket. To put that into perspective, that means you'll be paying a premium of around £2,500 for this Mokka over an equivalent Juke.
The most telling comparisons, though, come when you begin to stack this Mokka up against something more conventional. Why, for example, would you buy a 1.6-litre petrol Vauxhall Astra hatchback when a Mokka with 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 you decide that it is indeed a Mokka that you want, then you'll be pleased to find that whichever of the five-door models you choose, it'll come well-equipped.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
It would be fair to call this Mokka "class competitive". Even the oldest engine in the line-up, the 115PS 1.6-litre petrol unit, doesn't lag too far behind its Nissan Juke or MINI Countryman rivals, returning 43.5mpg on the combined cycle and 153g/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 – 44.1mpg and 149g/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 1.7-litre CDTi 130PS diesel, 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 120g/km of CO2 – 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 60.
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?
The Mokka isn't the sharpest handling car of its kind. 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 at what you actually get for what you actually pay and the Mokka makes fashionable sense.
Call Pentagon Vauxhall in Derby on 01332 644213 or visit its Pentagon Island site (DE21 6HB).