Vauxhall MokkaSupermini sized cars, hatchbacks and now SUVs (or crossovers as some call them) is the main selling sector in the new car market as the financial constraints,

ever increasing taxation, high fuel prices and cluttered roads drive us more and more into downsizing.

The compact SUV/crossover sub-sector of the supermini category is quickly expanding as more and more manufacturers aim to please with chunky lifestyle models, some with just front wheel drive and some with 4WD. In modern times the Nissan Juke and its urban jungle marketing theme and their slightly larger Qashqai have triggered customer’s desire to drive down this route.

That has prompted Skoda with its Yeti, MINI with their ALL4 models, Peugeot with their 2008, the Fiat Panda 4x4 and most recently the Fiat 500LTrekking to join the fray as have Vauxhall with their five door 4.2-metres long Mokka. Ford and Volkswagen are amongst other manufacturers joining the fray and of course Suzuki is already well known for selling small 4x4s and has just added a 4x4 version to their Swift five door hatchback range. Chevrolet is soon to join this sector with their TRAX range which is similar to the Mokka as both are GM brands. Compact 4x4s are not new, the Japanese manufacturers had them for their congested home market over two decades ago with such offerings as the Mini Pajero/Shogun and a few grey imports of these came to this country.

Vauxhall MokkaSo what goes around has come round again. Downsizing, ruggedness and better able to cope with our recent bad winters, the ever worsening roads and as a pure fashion statement are all reasons the compact SUV has caught our imagination whether buyers opt for two or four wheel drive options.

The Vauxhall Mokka is a five door, 4/5-seater with an elevated body, chunky styling and smart rising waistline giving it a coupe side profile. It offers 1.4-litre turbocharged 138bhp and 1.6i 106bhp petrol engines and a 1.7-litre CDTi 129bhp diesel engine and 2WD/4WD depending on the engine chosen. An auto transmission option is available for the diesel model but only with 2WD. There are S, Exclusiv, Tech Line and SE levels of specification and prices range from £15,999 to £23,490.

Most customers will opt for 2WD models and given Vauxhall’s past history of high fleet sales most Mokka users will go with the diesel engine just to reduce both Road and Benefit-in-Kind taxes.

My choice for retail customers would be the opposite. Certainly not to go for the lack-lustre 1.6 petrol or the noisy 1.7 diesel engines but to go for the more modern 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and the 4WD option. If it looks like an SUV it might as well be one so for me 4WD is a must-have. But then again I do live in the countryside where winters are tough, potholed road surfaces are horrendous and muddy and wet roads are slippery. The 4WD system, although no mud-plugger, does allow reasonably safe travel conquering fields and tracks and of course you have got a better chance coping with ungritted snow laden, or flooded winter roads.

My catch-up experience with the Mokka was the 1.4 turbocharged 138bhp engine because it is the only refined engine in the line-up with Start/Stop and with a 6-speed manual transmission and on demand 4x4. Not that speed matters but Vauxhall MokkaVauxhall MokkaVauxhall Mokkathis lively, high revving engine provides148lb ft of torque but feels ‘flat’ below 2,500rpm. Once the turbocharger is in full flow the Mokka will go from zero to 62mph in 9.8 seconds with good mid range response providing the engine is kept in its ‘happy’ powerband. With a top speed of 121mph the legal 70mph cruising speed is easy to cope with. The fuel economy is officially 43.5mpg in the Combined Cycle and my test drive covering the usual motorway trips and local shopping and commute driving returned a satisfactory 40.7mpg. CO2 emissions are 149g/km so VED road tax is £140. Company car drivers will pay 21% Benefit-in-Kind tax. Insurance is a very competitive Group 11E which is good for a potential off-roader and all the hazards that can cause with a brave but inexperienced driver at the wheel.

There is a fair amount of wind noise and road noise intrusion into the cabin and the ride can be quite harsh and choppy over poorer road surfaces, not helped by the 18-inch wheels. There have already been changes made by Vauxhall to UK specification versions of the Mokka for the suspension and steering to tune the handling to cope better with our type of poorly surfaced and winding country roads.

Inside the Mokka looks much like a version of the Astra family hatchback, functional, well laid out, roomy, comprehensively equipped but not in keeping with the ‘funky and ‘youthful’ image that attracts younger buyers to this growing market sector. It’s a bit old school but then at £18,200 for the Tech Line spec, it’s most likely active young-at-heart but older empty nesters who will be willing and able to part with that amount of money.

Standard specification includes a switchable electronic stability control programme and traction control. The 4WD versions have an on demand system which automatically comes into use as and when wheels start to slip and it varies the torque between the front and rear driveshafts. The spec also includes descent control, hill start assist and anti lock braking. The Tech Line specification, ideal for company car drivers because of its lower price P11D price which determines Benefit-in-Kind tax, includes silver effect roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels which do nothing to help the choppy ride, daytime running lights, dual zone air conditioning, auto lights/wipers, front and rear parking sensors, electrically operated windows and door mirrors, sat nav, digital radio, Bluetooth, multi-function computer, cruise control, 60/40 split folding rear seat backs remote alarm and central locking and protective front skid plate to help keep the front lower bodywork intact when off-road. Alarming was the fact that the Mokka doesn’t have a spare wheel. What good is an inflation kit for a potential off-roader? There is also the usual array of trendy must-have, cost-more options to personalise your pride-and-joy but take care because many of these add little to the trade-in future value, not just for this car but for most others no matter what sector they sell in. They also push up the BIK company car tax cost.

Vauxhall has to have a presence in the fast growing compact SUV segment and the Mokka will represent the brand well enough by appealing to loyal Vauxhall customers but I doubt it will bring in loads of conquest buyers as it’s ‘too average’ to dominate this important sector.

MILESTONES. Vauxhall Mokka Tech Line 1.4 Turbo petrol 4x4 5-door compact SUV. Price: £18,200. Engine/transmission: 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 138bhp, 148lb ft of torque from 4,900rpm, Start/Stop, 6-sdpeed manual, on demand 4x4 traction. Performance; 121mph, 0-62mph 9.8 seconds, Combined Cycle 43.5mpg (40.7mpg actual), CO2 149g/km, VED road tax £140, BIK company car tax 21%. Insurance group: 11E. Warranty: Vauxhall Lifetime (first owner) 100,000miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,278mm, W 1,777mm, H 1,646mm, 4/5 seats, boot/load space 356 to 1,372-litres, braked towing weight 1,200kg. For: Smart styling, practical cabin and load carrying space, good useful specification, willing engine, ok price. Against: Choppy ride, so-so handling, wind and road noise intrusion, no spare wheel, sets no new standards in this sector.    Miles Better News Agency

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