Fashion is a wonderful thing. Geneva, Paris and Frankfurt play host to some amazing new designs, the most innovative of which, end up being mimicked by all manner of car manufacturers. But sometimes less obvious cars fire up the imagination. When the British-designed Nissan Qashqai and Juke stormed into the showrooms, rival makers rushed back to their drawing boards to come up with their own small crossovers. They kicked off a fashion, and the world wanted to follow.
Vauxhall’s Korean-made Mokka came late to the party. It arrived in 2012, and pitched up to take on such popular hold-alls as the Skoda Yeti – a task that was never going to be easy, given its modest underpinnings. By the time the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 had entered the fray just months after the Vauxhall’s arrival, the sadly-named Mokka was already looking seriously past its prime. Yes, the Vauxhall looked good on paper, with such toys as its Flex-Fix bicycle carrier, the option of front- and four-wheel drive, and a goodly selection of driver aids.
Being based on the GM Gamma II platform, you know it’s not going to be blessed with class-leading dynamics. It’s the architecture that underpins the Chevrolet Spark and Aveo, and is a development of the old Corsa C’s platform that’s overseen by GM Korea. And in the Mokka, it’s been jacked-up significantly in the name of delivering a faux-SUV experience.
From the moment you jump in, settle behind the GM-generic dashboard and take some time to take in the scattered switches and controls, you know you’re not exactly going to be in for an exciting drive. Of course, it could be argued that excellent dynamics aren’t a priority in this class of vehicle, but that’s to downplay what drivers expect these days. And one should never underestimate their customers.
Yes, the quality is superficially good – our entry-level 1.6-litre comes in at £17k before discount, so it could be argued that it should be – with soft-feel leather steering wheel and nice switch feel, but the tombstone-hard seats are unsupportive and far from inviting. Actually, that term could be used to describe the interior as a whole. There are a number of cubby holes, as you’d expect in a car designed for small, outdoorsy families but, beyond that, there’s little to lift this above your average Corsa.
Firing it up, and the 1.6-litre is reasonably unobtrusive at idle and a world away from your typical lugubrious diesel, but it’s when you actually get going that the veneer of refinement soon peels away to reveal a harsh, wheezy, gutless and rather ineffectual power unit. Outright performance isn’t scandalously slow, with a 0-60mph time of 12 seconds and a maximum speed of 105mph (about the same as an MG Metro!), but. as is always the case, numbers do not tell the whole story.
We drove the Mokka to Paris and back and gave it a proper work-out, and it’s fair to say that the only point of this 1.6-litre 115bhp power unit is as a rolling persuader to buy either the 1.4 Turbo or 1.6 ‘Whisper’ diesel, because this one is dismal. It’s flaccid, and you need to work it hard just to keep up with the flow – the merest scent of an incline sees speed bleed off incredibly quickly unless you’re brutal with the throttle. This model was fitted with cruise control, which at least spared us the experience of nailing the throttle to the floor in order just to maintain an (indicated) 85mph cruise.
It’s woefully undergeared, too. At an indicated 80mph, it’s positively thrashing along at 4000rpm, bellowing its little heart out for all it’s worth in the manner of a gerbil pushing a filing cabinet. That wouldn’t be so bad if the dynamics made up for it but, sadly, they don’t.
Let’s start with the steering, which is utterly bereft of feel and far too light for out-of-towners. Yes, it’s nice to thread around town using one finger, but that’s negated by the dreadful visibility and slothful acceleration, anyway. The brakes are grabby and unprogressive, too. And on the motorway and at higher speeds, the steering is fidgety and far too quick-witted for the appalling suspension set-up.
The poor little thing can’t really hold a straight line and, because of the long suspension travel and underperforming dampers, it’s swept off-course by HGV bow-waves in a manner reminiscent of a 1978 Ford Cortina. Genuinely, it’s a surprise to experience a new car so unstable at speed. The body roll you expect, but the fore- and aft-pitching is most unwelcome. Combine this with a hair-triggle throttle and shunty engine mounts, and this is one difficult car to drive smoothly at any speed. It doesn’t even ride that well – yes, it’s soft on the first encounter, but introduce any genuine roughness into the equation and it’s all at sea.
To recount, this car is a resounding miss. It’s undesirable to look at, even worse to drive, and doesn’t even have the side-benefit of being cheap. It’s sub-prime dross that you’d only genuinely recommend to someone you don’t like – or who runs a large fleet hire firm and can get them for 40 per cent off retail. With so many genuinely talented cars in this market sector, you really would be well served looking elsewhere, and without a backwards glance.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.