Review : A weekend with the Vauxhall Mokka

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.

Anything good?

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.


Keith Adams


  1. My fear is that the forthcoming MG GS SUV will fall out of a similar mould… Underwhelming and uninspiring. Let’s hope not and it is both good to drive and own. I’m not that optimistic, I am afraid.

  2. I remember when my dad brought home a Vauxhall Frontera to test, this sounds even more god-awful than that was. As a company car manager for an agrochemical company amongst his other duties we had that car for a weekend and on monday it went back, and the Frontera was so bad he banned it, no one was allowed to get one as a company car. It bounced all over the place on ridiculous floatation tyres – and this was on roads 20 years ago, you know the ones that werent something that even a Panzer tank commander wouldnt touch – potholes were actually rarer than actual road surface in those days.
    This is kind of the car equivalent (along with many other vehicles on sale today) of the iPhone – its fairly naff, overpriced for what it is, and the chances of getting the menufacturer to admit to a problem are almost zero..

    Still, at least its not a Zafira.

  3. How disappointing. I think it looks quite good and it seems to be selling very well. However, the driving experience clearly echoes that of the Corsa C I drive (over-sensitive steering, grabby brakes, harsh engine, poor damping) but compounded by the additional height. It is all a big contrast to my MG3 which still brings a big smile on as soon as I hit a twisty B road.

  4. On a weekend break over to Scotland, I’d requested an Astra as a hire car.

    The rep seemed excited that I was getting ‘upgraded’ to a Mokka.

    I didn’t have the heart to explain that it was actually something of a downgrade to a Corsa based car, but rather took the opportunity to see what the crossover fad was all about.

    First impressions, while I’d seen them on the road, up close they really do look like a trainer shoe.

    Putting our luggage in the boot revealed a surprisingly (or maybe not, given the Corsa underpinnings) small boot, necessitating using the back seat for some luggage (which we were loath to do, as we would prefer luggage to not be in sight should we stop off somewhere – luckily the rear windows were tinted).

    Hopping in, the steering wheel was quite chunky, like a 1990s rallycar arcade machine. You sit up and on the seat, like a van. The captains chair style armrest was quite nice too, albeit more suitable for an autobox. DAB radio as standard, offering a selection of 80s, 90s, rock, laidback….

    Driving it, the 1.4 turbo needed to be worked. The dip after the forth road bridge before climbing the hill into Fife reminded me of when I drove my old Citroen ZX diesel across it, needing to build up momentum before the climb – at least that had an excuse of being turboless!
    A world away from my own GM product which has an effortless 2 litre turbo petrol engine running through a slushbox.

    The roadnoise was quite severe, I thought maybe they’d skimped on tyres – but no, the original premium brand tyres were present.

    Another annoyance when driving was the gear indicator, being stuck on country roads in traffic behind a 40mph Nissan driver, it kept prompting to upchange to 6th gear. Yet doing so laboured the engine horrendously, neccessitating dropping back down, at which point the car complained again.

    So it was noisy on the motorway, needed thrashed to accelerate, and the engine complains you’re in the wrong gear on country roads – surely it should be better in town?

    Well, parallel parking it was interesting. Rear visibility is akin to a van, you literally can see the rear C pillars and headrests. Luckily, it had parking sensors. The beeps eventually flatlined like an unresuscitatable patient on a TV hospital drama. I thought I must’ve been quite close to the car behind, got out, and there was a good 4 foot gap.

    Bit like caffeineless red, not my cup of tea, but it was nice to try.

  5. My experience was pretty much the same as Will M’s. Add in pretty poor MPG and the fact it bounced around the motorway like a spring lamb and you have a pretty hateful vehicle. Made me appreciate my Saab 93 a whole lot more.

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