ADAM S may not be a VXR, but there’s a whole lot of power lurking under its stylish bonnet, as we found out in Snowdonia and on the Daytona Motorsport go-kart track

The ADAM S is the most powerful version of Vauxhall’s funkiest supermini. So while there are no badges to draw unnecessary attention to its under-the-radar performance, people in the know will spot the unique 18-inch alloy wheels, VXR body styling and that subtle red ‘S’ at the base of the C pillar. Those are the little nods and winks to say there’s a surprise 150PS punch lying behind those innocent-looking headlights. It all adds up to the perfect secret performance car: and the ADAM S is powerful, nimble and packed with sporty little touches, too.

Over the next few days, we’ll be putting this diminutive pocket rocket to the ultimate test. First, we’ll be heading over to Snowdonia National Park, pitting Vauxhall’s most potent supermini against the challenging roads that loop around Snowdon, Wales’s highest peak. Then it’s back over the border to England and the Daytona Motorsport go-kart track in Milton Keynes, the perfect test for the ADAM S’ exceptional agility.

Adam-0

But first, it’s time to familiarise ourselves with the ADAM S at a more leisurely pace, as we strike out on the long four-hour journey from the East Midlands to North Wales. At its heart lies a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Boasting a compact 1.4 litres, it still manages to deliver a potent 150PS and 220Nm to those meaty 18-inch front tyres. That’s plenty for a mid-sized family car, but combines with a kerbweight of just 1178kg to provide a real turn of speed: the ADAM S can scoot from zero to 62mph in just 8.5 seconds, and go on to 130mph if you can find a go-kart straight long enough.


 

Of course, the advantage of such a small and potent engine is amazing efficiency and the ADAM S achieves a staggeringly-frugal 47.9mpg on the combined cycle. To add to this, the uprated sports suspension comes as standard, as does a full high-performance VXR braking system.

Our car is equipped with the optional IntelliLink infotainment system. It comes with a USB port and Bluetooth connection, which are both standard across the ADAM range, plus DAB digital radio. It also allows you to bring the convenience of smartphone apps to the high-definition seven-inch touchscreen which comes with IntelliLink. Just download the compatible apps, plug your phone or tablet in and they’re all there; the BringGo navigation app is particularly handy on a long trip over the unfamiliar roads we plan to explore.

“That compact little 1.4-litre engine picks up eagerly from very low revs, and whooshes forward on a wave of turbo boost in the mid-range.”

A few hours later the ADAM S comes alive in the North Wales countryside. That compact little 1.4-litre engine picks up eagerly from very low revs, and whooshes forward on a wave of turbo boost in the mid-range. What’s most impressive is how confidence-inspiring the ADAM S feels. The steering is nicely weighted, so you can really sense the front tyres’ grip as you lean into corners, and the incredibly-short wheelbase makes it so much fun on twisting roads like these: it positively swoops through corners, feeling agile, up on its tiptoes and hungry for more; it’s impossible not to warm to its eager personality.

Off the A5 and we turn towards Snowdon, which spears into the sky in the distance. This road is epic: all long straights and fast corners, the scenery bleeding off either side in a dramatic moorland landscape. The ADAM S has been right at home on these tricky Welsh roads, but we need to head back to sea level to push it to the limit. Time to get over to the Daytona Motorsport go-kart track in Milton Keynes.

Daytona runs several karting venues around the country, but Milton Keynes has the largest track, and former National Karting Champion Richard Brunning is our guide to the International Circuit’s 11 challenging corners.


 

Daytona has a range of karts to choose from, and I head out in one of the RT8 Prokarts that produce 13bhp from a 390cc engine. It’s an incredibly physical experience: a go-kart doesn’t have any suspension, so when you cut kerbs to save time, all of the impact pings through the structure, making you grimace in anticipation of the inevitable thud. With the tight track bordered by tyre barriers, your backside just inches from the surface and average speeds approaching 40mph, adrenaline pumps and it’s a constant test of nerve as to how late you brake or how hard you accelerate. After a few laps of bouncing off kerbs, gritting teeth and generally getting a little over-excited, I manage a best of 1min 13.3sec.

It’s time to switch to the ADAM S. It looks right at home among the dinky go-karts, and, in many ways, it’s far easier to drive. The suspension lets you bounce over kerbs without transferring every jolt into your body, the power-assisted steering is easier to flick from lock-to-lock, and with ABS brakes and most of the braking force going to the front wheels, I no longer have to worry about braking too late, locking the rear tyres and falling into a wild spin.

“I score a best of 1min 13.8sec in the ADAM S, just half a second shy of the go-kart. Proof, if we needed it, that the ADAM S is every bit as entertaining as a go-kart”

On track, the excellent optional Recaro seats really come into their own, holding me firmly in place – as I barrel into 180-degree turns or jump the kerbs through chicanes, before powering on with the 18-inch front tyres squealing happily. I soon get into a flow with the ADAM S, trusting its VXR discs and pads to haul me up after braking as late as I dare, then waiting until the steering is straight to flatten the accelerator and zoom off again. The flexibility of the turbocharged engine really helps, too, pulling briskly out of hairpins and providing plenty of punch down the long back straight. I can feel the lap-time improving, but this is not a clear-cut victory for either the go-kart or the ADAM S; instead, it’s give and take, one getting the upper hand through certain sections, the other fighting back elsewhere.

The result is close, very close: I score a best of 1min 13.8sec in the ADAM S, just half a second shy of the go-kart. Proof, if we needed it, that the ADAM S is every bit as entertaining as a go-kart – and I know which one I’d want to drive all the way back to Snowdon.