2018 Opel Mokka X 1.4T Excellence (E)

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My conclusions from a few day’s experience of a Vauxhall Mokka were far from positive. The weedy performance from its 1.6 litre 108 bhp non-turbo petrol engine was only one of the issues, and my review enumerated a long list of things which I did not like about the car, leading me to conclude that it would only be the existence of a financial deal that was too good to refuse or total lack of interest in trying anything else that should lead anyone to select the car in preference to an array of market alternatives. That test did coincide with the release of the mid-life facelift, which saw the car rechristened Mokka X, and with a number of changes, some cosmetic and others aimed at making it more refined and “better” to drive. I noted that as GM Europe cars (as they were at the time) seemed to elude me more than most brands, that it was quite conceivable that I would never get to find out whether the changes improved the car sufficiently to make it recommendable. Such is the way of these things, that the opportunity has presented itself, as my reservation for a conventional C-segment hatch at Madrid’s Barajas Airport in early February manifest a brand new (with the odometer showing just 16km on collection) example. There was not much else on offer, so I decided to take it, and to see whether this Opel Mokka X could impress in a way that the earlier Vauxhall one so singularly failed to do.

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On paper, it stood something of a chance. Not only was it brand new, but on getting in it, I soon spotted that this was a rather more up-market trim than that Vauxhall had been, with leather seats and plenty of cow hide in the rest of the car. More significantly, the boot bore the word “Turbo” on it, which meant that this was not the still-available 1.6 litre weedy model, but the rather more potent 138 bhp 1.4T. Received wisdom is that for those who can live with its 140 g/km CO2 output, this is the best of the three engines available in the Mokka X (the third is the 1.6 litre diesel). The few km from airport to hotel in Friday evening traffic were no real test, but the following day I took the car south to Ciudad Real and Toledo, covering over 400km, and so was able to form a true impression. And whilst better, it is still decidedly ho-hum, in just about every respect.

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The word I used to describe that 1.6 non-Turbo Mokka was “gutless”, so I was relieved to find that this one was much better. Whilst nothing like as brisk as you might expect from what is quite a small car with 138 bhp to propel it, there is enough power for the driver not feel so frustrated or to have to work the car so hard for acceptable progress. You do still have to make plenty of use of the gearbox for optimum acceleration though, as whilst the power delivery is quite smooth, there’s not a lot of acceleration from low in the rev range. The test car was a manual, which means 6 speeds, and whilst the lever slotted readily between ratios, it was a bit “clunky” in so doing and not as smooth as you find in some cars. Work the engine harder and it becomes noisy, but such is the gearing that it is quite civilised when cruising at a steady speed on the autopista. Sadly, there is plenty of road and wind noise, though, so this is still not the refined cruiser you might hope for. I covered 468 km in my day with the Mokka X, and it took 36 litres of fuel to refill it, which computes to 36.88 mpg, which is reasonable but not exceptional, and given the fact that most of those miles were at a steady speed, an indication that this might be as good you get. There is a decent- sized tank, though. After 400 km, the gauge was still showing half the tank remained. The Start/Stop system could occasionally get caught out.

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Sadly, the other driving characteristics are about as unimpressive as they were before, which should not have been much of a surprise, as the facelift that created the Mokka X only made cosmetic changes. The steering is very light, devoid of much in the way of feel, and the handling does not inspire you to go and find he twisty roads for fun, as you won’t really find any from behind the wheel of this car. It won’t win prizes for its ride quality either. The test car came on 225/40 R19 wheels which almost certainly would not have helped in this regard. At least the brakes seemed up to par, though my pleasure in seeing a conventional handbrake between the seats was somewhat short-lived when I came to use it. A sort of swan-necked device with the release lever in the upper surface it was simply unnecessarily awkward to use. The boxy styling of the Mokka X means that visibility was generally good with parking sensors helping out when reversing, though if the rear seat headrests are raised beyond their lowest position, they do cut off much of the view through the rear window.

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One of the most obvious changes between the original Mokka and the Mokka X is the dashboard. Claimed to be “all new”, it borrows much from the latest Astra, whereas the earlier car seemed to borrow from some previous generation Corsa. In most respects, it is a significant improvement, though many will rue the removal of the split-level glovebox of the earlier cars. On the version tested, leather is one of the many materials used to face this rather swooping design, which also includes plastics – some of them rather hard to the touch – and a large inlay of very dark gunmetal. A gloss black inlay features in the centre console, and there are chrome highlights in the places where you tend to find them, to lighten up what is otherwise a rather sombre appearance. The various swoops and swirls of the different surfaces are a bit awkward looking, but overall it is an improvement, and it has allowed for the integration of the colour touch screen for the infotainment system, something that was not achieved with the previous look. In this left hand drive car, with a need only for metric markings on the speedo, the dials look less busy, too. There are four, all of them smaller than average, with the well spaced-out speedo and rev counter having small fuel level and water temperature gauges between them, as well as a digital trip computer area, which has various menu and sub-menu options, between which you cycle by pressing a button in the left hand column stalk and then twisting the end of that stalk, just as you do on many a US-market GM car. The column stalks will be familiar to Americans, too, controlling indicators and wipers. Lights, including an auto setting operate from a rotary on the dash to the left of the wheel. Keyless starting means that there is a button to press in the place where once there was a key slot. The new touch-sensitive colour screen in the centre of the dash as a more important role than before, as there are now fewer separate audio controls, the idea being to use the screen or the wheel-mounted repeaters instead. The test car had a navigation system on it, which was useful and also proved quite easy to interact with. The graphics were clear and the system was decently responsive. There is a 4G LTE hot-spot in the car and GM’s On-Star also features. Lower down in the centre of the dash are the two rotary dials and quite an array of buttons for the dual zone climate control, as well as switches for the heated front seats and heated steering wheel. Overall, the new dashboard design is an improvement on the earlier Mokka, with a more contemporary feel and the perceived quality levels are generally good.

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At first glance, the leather seats looked quite posh for a car in this class, but before you get too excited about this, I found them to be particularly slippery, and hence not as good to sit on as they were to look at. There is plenty of adjustment to help you to get comfortable, including pull-out under-thigh support for those who require more support for a longer bone than I have. With the exception of the backrest angle, which had an electric motor to set it, and this there was continuous adjustment as opposed to a series of steps, all other alterations are manual, Although this is a crossover-type vehicle, you are ot really aware of any higher seating position than in a regular hatchback, but you may just notice the fact that there is a bit more headroom, even with the sunroof that was fitted to the test car. The steering column telescoped in/out as well as up/down, so it was easy to get a comfortable driving position, and I can attest to the act that the seat was supportive in all the right places, so sitting on it for an extended drive, as indeed I did when I headed well south of Madrid for my excursion in this car was not an issue.

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Clearly I could not test the comfort of the rear seats over any extended period of time, but I did sit in the time to seat what they felt like, and concluded that you may well find occupancy not to be that to your liking. There is about the amount of space that you would expect for a vehicle of this size, with ample room for two, but a third occupant might find things a bit of a squeeze. Headroom is in plentiful supply, and if the front seats are set well forward then there will be enough spaces for legs, too. Set those front seats well back though, and things get a bit tight.

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The boot is a nice regular shape, but it is not all that large, and would certainly not house four people’s luggage unless they had packed light. More space can be created by folding the asymmetrically split rear seats forward, and before you drop the backrests you will need to lift the seat cushions up, which gives some protection against the front seats. The resulting space is obviously much longer than before but it is not flat, with the backrests sitting higher than the original boot area. There is a space saver under the boot floor and place to tuck a few small items around it. Inside the cabin, oddments space provision is modest. The glovebox is not that big, and whilst there is a bi-level cubby in the central armrest, neither compartment is larger than pokey. There are bins on the doors, a cubby over the driver’s left knee and a larger recess in front of the gearlever. Those in the back get bins on the doors and map pockets on the back of the front seats.

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The range of Mokka X versions offered across Europe is broadly similar, though the trim names do appear to be market specific. There’s a choice of engines, with the 136 bhp 1.6 cdti diesel joined by the 138 bhp 1.4T petrols as before. In Spain this latter is also available to run with LPG, and there is a 156 bhp version of the 1.4T offered solely with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The other versions are available with a choice of 6=speed manual or auto boxes. Other markets, including the UK, also see the older 108 bhp 1.6 litre petrol that so disappointed me in my previous test and a 1.6 cdti diesel with this output as well. And then there are the individual trims. At launch in Spain there were three equipment levels available for the Mokka X: Business, Selective and Excellence and these were joined some months later by the top of the range Ultimate. The first two of these include traction and stability control, ABS, EBD, TPMS, multiple airbags, power steering, air conditioning, a trip computer, an audio system with six speakers, Bluetooth and a US port, a speed control and limiter, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, fog lights, auto lights, all-round electric windows and 17″ alloy wheels. The Excellence adds to this a dual-zone automatic climate control, front centre armrest, Wi-Fi system, Opel OnStar, an audio system with seven-inch screen, front and rear parking sensors, tinted windows, automatic lighting, rain sensor, 18-inch alloy wheels, model-specific upholstery, photosensitive interior mirror, folding mirrors, SmartBeam. The Ultimate has standard adaptive LED lighting, leather upholstery, an upgraded IntelliLink Navi 900 system with 8″ screen, navigation, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, a front camera with the Opel Eye system which includes collision detect warning and a distance indicator for the vehicle in front. There was no badging on he test car, but I am pretty sure it was an Excellence with optional navigation system added.

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Whilst the 1.4T engine made this car better to drive than that pre-facelift UK-spec Mokka had proved, but that was not hard as that one set such a low bar by modern standards, this one did not exactly impress much, either. I can see that if the deal is good – and all the reports suggest that it will be, as discounts are generous on most GM Europe cars – and if all you want is a car to get you and a couple of others from A to B, then the Mokka X will fit the bill. But so would just about anything else on the market. And in some or indeed almost all respects whatever you pick will be a better car. The Mokka X remains utterly anodyne to drive, with light steering, dull handling, a ride that is not that good, an engine which gets gruff as you work it beyond moderately, all packaged in a car which hasn’t got that much space in it and no design flair to speak of. Clearly that litany of disappointments is not enough of a deterrent, as it is not jus the rental car fleets that buy this car in quantity (and they certainly do!), as the Mokka has been something of a sales success for its maker, with demand remaining strong. On the evidence of this test and my previous experience of the Mokka, I do have to wonder why.

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