Vauxhall Mokka X: Does X mark the spot?
The original Mokka drove William Scholes towards trauma counselling. Can the overhauled Mokka X redeem Vauxhall's SUV?
AS in the worlds of Hollywood movies and reality television, facelifts and spells in a rehab clinic are facts of life in cardom, writes William Scholes.
The facelift is a tried and tested tactic which serves the car industry even better than it does Cher. It costs so much to develop a new car that you can't blame the manufacturers for wanting to extend their useful life as much as possible with a nip and tuck.
That's why most cars get a syringe of Botox a few years after first appearing in showrooms. New paint colours, wheel designs, bumpers and headlamps are favourite tricks - it's generally pretty superficial stuff.
These days you can also expect better safety gadgets, bigger touchscreens and the latest way of connecting your smartphone to your car, whatever that is, to appear.
We have featured a number of facelifted models on these pages in recent months, but none has needed a visit to the plastic surgeon and extended treatment in a secure rehab facility quite as much as the Vauxhall Mokka.
In fact, few vehicles in automotive history, never mind the 21st century, can have needed a session under the knife and a prolonged period of intense counselling as badly as the original Mokka.
The Mokka, when it pitched up in 2013, wasn't just poor, or below average. It was worse; it seemed to be proactively bad, as if it wished you harm. It is still, by a hugely impressive margin, the worst car I have ever driven.
I don't wish to retraumatise myself - and the review of the original Mokka can be read on the Irish News website - but among the car's worst features were a truly appalling engine and gearbox combo and steering and pedals which appeared to control a different car altogether.
The worst aspect of Mokka v1.0 was the suspension, which appeared to be designed with the express intention of inflicting nausea on the passengers; the driver, holding on to the steering wheel for dear life and trying to divine what foul confection the engine/gearbox/pedals would concoct next, had other things to worry about.
The fact that this demon-possessed four-cylinder Inquisition was clothed in benign and stockily handsome SUV clothing only made the effect worse. It was Damien in The Omen with R plates.
Vauxhall knew it had a clunker on its hands. However, the Mokka sold strongly. It was a regular in the top 10 sales charts, which is a tribute to the brand loyalty of Vauxhall customers; it may also be strongly suggestive of the fact that said customers never took a test drive in the plethora of alternatives, a long list which included cars like the Renault Captur and the Nissan Qashqai.
Such is the exponential growth in the SUV and crossover class - this now accounts for around 30 per cent of the total new car market - that Vauxhall realised that it needed to address the Mokka's maladies.
The fact that this demon-possessed four-cylinder Inquisition was clothed in benign and stockily handsome SUV clothing only made the effect worse. It was Damien in The Omen with R plates
Enter, then, the Cher-ified Mokka, now dubbed the Mokka X. The X suffix also denotes that the overhauled car belongs to Vauxhall's burgeoning range of SUVs.
The best bit of the old Mokka was how it looked, and Vauxhall has wisely left well alone. There is a new grille and headlamps - now available with the company's excellent adaptive LED system - but other than that, it would take a true Mokka aficionado - and I doubt there is such a thing - to spot the difference.
Inside, the Mokka X has gained Vauxhall's latest super-comfy seats and an Astra-style dashboard, including that car's bang up-to-date connectivity options, such as Apple CarPlay and on-board wifi.
This is all very good, mainly because the Astra is a very fine car.
One of the chief complaints about the Mokka v1.0 that I drove was its vile diesel engine. Vauxhall now has some rather fine diesel engines, and you can have one of these under the bonnet of your Mokka X.
The test car, however, came with a 1.4-litre petrol turbo. The conventional wisdom that used to suggest, blindly, that diesel was always best has now swung firmly towards petrol, and cars of the Mokka's size and likely use - as a family hack - probably benefit most from going unleaded instead of Derv.
That being said, this particular petrol unit is not going to win any prizes for its quietness, smoothness or snappy throttle response; it's just OK, but as explained earlier even this puts it in a different epoch to the original Mokka.
The gearshift is still not especially pleasant and the pedals, in their weight and consistency, have also improved measurably: before, they were not even on nodding acquaintance with the clutch, throttle and brakes they controlled; now, they feel like they have at least shared a hand-shake.
The biggest gains have been made in the suspension and chassis department, where they were most needed. Old Mokka was irredeemably dreadful when it came to the business of offering comfort and control, and while Mokka X doesn't go to the top of the class, at least it no longer induces nausea. This is a good thing.
Competition in this part of the market is incredibly fierce. As well all the other crossovers and SUVs, there is a clutch of really talented family hatchbacks from which to choose.
The biggest gains have been made in the suspension and chassis department, where they were most needed. Old Mokka was irredeemably dreadful when it came to the business of offering comfort and control, while new Mokka X no longer induces nausea
Bearing that in mind, it is very difficult to recommend the Mokka X in the upper reaches of the model's trim hierarchy. The test car was in one-from-the-top Elite trim, and weighed in at almost £26,000; at this price-point, it is simply too expensive, compared to other larger and more accomplished rivals.
However, the Design Nav model is a stronger proposition. For reasons I don't entirely understand, this starts at £18,455 but is more than £2,000 cheaper than the Active trim that Vauxhall bills as entry level, yet has a proper sat-nav system.
Keen finance and lease deals seem to be plentiful for the Mokka X, too, so even better value should be available.
As facelifts go, the Vauxhall's transition from Mokka to Mokka X has been a success. In truth, it is now closer to being the car it should have been when it was launched in the first place.
It isn't the best in class - but when you've been one of the worst cars on sale, even being average is a victory.
AT A GLANCE
Vauxhall Mokka X Elite 1.4i Turbo 4x4
Price: £25,100. As tested £25,815, with metallic paint £555 and 18-inch alloy wheels £160
Engine and transmission: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 138bhp, 148lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 116mph, 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 43.5mpg (EU combined); 34.7mpg (real world); 152g/km
Car tax: £500 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 29 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (96/90/67/100), 2012