Let’s be honest, the old Vauxhall Mokka X wasn’t really anyone’s idea of a great car.
It sold in decent enough numbers to people who view cars as white goods but, along with the Ford EcoSport, has been left for dead in recent years by the rapid improvement among B-segment SUV rivals such as the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and Peugeot 2008.
Now though, Vauxhall is fighting back, not with a half-hearted facelift but with a brand-new car that aims to be more than the motoring equivalent of a fridge-freezer, with sharper looks, handling and a step up in quality.
Dropping the X, the new Mokka has taken its inspiration from the 2018 GTX Experimental concept car and brings that car’s bold styling to the mainstream. The new car is shorter and wider than its predecessor, while being lighter, more aerodynamic and structurally stiffer.
The Vizor front, lifted almost unchanged from the GTX, is big, bold and futuristic - everything the previous generation wasn’t. The high stance, wide flat bonnet and angled grille give it a confident, unique style that is vital in this segment.
Its bold physical styling can be enhanced with various colour packs. My particular test car featured a black roof over white bodywork, separated by a red highlight. That splash of colour is carried on onto the wheels, dashboard and seats and ties together the look neatly.
The futuristic feel continues inside where there’s even a hint of Knight Rider in the way the digital instrument display flows into the touchscreen, which is angled towards the driver. Those digital instruments and touchscreen are standard across the range, getting bigger in higher-spec cars.
If you’ve driven an Astra or Corsa in the last five years a few of the switches will look familiar and suggest Vauxhall hasn’t been given full access to the stylish Stellantis parts bin. But overall the Mokka’s interior is a smart, modern place with clean bold lines and a logical layout.
Space is what you’d expect from a small crossover - front seat passengers are fine and the driving position is good but it’s more of a squeeze in the back. It’s no worse than most rivals, though, and the seats are comfortable, plus there’s a decent 350-litre boot.
Predictably, the Mokka’s engine line-up features a couple of small-capacity turbo petrols, with a single diesel and more expensive all-electric version also available. Both petrol options use a 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit with either 99bhp or 128bhp. A six-speed manual is standard but I tested the higher-powered version with the optional seven-speed auto. The 109bhp diesel is only offered as a manual.
The petrol is a familiar unit from the PSA/Stellantis group and performs strongly in the Mokka. Its 0-62mph time of 9 seconds isn’t earth shattering but it feels responsive enough and is a match for similarly powered units in any of its rivals while being refined enough to go largely unnoticed most of the time.
I also tested the electric version of the Mokka, which uses a 134bhp motor to drive the front wheels and draws its power from a 50kWh battery sandwiched in the floor. Unlike most petrol cars where the drive modes make little difference, in the Mokka-e, selecting normal or eco restricts the motor’s output to varying degrees to help preserve charge. In normal mode - limited to 107bhp, the electric drive offers immediate seamless response at urban speeds but on higher speed roads you’ll want sport mode to access motor’s full potential.
The Mokka-e uses the same battery and motor setup found in the Citroen e-C4 and Peugeot e-2008 and presents similar worries about real-world range - not only compared with WLTP figures (a claimed 201 miles) but with the wildly optimistic trip computer’s predictions. On a positive note, the Mokka-e supports 100kW charging, meaning you can add 80 per cent charge in half an hour if you find yourself running low.
Like many brands, Vauxhall only offers its electric model in higher trim levels, starting at SE Nav Premium, and the EV version is more expensive - from £30,540 after the plug-in car grant.
However, the range starts at just over £20,000 for basic petrol SE models. Even these get 16-inch alloys, digital instruments and a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. LED lights all round, cruise control, air conditioning and Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Alert are also standard. Vauxhall loves a muddle of trim levels and above SE are six more grades each adding more tech and luxuries. Highlights of higher grades include adaptive cruise control, connected navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, bigger screens, a parking camera and automatic adaptive headlights.
Push all the way up to Launch Edition spec and you’ll get a lot of kit you can live without and a £30,000 price tag, which is just silly. A little lower down the pecking order, the petrol SRI Nav Premium I drove came in at £27,500 which puts it directly against the top-spec Puma ST Line X Vignale. While the Ford still has the edge in driving dynamics, elsewhere the Mokka is a worthy rival for the Puma.
Given that the Ford has won multiple awards since its launch, that's quite the achievement and sums up the scale of the Mokka’s transformation. The whole segment has moved on and improved but perhaps none so much as the Mokka which has gone from also-ran to among the best mainstream cars in its class.
Vauxhall Mokka SRi Nav Premium
Price: £27,455 (£27,775 as tested); Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 128bhp; Torque: 169lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic; Top speed: 124mph; 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds; Economy: 47.1-47.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 137g/km