Opel Karl

Debut: 2015
Maker: Opel
Predecessor: Agila (2007)

 Published on 1 Jun 2015
All rights reserved. 

Adam Opel had 5 sons, the eldest of which was Carl. Carl was a good cyclist and a driving force in the company’s participation in bicycle manufacturing. Later on, together with his brothers he also drove Opel to enter automobile manufacturing (Adam did not live long enough to see that day). Perhaps unhappy that his contribution was largely ignored, Opel decided to name its latest city car Karl. Of course, it sits under Adam in the product family tree. In other words, it substitutes the Suzuki-built Agila as the entry-level model of Opel. In the UK, it is called Vauxhall Viva instead.

Sitting at the A-segment, Karl has a number of rivals to beat, such as Fiat Panda, Volkswagen Up / Skoda Citigo / Seat Mii, Toyota Aygo / Peugeot 108 / Citroen C1, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Renault Twingo and Suzuki Celerio. Some of these cars sell for style, niche or premium quality, but the Opel is not. Because of the presence of Adam, it has no option but to be basic and cheap. While it is not ugly, its exterior design is not to be described as attractive. Rüsselsheim might have a hand in its design, but the car is engineered by GM Korea and built in South Korea, unlike the Adam which is a real Opel. It is a conventional 5-door hatchback, and sized like most rivals – well, at 1604 mm, a bit taller perhaps. It sits on GM’s Gamma small car platform. The next generation Chevrolet Spark, previewed in New York motor show a couple of months ago, is another version of the car.

The Gamma is an old platform. Even though work has been done to improve it, it is not going to be remarkable. The Karl’s biggest weakness is lack of NVH suppression. Its ride is firm and quite crashy on rough roads. Worse still, at higher speeds it transmits a lot of road noise into the cabin, something should not be expected for a car destined to Western Europe nowadays. Not only you need to raise your voice to talk to passengers, long distance journeys could be tiresome. Nearly as frustrating is the one and only one engine it offers. This 999 c.c. 3-cylinder petrol is derived from the advanced triple on Adam and Corsa, but it is robbed of balancer shaft, direct injection and turbo. 75 hp maximum output is okay, but 70 lbft of max. torque is too low, and it needs 4500 rpm to realize. The result is sluggish performance and a lot of gearchanges to overtake on highway or go up incline. As a result, the Karl is better to keep its usage within urban area. That said, the engine is smooth and quiet enough, while the gearshift is slick enough.

The Karl handles competently, if not remarkably. Body roll is well checked thanks to the firm suspension. The steering is by no means feelsome but accurate and well weighted. Push harder into corner and it will understeer as most small cars do, but lift off throttle will tighten its line a little. The ride, while harsh on poor surfaces, improves markedly at speed. What a pity the road noise is so intrusive!

You won’t call the interior stylish or high-quality. All plastics are hard and grey, but the optional infotainment system is up-to-date. The steering wheel lacks adjustment for reach, but the driver seat is adjustable enough to compensate. Space matches some of the best in class. It is capable to accommodate 4 six-footers without much complaint. The boot is a little small, but the rear seats can split and fold to expand luggage space.

All in all, the Karl does not break any new ground. It is practical in most areas, but the engine is weak, ride refinement is poor and the whole car looks rather boring and characterless. Keen pricing should be its key weapon, but that’s not enough to mask its weaknesses.


Length / width / height
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Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Karl 1.0
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
3675 / 1604 / 1476 mm
2385 mm
999 cc
DOHC 12 valves, DVVT
75 hp
70 lbft
5-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
864 kg
106 mph (c)
13.1 (c) / 13.0*

Performance tested by: *Autocar

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