A flexible friend that's an Agila little mover

DON'T be fooled by the ecoFLEX branding on certain Vauxhall Agila models. There are no efficiency modifications made to the cars. Fortunately, that doesn't matter one jot as the Agila is green enough to gain entry to the ecoFLEX club unmolested and remains a cohesive and enjoyable small car product.

The ecoFLEX brand is applied to Vauxhall's most fuel-efficient and clean vehicles. In the majority of cases, cars with the ecoFLEX name have been altered for greater efficiency through the inclusion of low rolling resistance tyres, longer gear ratios, engine management revisions or some aerodynamic trickery. The exception is the little Agila ecoFLEX. Vauxhall's city car gains entry to the environmentally-friendly club without so much as a Greenpeace sticker.

The Agila ecoFLEX is the entry-point to the ecoFLEX family but it has none of the modifications seen on its bigger brothers. The Agila was deemed green enough already.

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Two of the Agila's engine options qualify for ecoFLEX status. The first is the entry-level 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine with its modest 64bhp output. The second is the always impressive 1.3-litre CDTi diesel which has 74bhp and more than twice as much torque, produced far lower in the rev range. It might be tempting for customers to feel short-changed by the lack of modifications made to the Agila in order for it to gain ecoFLEX status but the skinny tyres, longer gearing and engine remaps applied to other green specials don't do a lot for the driving experience. That's especially true in city cars which do a lot of stop/start urban driving at low speeds. Untouched by such eco-tweakery, the Agila remains a fun car to drive.

The 1.0-litre engine can run out of steam when shown a steep incline or asked to take to the motorway network but it's fine in the urban sprawl. The diesel is more of an all-rounder, with a punchy low end. The five-speed gearbox is pleasant to use with its robust, positive action and the steering has a reassuring weight to it. Parking couldn't be much simpler with good visibility and the flat rear helping you cosy-up to obstacles with confidence. The tall shape of the Agila means it leans more than some city cars in corners, but not too much and there's plenty of grip at the front wheels.

The Agila is built for Vauxhall by Suzuki, which has the almost identical Splash model on its books. The car's tall shape is disguised well by a foursquare stance with the wheels pushed right out to the extremities of the vehicle. The rear seat backs can also be folded down to create a totally flat load floor, which is among the most spacious of any city car.

The interior design feels more Suzuki than Vauxhall, and this is no bad thing with the Japanese manufacturer having built a strong reputation for the simplicity and strength of its cabins. The controls are straightforward and build quality is well up to standard for a city car, even if some of the trim is a little below par. There's plenty of storage space and the pod rev-counter on top of the dash is a nice touch.

Both Club and Design trim levels are offered with the Agila ecoFLEX. The Club variant has the basics but little else, with remote central locking, a CD stereo, front fog lights, the 60/40 split rear seat, electric front windows and electric heated door mirrors. If you want air-conditioning, you'll need to pay for it or get a Design model which also adds 15-inch alloy wheels, tinted glass and a leather steering wheel. Safety kit includes front and side airbags, ABS and EBA brake assist.

Pricing is an issue with the Agila ecoFLEX. The 1.0-litre engine will be underpowered for some tastes but the 1.3-litre CDTi comes at a hefty 2,700 premium. The standard Agila range has a 1.2-litre petrol engine but it doesn't qualify for ecoFLEX status. Considering the absence of any modifications on the ecoFLEX cars, the 1.2 is an option that might be worth considering. The Agila has plenty of rivals including city cars and the smallest MPV models but its blend of qualities from the two sectors sets it apart.

The presence of ecoFLEX badging on a Vauxhall would usually suggest some work has been done beneath the skin to enhance its green credentials. With the Agila ecoFLEX, it's a different story, Vauxhall having decided to leave well enough alone. Without longer gearing, engine re-maps or fancy tyres, the Agila ecoFLEX is like any other Agila, one of the leading small cars currently on sale and impressively cheap to get about in.

The 1.0-litre petrol engine can feel overworked, the diesel engine looks pricey and both can get noisy when pressed hard but, on balance, we'd take the 1.0-litre for its all-round low costs.

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Elsewhere, the Agila is well built and thoughtfully designed with a rewarding driving experience thanks to the solid feel and well-weighted controls. EcoFLEX or not, the little Vauxhall has plenty going for it.


CAR: Vauxhall Agila ecoFLEX

PRICE: 9,295-12,625 – OTR


EMISSIONS: 119-120g/km

PERFORMANCE(1.0]: Max speed 99mph; 0-60mph 14.7 seconds

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 56.5mpg