The Karl is Opel’s back-to-basics 5-door city car. How does it fit into the Opel range? Well, Karl is smaller than the Corsa, but does without the glitz and glam of the infinitely customisable 3-door Adam, and is cheaper to buy as well with prices starting for the range at just under €12,000.
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At the Opel Karl launch in Amsterdam in June, some of the Opel engineers described Karl as “a good-looking chap without ostentation”. That kind of sums up Karl. Karl is more about practicality than style (we’ll leave that to the self-consciously cool Adam), so the styling is functional, allowing five doors and maximising space inside. He’s still a “good-looking chap” though.
For a small car, the Karl doesn’t feel too cramped inside and there are three seats in the back and winders for the rear windows, which you won’t find in every car in this class. So already Karl is looking like a more substantial car than some of its rivals. The boot is typical of a city car in that it’s narrow and at 206 litres, it’s not the best in class for space, but it’s not the worst either.
The latest generation of Opel cars tend to have good quality, attractive interiors and the Karl is no different. There are a lot of hard plastics in the cabin but visually it’s very appealing with bits of chrome trim, gloss black and a neat but modern look to the dials, switches and centre console.
There is just one engine for the Karl and that’s Opel’s new 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine. Here it does without a turbo and produces 75bhp in its naturally aspirated state. It feels really nippy around town, and out on bigger roads there’s no problem maintaining cruising speeds. It’s slow enough to get there, but that’s characteristic of all these small non-turbo 1.0-litre engines, and within the city car segment, the Karl has one of the more powerful 1.0-litres with that 75bhp.
In town and city, Karl feels gloriously light and agile. Out of the city, Karl doesn’t feel like it’s going to disintegrate at the first whiff of motorway; it feels solid and planted, and easy to control. The only issue is quite a lot of road noise at speed.
On rural roads, Karl has got good road-holding ability through the corners and the steering communicates quite well what the front wheels are doing. I certainly wouldn’t describe Karl as dull to drive.
The 1.0-litre (75bhp) engine in the Karl returns up to 63mpg and costs €190 to tax per year.
There are three trim levels: S, SC and SE. Standard equipment includes electric front windows, trip computer and daytime running lights, while mid spec SC adds lane departure warning system, electric mirrors, cruise control and speed limiter, steering wheel mounted audio controls and front fog lights. The top spec SE trim car has such luxuries as electronic climate control, Bluetooth for music streaming and handsfree calls, leather covered steering wheel, alloys, and dark tinted rear windows.
Karl promises all the Opel virtues and qualities, but at a cheaper price point into the Opel range. With a starting price of just under €12,000 for a basic model, going up to €14,695 for a high specced version, Karl is certainly keenly priced.
But in a crowded city car segment what can Karl bring to the table? In space terms, the Karl is competitive with other cars of its size, though the boot is a little way off the best in class. Karl has the extra bonus of three seats and seatbelts in the back and though it sounds small, having winders for the rear windows makes it feel less budget and more of a substantial car.
The whole car feels like a quality product, and the interior is one of the best I have seen in this class; you could spend many happy hours behind the wheel of this car.
But the proof is in the pudding, and Karl is a very pleasant car to drive, whether that’s nipping around town, or driving down a country road, where the Karl will delight with its nimbleness and quick steering. Motorway driving is becoming less of a big ask for city cars, and the Karl certainly has enough power and stability for this sort of driving; but the road noise can begin to grate on you over a long journey.
The Opel Karl doesn’t make a huge style statement but this car is not about that, so if you’re looking for solid, cheap five door transport for town and city driving, and occasional motorway use, then Karl could well be your man.
Model Tested: Opel Karl SE
Price: €14,695 (Range starts €11,995)
Engine: 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol
0-100km/h: 13.9 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 104g/km
Motor Tax: €190 per year