WILLISAU, Switzerland – It would be a stretch to think the pint-sized Opel Adam could champion the automaker’s turnaround in Europe, but the plucky 2-door already has begun turning around notions of the 118-year-old General Motors subsidiary.

Opel desperately needs to change perceptions, too. A decade’s worth of financial losses put its products behind key rivals such as Volkswagen, and the brand grew stale and fell off the shopping lists of many Europeans, including native Germans.

GM finally said enough was enough and early last year revealed it would resuscitate Opel with a €4 billion ($5.2 billion) investment, an outlay funding 23 new products, 13 powertrains and a massive image makeover.

After a long string of year-over-year sales declines, Opel/Vauxhall deliveries in Europe and the U.K. last year flattened at 1.02 million units, according to WardsAuto data. That was well off the unit’s pre-recession annual totals but a sign the bleeding had stopped. The result included a modest market-share gain for Opel not witnessed in 14 years.

The Adam has been central to moving the Opel lodestone forward. Dealers have filled more than 80,000 orders for the car in one year on the market, but perhaps more importantly the car’s fun, quirky design and eye-popping color combinations paint the Opel brand in a much different light.

And the automaker has taken advantage of the car’s trendiness at every turn.

Earlier this year, the Adam gained headlines as the 3 millionth vehicle produced at Opel’s Eisenach plant when a flashy polar-white model with an Arden-blue roof rolled off the assembly line.

Opel also pairs the Adam in television advertisements with throngs of busy young hipsters, and Canadian rocker and photographer Bryan Adams, who lives in Berlin, recently composed a calendar portraying the car in variety of edgy images. Supermodel Claudia Schiffer is Opel’s new brand ambassador.

But does the Adam live up to the hype? Yes, for the most part.

We took delivery of a 2-tone Adam at Grimm Centre, a seller of Opel, Cadillac and select Chevrolet products, outside downtown Geneva. The 4-seater feels buttoned-up out of the gate. A 1.2L 4-cyl. gasoline engine mated to a tolerable 5-speed manual transmission gets the car jumping at moderate speeds, although it takes some revving.

Geneva traffic can rival other European cities, and we hit the streets during morning rush hour. But at a compact 146 ins. (3,700 mm) long and 68 ins. (1,720 mm) wide with lots of glass making for excellent sight lines, the Adam deftly negotiates the traffic and puts us on the E25 motorway frustration-free.

However, things get a bit dicey around 60 mph (100 km/h). Wind and tire noise noticeably increase, the reasonably good handling it exhibited in the city grows fuzzy and it takes a lot of clutch work to tackle the hilly countryside.

The buzzy power plant proves underpowered for highway travel, and fuel economy plunges trying to keep pace in the faster traffic.

Thankfully, that will change in the coming months as a range of more efficient and powerful gasoline engines roll out, beginning with a 1.0L 3-cyl. turbocharged unit shown at the recent Geneva auto show. A new 6-speed manual also will be available, and a sure-to-thrill 1.4L turbo will be available in a future Adam S model.