Hoover's latest claim of new technology in its floor care industry is something called "Airvolution" and it is a patent that sees its design being used on Hoover's newest bagless upright and cylinder vacuums known as the "Slalom," "Freedom" and "Xarion" range. To those like me who couldn't care less how the dirt is finely filtered and put into a bin, and for those interested in the science bit, its just a patent that copies similar design aspects to Dyson's Dual Cyclone - a patent that went out a few years ago so that other major players like Vax and Hoover can do their own version, and sadly if you buy from Comet you are hit with all the advertising of Airvolution so it's not easy to get away from it. The Slalom series however has been designed to be "ultra agile," as well as being fast in terms of its suction though it's not quite the skis darting about in a zig-zag fashion given its sporty name. With 1200 watts motor power and 200 air watts Hoover would like to think Slalom means business even though the motor rating itself is not the most powerful, it is more environmentally friendly than most.
I wasn't prepared to pay the £195 asking price from Comet for the Slalom Silver (I'll refrain from using the model number as it can get confusing, and the more expensive model is an all grey/black affair with silver impregnated filters claiming to be healthier) so it was at Argos that I got a bargain reduction reduced to £145.69
Out of the rather heavy and large box (welcomed though as it does have a built in carry handle) "Silver" doesn't come with many attachments although the easiest procedure of set up is simply hooking the vacuum hose onto the back of the handle and then snap locks down onto the main part of the machine at the front. Everything on this vacuum is geared towards having a space age look from the aluminium crevice tool to the actual fit and finish which at times can be patchy even though the silver paint looks very cool. An upholstery brush is also included and it can be pushed on at the end of the crevice tool for more height. A pet hair turbo brush is also included and it fits at the front of the machine just below the main handle to the bin. Like everything Hoover makes these days, they have decked this machine in contrasting colours; this time its silver, black and red being the colours of the day and its sporty look is heightened by two large red wheels with silver inserts, a bit like pushing a remote control racing car across the floor!
Once everything had been put on the Slalom including the rather large clump of 8.5 metre power cord, I naturally couldn't wait to try "Silver" even though with a known sound level of 89 decibels it's not going to be the quietest. I was shocked though as to how improved the Slalom is from the whiney moan and shriek that past Hoover uprights have given the moment they are switched on. The Slalom is good but not any different to the likes of Sebo's much more expert and expensive Felix which has the same twisting swivel neck allowing the floor head to move from left to right at the flick of your wrist. Hoover's version is a bit heavier, noisier and bagless which is handy if you don't want to shop around for bags. There are of course other differences such as no carpet adjustment dial and thanks to its flush soleplate this means gliding is light for most of the time on even the thickest of carpet pile. On hard floors, Silver gets around very easily even though the wheels at the back don't grip well making Silver slide around rather than being able to truly dart in a controlled fashion. Dirt however manages to get sucked into its path which is good for general cleaning tasks if you are in a hurry - but this only seems to work on hard flooring and not carpet. For that principle alone there is edge brushing as standard on this model but in use I have to say that it's not particularly agile at doing corners very well despite the claim. Past experience with Hoover products have always been heavy and difficult to steer. The total weight of Silver is near 9kg so it is heavier than Sebo's Felix at 7kg and heavier than Dyson's baby DC24 at 6kg.
Naturally after the first couple of uses, and with most bagless cyclonic vacuums, the amount of dirt that the Slalom pulled up was impressive even though there wasn't much dirt in the canister I wasn't particularly impressed with the tiny "Max full," line on the bin itself - this machine is supposed to have 2.2 litres capacity but in reality this works out to be a much smaller capacity determined by the thick filter alone that surrounds most of the dirt cup. Suction however doesn't seem to weaken though as the bin fills so this is a good aspect given that Hoover's patent is a dead cert copy of the Dual Cyclone method courtesy of Dyson.
Where the Slalom fails to impress however is down to its design and build quality; the pedal release at the back of the machine for instance doesn't always rest in the locked position when vacuuming has finished. Sometimes it locks up when put into the upright position and sometimes it won't making the Slalom crash to the floor if you don't hear the click or a rather large cracking sound emanating from the pedal release and forget any notion that with this pedal release you get the option of putting it into two steps so that it lies flat under low furniture. The Slalom struggles with this because of the circular ring pedal release getting in the way at the back and trying to get over rugs onto existing carpets is a right old hoo hah, even turning it to its extreme left or extreme right means it can't get over rugs as accomplished as Sebo's Felix. The raised hood on the Slalom actually allows the Hoover to get under low furniture when initially I had doubts about this, only finding that the Slalom struggles to get under pesky country-style chairs with a middle bar underneath and before I say anything more, my Sebo can get right under the chairs, bar or not! The only problem is, whilst Hoover have taken the hood's height into consideration, the round bin at the front gets in the way making it an immediate obstacle when trying to get the vacuum under our coffee table or dinner table without it banging off something or getting trapped because of its size.
Silver's detachable handle for example has two uses; one with a hose on the back of it that allows you to use it for whenever you need the hose and a further use with a cheap plastic clip on it so you can clip it to the side of the Slalom for space saving and storage when the Hoover is not needed. Two further pedals on the base of the motor head; one to turn off the brush bar incase you want to vacuum hard floors and another pedal on the right hand side to turn the thing on. What a pity then that unlike Sebo's Felix which has a memory built in button to stop the brush, the moment the handle of the Slalom goes to the upright position, and then press on the pedal to push the handle back down, this Hoover will reset the brush bar automatically and turn itself on when the upright is being used. So much for being versatile and easy.
Things aren't so good either when the Slalom is used with its new detachable handle. Hoover go to great lengths of promoting its "Explorer Lance," or to you and me, the all in one purpose hose handle and the extension crevice tool that can be lengthened or shortened. Here you can fit any means of the tools on offer or at the end of the telescopic crevice tool for extra height or none at all if you want just the tool without the height. Although these tools are made to fit the crevice tool, I had a real struggle trying to keep the pet hair turbo brush on even though it can be used at the end of the crevice pipe. When not in use the pet hair turbo brush fits snugly between the bin handle and should in theory lock in place; however sometimes it doesn't and putting it back in can be a real pain only for it to fall off again.
Now the hose is a dead cert for Dyson, right down to its actual width which is quite large and wide whilst the flexible and soft clear nature is similar to Dyson in terms of the way it stretches out. It is supposedly 4 metres in length and whilst it is definitely stretchy it doesn't stretch as long as four metres in use! So it's a pity that whilst the hose is located at the bottom of the cleaner, if pulled roughly it will pull the Slalom back, crashing to the floor. Unlike Sebo's Felix where the hose is short, the Slalom feels like it has acres more but involves me having to use the hose handle with one hand whilst the other hand holds the excess hose to minimise the Slalom falling over; the Slalom is supposed to have a built in anti-tip design but this is ironic given that it will fall over unless you position bottom of the stairs against the first ground step. This isn't very practical or safe either for the floor involved or the Hoover when it falls over if you don't put it by something to keep it steady.
Not only does the hose not prevent the machine from falling over, the Slalom's main failing is the lack of a variable suction control and this is more apparent when the hose is being used; it twists uncontrollably thanks to the suction on board and with the use of the handle which is light, forces the owner to use the hose and handle part in the quickest time possible without any more physical effort of trying to make the hose go straight or around corners without getting twisted up. Forced by the strong "air force," suction the handle isn't that easy to use thanks to its traditional design of having to point the handle into areas like difficult to access nooks and crannies and when locked back into the Slalom for normal use, the handle doesn't feel that comfortable to use, particularly when turning left or right when in normal carpet vacuuming tasks. Granted Hoover have put a ribbed rubber lining on the back of the handle but the handle starts off thin and gets thicker the more I move my hand down which starts to get painful if travelling and vacuuming room to room. The pet hair brush is also an all encased unit but at the flick of a switch will unlock so that the inside can be cleaned out. In use the pet hair brush is average but not any better than anything else I've tried. Hoover has also managed to fit the smallest mouth on the pet hair turbo brush measuring approximately 7cm in length against Sebo/Miele who incorporate 10cm across. In use the pet hair brush is okay but it struggles to pick up lots of pet hair in one go presumably down to its size. Fitting back to the top of the Slalom clips in sometimes but it won't always stay there only needing the slightest movement or when lifting the vacuum cleaner by its main handle at the front for it to fall off.
And then the maintenance of the whole proposition comes to light as soon as the Slalom needs emptying. It uses the copied idea based on its Hurricane and other Dirt Devil inspired models by using a similar bin drop down button on the main 2.2 litre dust bin. Whilst this is handy and easy to use, you'll have to undo two further clips on either side of the bin at the top to remove the entire filter assembly and like Dyson's Dual Cyclone, the plastic filter shroud will be familiar to most Dyson owners if they have to clean the filter holes or loosen dust that clings to it thanks to its static plastic nature. The all important HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) is further located at the top of the bin assembly and can only be washed with cold water, and dried before being re-installed. Lastly, there is another filter and it's located at the top of the hood of the Slalom's floor head on the top. Clearly Hoover needed to put a filter somewhere to protect the motor and in this respect it's an idea that has been copied from Sebo's 20 year old X series. It is however a washable filter and is bonded to grid to make life easier. The Slalom is supposed to have been awarded the British Seal of Allergy Approval but I'm at two minds when I see bagless cyclonic vacuums getting this award on the basis that the moment the dust bin is opened, the dust becomes airborne.
The piece de resistance is then revealed in Hoover's silliest mistake of all time - the drive belt. It takes seven screws to just remove the bottom of the sole plate where the beater bar is just to clean the beater bar if it gets tangled. But that's all folks. Want to change the drive belt? The Slalom doesn't have a replaceable drive belt that you and I can do - Hoover has to be called which means a call out charge if you've gone past the feeble one year guarantee.
And whilst you are down there you may discover a strange black dial that is poorly labeled. The much missed variable suction control dial! But it's a dial with a difference. I can't imagine my 60 year old mother bending down, having to twist the entire Hoover over or lie the machine to the ground, bend or get down on her knees to adjust a dial with a couple of holes to let air out so that the machine glides even lighter, and therefore lets out air coming out of the suction channels. In this day and age, that's a very poor oversight here, Hoover not to mention that it's completely black in colour and difficult to see. The reason that Hoover put this "suction regulator," is simply to readjust the gliding and suction that comes out of the floor head. In use if the dial is set to "low" for example dirt can often go unpicked unless you go over the same carpet part twice with the Slalom which is therefore light and easy to move around. Escaping air can also be heard from the flush sole plate since the low setting has holes in the actual dial to let the air out. Although it is advised to keep it at its high setting so that no air escapes, the gliding factor becomes heavier and the Slalom feels heavy to steer despite its swivel agile function. Setting it at "normal," gives a light steering feeling and slightly increased weight felt on the hand. This design dial harks back to Electrolux who used a similar device on the back of their Z500 series uprights to loosen the suction and makes more sense as the hose is easier to control.
So is the Slalom easy and versatile to use? In a nut shell, not quite. Whilst it looks wonderfully space age and not dissimilar to Dyson, Hoover have yet again managed to faff up the user details that makes Sebo's bagged Felix look better executed even though with the Argos price reduction you'd have to spend £100 more for the Felix or Dyson's DC24, two baby uprights that swivel just like the Slalom.
Because at the end of the day, if you have to spend more time working out how to use a vacuum cleaner, or how to get the best from your Slalom, you may as slam the whole idea to the wall and use something that doesn't shout like its been designed for the next century. The fact that the bin is dark red and black which makes it harder to see if there's any dirt in the bin let alone check if its needing emptying also suggests whoever designed the Slalom must have left their rose tinted glasses on. Hoover's Slalom is an improvement on what's gone before, but then again it should be better. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009
** Update March 2009 **
A video test of three modern uprights are put to the test and also feature the wonderful Kim Woodburn from "Kim and Aggie."; the Slalom is also tested:
Short name: Hoover SL8123