Can Vauxhall’s best-seller get even better? Selling just over 84,000 of them during 2013, which incidentally is more than the respective total all-model sales from some manufacturers like Renault and SEAT, Vauxhall’s Corsa seemingly continues to tick all the right boxes in the UK market, where it finished 3rd in the total sales chart by model. Ask anyone to name a few cars from the supermini class and they’re bound to include the Corsa. The slight snag for Vauxhall is that the best-selling car in the UK is the Corsa’s closest rival. That’s right, I’m talking about the Ford Fiesta, acclaimed for its excellent handling. In 2013, 50% more Fiestas were sold than Corsas. Vauxhall could have been content with staying in bronze place but have commendably chosen to up their game and snap at the heels of the Fiesta more doggedly, whilst at the same time trying to move closer to Volkswagen’s hit supermini the Polo, when it comes to interior quality. Here’s my take on whether they’ve succeeded, with hopefully not a Corsa pun in sight.
Is it a looker?
The outgoing Corsa that this fourth-generation model replaces is quite an attractive little thing in its own right. Young and old, male and female, owners around the country largely love their current Corsas and Vauxhall appreciate that a radically new look might alienate loyalists and also prospective newbies. The new Corsa for 2015 uses new body panels all round but carries the Adam model’s face across, which I’m a fan of. The front of the new Corsa blends sportiness and elegance very nicely, while at the rear, new Astra-esque lights form the main difference.
Mark Adams, the firm’s Vice-President of Design, was keen to point out that Vauxhall’s signature ‘blade’ detail has been carried over to the new Corsa and they’ve gone to greater lengths to distinguish the 3-door from the 5-door. The low front grille and fog lights make both versions look quite sporty in my eyes, but the stance of the 3-door is undoubtedly more athletic and muscular.
Buyers will be able to choose from no less than fifteen colours, Peppermint Green and Emerald Green my favourites. The dimensions of the new Corsa remain the same, which is another thing that current owners will likely be pleased to hear. I think Vauxhall have got the refreshed styling just right.
Is it what’s on the inside that counts?
Recently having driven the new Citroen C1 and Hyundai i10, I found the former quite plasticy albeit a tech-fest, whereas the Korean had an upmarket, solid and sophisticated feel to it. The Fiesta I tested for a week back in 2012 felt equally robust and made use of nice materials, but was home to a veritable overload of buttons and a tiny, naff screen for the radio. I have to admit that the latest Volkswagen Polo is the winner when it comes to interior quality, even if it’s slightly too conservative – so I was very interested to see how the new Corsa would compare.
As soon as I opened the door and caught sight of the new Corsa’s interior, I was impressed. It’s the polar opposite of the Fiesta’s button-happy interior and has a classy, minimalist feel, somewhat similar to that of the Polo. The redesigned leather steering wheel was nicely-sized, felt great and incorporated a modest number of controls. The dials used for the air con were a doddle and the pedals, handbrake and gearstick, indicator and wiper stalks and other primary controls were all well-positioned.
Bluetooth and DAB digital radio are standard across the range and buyers seeking toasty warmth will appreciate the heated windscreen and can also opt for heated front seats, heated wing mirrors and/or a heated steering wheel if they pick the right options and trim level. Automatic lights, Hill Start Assist and a tyre pressure monitoring system were all fitted to the three variants I drove at the UK launch held at Castle Donington.
The two trim levels at the bargain end are called ‘Life’ and ‘Sting’ (a ‘Sting R’ is also available), both coming with that handy heated windscreen but with air conditioning as an optional extra. The remaining models, from ‘Excite’, ‘Limited Edition’ and ‘Design’ to ‘SRi’, ‘SRi VX-Line’ and ‘SE’ all share something in common, which is the classy-looking IntelliLink touchscreen, allowing you to display and use your smartphone and its apps whilst on the move, including voice control systems like Apple’s Siri Eyes Free. You can even look at photos and videos on the screen, once you’re parked up. The only weak aspect of using your smartphone’s built-in sat nav or using the BringGo system that Vauxhall recommend, is that you’ll lose guidance directions if your phone signal drops out.
A real sense of space is dished up and I would certainly describe the new Corsa’s interior as comfortable, high quality and practical, with plenty of useful storage spaces provided. The white 5-door SRi I drove first on the day had a stylish red streak running across the dashboard and this, combined with the polished black surfaces and tactile materials, splashes of chrome and some curvaceous features such as the instrument binnacle, created an impressive interior that I much prefer to the current Fiesta and which gives the Polo a bit of a fright, too.
Can it handle the competition?
Now it can, that’s for sure. Thanks to new gearboxes, a lower, stiffer chassis specially tweaked for UK roads and new speed-sensitive power steering, the new Corsa handled much, much better. In fact, it was a pleasure to drive it with some enthusiasm up and down winding country roads around the Midlands.
Everything about the new Corsa just felt right, from the gearstick action and ratios and its excellent composure over crests, dips and poor surfaces to its significantly improved steering, which all bring it much closer to the sportiness of the Fiesta, if not quite overtaking it.
What about the engines?
Most car manufacturers have been going down the same ‘downsizing’ route in recent years and 1-litre, turbocharged engines are now becoming the norm in many smaller cars. Ford’s EcoBoost engine keeps winning awards and is a great pick in the Fiesta, so Vauxhall needed to get in on the act, which is exactly what they’ve done with their new ECOTEC engine.
The first of the new Corsas I sampled, though, was a silver 5-door powered by a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine producing 100PS and 200Nm of torque. I must own up to actually liking this engine quite a lot, as it felt reasonably powerful and refined, whilst returning 46mpg (compared to the official figure of 55mpg combined). It has a 0-62mph time of 11 seconds, emits 120g of CO2 per km and sits in insurance group 10E.
The rest of the day saw me driving Corsas fitted with their new, 1-litre, 3-cylinder ECOTEC engine, the first a 3-door in Limelight Green and the second a 5-door in Sovereign Silver. The engineers have cleverly designed it to be one of the smoothest, quietest 3-cylinder units out there – and yes, it was certainly less audible than Citroen or Peugeot’s, for example. It’s a lightweight, all-aluminium engine and is available in two power choices, 90PS and 115PS. The interesting part is that both 1-litre units produce the same torque of 166Nm at 1,800rpm, meaning the acceleration felt very similar indeed, the main difference being power at the top end. For day-to-day use, I’d plump for the 90PS version. It takes 11.9 seconds to reach 60mph whereas the 115PS gets there in 10.3 seconds, but you’re not really going to notice in real-world situations. Badged as ‘ecoFLEX’, the 90PS version is supposed to return upto 65.7mpg on the combined cycle but the test route of approximately 40 miles saw it return 37mpg.
I’m not particularly smitten with the unique sound and characteristics of 3-cylinder engines so would personally take the 1.4-litre turbo if I was someone who does a lot of driving, as it seemed slightly more economical, too. Low-mileage drivers who want something that sounds sporty and will give them plenty of poke around town will do well to choose the nevertheless excellent 90PS 1-litre, as it produces 104g CO2/km and is in insurance group 9E. You may be surprised when I tell you that the 1.4-litre, turbocharged 5-door SRi I drove cost £13,470, compared to £14,570 for the 90PS 1-litre 5-door.
Other things to note
The new Corsa is available to order now, with deliveries expected in January 2015. It’s a safe car, with Hill Start Assist as standard, along with a City steering mode which beefs up the power steering to make manoeuvring easier. Optional extras in the safety department are similar to those found in the brochures of larger/premium cars, from bi-xenon headlights, Advanced Park Assist and Lane Departure Warning to a front camera system with road sign recognition, Forward Collision Warning and Side Blind Spot Alert.
Despite the new Corsa’s interior quality, equipment, handling and engines seeing some large leaps forward, pricing has been reduced by upto nearly £3,000 compared to the previous generation. The cheapest in the range now starts at £8,995, which is for the ‘Sting’ trim version with a 1.2-litre petrol engine producing 75PS, which Vauxhall do indeed still offer. Two petrol engines without turbochargers are also offered, as a 1.2 and 1.4, and although we weren’t able to test them at the launch, the new Corsa will be available with a 1.3-litre CDTi diesel engine. As well as the new 6-speed manual gearbox, customers can opt for a standard automatic gearbox or a transmission called Easytronic, which basically works like an automatic gearbox but is for budget-conscious customers.
On the day of the launch I got about an hour behind the wheel of the 1.4 turbo, half an hour in the 1-litre 115PS 3-door and just less than half an hour driving the 1-litre 90PS 5-door. Inevitably I wasn’t able to put its boot space, rear practicality or longer-term running costs to the test, but on first impressions, the new Corsa is a very appealing supermini indeed. The interior has especially improved enormously and the new suspension, steering and engines make for a fun little car to drive, which is now good enough to give the dominant Fiesta a run for its money and breathe down the neck of the Polo quality-wise. I really liked the three petrol variants I drove today and am keen to see how the diesel engine stacks up. My brain’s just still a tad frazzled from trying to digest the fifteen colour choices and nine trim levels, but I won’t hold this against the highly commendable new Corsa.