► Driving Vauxhall's electric supermini
► 134bhp, 209-mile WLTP range
► EV alternative to petrol and diesel versions
Well received after its launch last year, the new Vauxhall Corsa has provided a slow-burning and more conventional alternative to its sister car, the Peugeot 208, 2020's European Car of the Year.
As you'll know, Groupe PSA purchased the loss-making Vauxhall/Opel brand from General Motors late in 2017. It immediately started to swap Vauxhalls onto PSA chassis platforms and drivetrains to save costs and avoid paying GM a licence fee.
The new Corsa is the first result, based on the PSA Group's CMP small car platform, it comes with petrol and diesel options along with a 100kW battery electric model, the Corsa-e driven here. In the light of recent UK moves to ban petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by as early as 2032, this looks like a superb piece of futureproofing.
Read our petrol and diesel Corsa review here
So far so promising, but what do you get for your money?
With prices starting at £27,165 including the plug-in vehicle grant (PICG) of £3,500, the Corsa presents quite an attractive proposition, though that's for the 7.4kW charging system in base form – an 11kW charging system is coming at the end of the year and will cost £31,515. Rivals include Nissan's 40kWh Leaf, which starts at £29,845, Renault's Zoe which starts at £29,170, and the Hyundai Kona, which in 39kWh base model form is £32,600. All of those prices are before the plug-in car grant has been applied.
Vauxhall claims that if charged at home, paying around 13 pence per kWh (Unit) of electricity, the Corsa-e will cost about £65 a month less than the equivalent automatic 1.2 turbo Corsa equivalent. Peugeot claims that the 208-e has total life costs about the same as a 1.2 auto equivalent, but that's charging in France. In the UK, Vauxhall isn't being drawn into whole-life cost comparisons.
One thing which will please customers is the provision of fitting a £800 home wall box which (assuming you have a drive) comes in the price and also the capability of up 100kW DC charging, which costs extra on rivals such as the Renault Zoe. Charging times vary according to the model and the current delivery. In 7.4kW and 11kW forms the Corsa-e will fully recharge in 7.5 hours. On 22kW quick charger the 7.4kW car will recharge in five hours, the 11kW car takes 3hrs 20mins. A high current DC 50kW charger takes 45mins to charge both models to 80 per cent capacity and a 100kW charger takes 30mins.
All Corsas are built on the same production line in Zaragoza, Spain, but the Corsa-e is quite a different car. To get the full 50kWh, 345kg battery in under the floor, they’ve altered the subframes and made up a whole new suspension system for the rear. Still a MacPherson strut front and rear twist-beam system, but the rear is remodelled with a Panhard rod to beef up the lateral stability. Springs, dampers, steering and anti roll bar have been tweaked to cope with the 1.5 tonne kerbweight.
‘We’ve increased the bump damping but not the rebound,’ says Thomas Wanke, Opel/Vauxhall’s chief engineer, ‘but with the extra mass [weight], there’s always inertia.’
How’s the performance?
The AC synchronous electric motor gives a power output of 134bhp between and 191lb ft of torque. That's in Sport mode and there are two other driving programs which restrict that power and torque; Normal, 105bhp/162lb ft; and Eco, 79bhp/132lb ft. There's also an enhanced regeneration braking mode, which increases the amount of electricity flowing back into the battery on over run.
Top speed is quoted at 93mph, 0-62mph is covered in 8.1sec and range is quoted at 209 miles in the tough WLTP standard, though hills, temperature extremes and high speeds can more than halve that. Given the usable battery capacity of 46kWh, the Corsa has an efficiency rating of 4.54 miles per kWh and using the latest Government power generation figures, a well-to-wheels CO2 output of 37.7g/km.
While it's not Tesla fast, the little Corsa is brisk, borderline quick. Like all single-speed electric cars it punches hard from a standstill but tends to run out of steam at high speed. So medium speed overtaking feels fast and confidence inspiring, but above 50mph you need to think carefully before a marginal pass. There's a lot torque, but the drivetrain handles it better than most and the Corsa-e feels nippy and fun. Even on slippery roads the traction control is gentle and wheel spin takes a lot of provocation. That said, if you floor the throttle with a lot of lock on, it does fly off rather too fast for comfort.
And how has that extra weight affected the ride and handling?
The ride isn’t bad, despite that weight and extra damping stiffness. There's refinement and decent body control, which contrasts with the initial softness (verging on galumphing) Peugeot e-208. On broken UK roads, the little Vauxhall might feel a bit too firmly sprung, but not painfully so. With eco Michelin 17-inch tyres, a series of regular small bumps sets up a corresponding rhythmic clatter at the rear end, but that’s the worst of it.
With the Berlin launch roads so slimy, it was difficult to judge the handling fully, though body roll is well controlled and the steering is direct and well weighted if not over endowed with feedback. In fact the Corsa-e’s weight distribution is closer to an ideal 50/50 than its petrol counterpart and the centre of gravity is 10 per cent lower, which is a good start, but that extra weight means like most battery electric cars, it corners flat with a slightly uncanny feeling of grip which tells you nothing about just where the limits of that grip are. So you end up driving on trust rather than knowledge.
And the cabin?
Unlike the space-age, three-dimensional binnacle of the Peugeot, the Vauxhall is resolutely conventional. You might find it a bit dull, but the facia is clear, concise and is well built out of decent materials. Even the heater controls which are under the centre console are like Audi's with the digital display of the temperature inside the centre of the switch.
The cabin displays consist of a black and somewhat cluttered driver’s instrument binnacle and a colour centre touch screen with good graphics and an easy to read sat nav which repeats its instructions in the drivers’ binnacle. The seats are comfortable, though the cushions under your bottom feel a bit thin.
In the back you’ll fit a couple of six foot adults but the headroom is restricted so they’ll be complaining after not too long on the road. Vauxhall says there’s been no loss of luggage space which isn’t entirely true as the spare wheel space is lost even though the 267 litre space above the boot carpet is the same as the conventional or 'thermic' engined cars.
Corsa-e comes with most of the standard safety and comfort features you'd expect, but there's not a lot of froth in there. You need to fork out for the Elite Nav grade to get such not-so luxurious luxuries as electric rear windows, rear-view camera and parking sensors, electric folding mirrors, a centre arm rest cubby, and LED lamps.
Vauxhall Corsa-e: verdict
While it doesn't have the instant appeal of its Peugeot 208 sister, the Corsa grows on you with its maturity and ease of use. It's comfy, nippy and a deal more practical than some of the rivals. Range is always going to be an issue with the current lithium-ion technology and the UK charging system in the parlous state it is, but Corsa-e takes a step nearer to being a car which you could (just) conceive of being your only car. It'll also give Vauxhall no end of brownie points when its main rival Ford, hasn't got an EV rival.
Check out our Vauxhall reviews