Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!

Published:21 May 2019

Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
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By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

► First taste of new Vauxhall Corsa
► Driving impressions of Fiesta rival
► Plus, everything else we know so far

A bit like Ron Burgundy, the Vauxhall Corsa is kind of a big deal. So, when Opel invites you to a top secret ‘validation drive’ of its volume seller, you don’t say no.

As the new Corsa nears its official debut later this year, we got behind the wheel of ‘dynamic prototypes’ that were around 80% ready in terms of performance and handling.

But first, a history lesson…

Pretty much everyone knows what a Corsa is, surely. While opinions may vary on actually how good of a car it may have been over its five generations, it has persistently been a huge seller, in the UK particularly.

From the Corsa A in 1982 (named the Nova in the UK) right up towards the end of the Corsa E’s life, Vauxhall and Opel sold 13.6m units. Even in the fifth-gen Corsa’s twilight years, it still made up 7.8% of B-segment sales in Europe in 2017.

In terms of the wider Opel/Vauxhall business landscape under PSA, the Group has already started sprinkling its own influence into cars like the Vauxhall Grandland X – which uses powertrains and a similar platform to the Peugeot 3008. The Corsa, meanwhile, is a much grander project.

What we know so far about the new Vauxhall Corsa

Opel/Vauxhall under GM knew that its Corsa would be getting rather arthritic by the time it game to the end of the 2010 years, so it had already started working on a properly new generation. When PSA became Russelsheim’s new overlords, they turned up shaking their heads and mumbling something about ‘common platforms’. So, the project (three years in by that point) was canned, with designer Mark Adams’s team and the engineering division having to start again with a clean sheet.

Vauxhall Corsa pre-production old car

So, what has PSA’s influence meant for the new one?

For starters, the new Vauxhall Corsa runs on PSA’s CMP architecture and will be the third car in PSA’s platform shake-up to do so after the DS 3 Crossback and new Peugeot 208.

The bodyshell is 40kg lighter than the outgoing one and the use of an aluminium bonnet shaves off another 2.4kg. In total, Opel says the new Corsa is up to 108kg lighter, with the lightest model slipping in at under 1000kg.

There will also be active aero shutters for ‘most’ engine configurations, two types of spoiler (Eco and Sport) and will come with 309 litres of boot space, even in the upcoming Corsa-e. That’s a modest 24 litres more than before. The new Corsa will also usher in matrix-LED headlights – a first for the supermini segment.

Vauxhall Corsa pre-production wheel

While you can’t see much from the red and yellow accented camouflage, the new Corsa is 48mm shorter but with a 28mm longer wheelbase adding a bit of extra interior space. A lower driving position will pique the interest of those particularly interested in driving something that isn’t a baby crossover. In fact, Opel’s Global Lead Development Engineer, Thomas Wanke, said that some folks who own Corsa E models felt the driving position was a bit mini-MPV-like – something they wanted to improve by the time the next generation rolled around. So, along with a shorter front overhang, the windscreen is much more vertical than the previous generation. In fact, the new Corsa’s proportions in general are a lot squarer.

Opel's Russelsheim facility - the old car factory shaping the future

Opel wants to maintain that it has a decent amount of autonomy when it comes to sorting out its own cars; so the development process has remained at their base of operations in Russelsheim (just outside Frankfurt), and the Corsa will be built at Opel’s Zaragoza facility in Spain, regardless of powertrain. That’s not the first time we’ve heard that; at the reveal of the e-208, Program Brand Project Manager Guillaume Clerc told us that the CMP platform is developed by a team within PSA but separate from the brands that will use it, with each brand then making their own adjustments to suit.

Any engine and gearbox knowledge?

Like the Peugeot 208, the Corsa will be offered with 74, 99 and 128bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrols and a 1.5-litre diesel with 99bhp. An all-new six-speed manual will be available for all models, and an eight-speed automatic will be optional for the higher-powered petrols.

As for running costs and emissions, ‘all new Corsas have lower CO2 than the best-performing [outgoing] Corsa,’ according to Wanke.

There were two prototype versions to drive. The cars marked with red were 99bhp petrols with the six-speed manual gearbox, while the yellow marked ones are 128bhp petrols with the eight-speed auto.

During the event, the team told us there was a growing trend for high-powered, automatic superminis. Despite this, Vauxhall has no plans (at launch, at least) to bring the 128bhp engine to the UK.

There were also minor ride quality and NVH differences between both the red and yellow cars, which Opel engineers challenged us to spot but didn’t specifically tell us how they were different. The validation drive also, rather cleverly, provided us with as close a direct comparison of the outgoing Corsa for reference. So, the red cars had a 1.0-litre 99bhp manual in the convoy, and the yellow ones had a wheezy 89bhp naturally-aspirated 1.4-litre petrol with a six-speed auto – what was considered to be the most direct comparison.

Come on then, how did they drive?

We’ll mainly focus on the 99bhp version here. Not least because it’s probably what most people will buy anyway but is the only of these two prototype engine versions you’ll be able to get with a Vauxhall badge initially.

It helps, then, that it’ll be plenty of power for most tastes. Opel/Vauxhall has tuned out much of the engine’s low-end reverberance in all four of the slightly different prototype models to barely a grumble, making urban driving pretty peaceful. Couple that with improvements over the old car in NVH and the new Corsa is on a path to being a much more refined supermini. The yellow cars did feel quieter than the red ones in terms of tyre noise.

Vauxhall Corsa pre-production cornering

Plus, if the mood takes you and you want to add some revs on, that very trad three-cylinder throb is characterful, if not entirely that thrilling to listen to. It never feels strained.

It's still not the greatest thing on planet Earth to hustle around, but some of our time in the new Corsa included som properly entertaining roads hidden deep in a forest. Body control across all of the prototypes was admirable, with the yellow cars in particular having a suspension setup that completely absorbed every pothole, lump and road imperfection thrown at it. We hope it stays put come prodcution time.

The steering is super light, much lighter than that of the previous-generation Corsa, but much more alert to your inputs. We’d probably want it a little heavier than in its current state, though - it's lost the heft of the outgoing car. Grip was impressive even in the non-stop rain during our time with the car tried to affect play, but it's worth pointing out that the cars were on high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres; if they are a standard fit on production Corsas, we'll eat humble pie.

In fact, light seems to be the overall theme of the controls. The manual shift is smooth and, thankfully, you don’t row the gearlever quite so much as a Citroen C3 (see our reports on our long-term C3) and, especially compared to the previous-generation Corsa, the clutch pedal is so featherweight you think you’re about to stamp through the firewall. The clutch also provides you with zero communication with the bite point when engaging a gear, it’s just the same pressure (or lack thereof) through the pedal. Tweak this please, Opel. Brakes, meanwhile, have some early bite and are far stronger than those of the outgoing car.

The new automatic – an eight-speed from PSA complate with the Groupe’s trigger shifter – is incredibly smooth, decisive in gear and comes with steering-mounted paddles as standard. The automatic cars also had a drive mode rocker switch with Eco, Normal, Sport and Manual modes. Eco has a coasting function, while Sport increases throttle response and holds onto gears longer.

Vauxhall Corsa pre-production Jake driving

The cabin, like the exterior, is covered in camouflage, but rear visibility (even through the camo’d screen) is far better than the porthole you get on a Ford Fiesta. Seating could do with a little extra support, perhaps from Russelsheim’s AGR-approved range of pews.

Anything about a new Corsa VXR?

CAR understands that the performance brand hasn’t been killed off and replaced with the underwhelming GSi. The name will come back, and is expected to use hybridisation to performance-enhancing effect. Something for the Fiesta ST to think about.

Vauxhall Corsa prototype: first impressions

We’ll just say it now; the Corsa in its current state is not as sporty and as fun to drive as the so very well-sorted Ford Fiesta. But, from our early drive, it’s a marked improvement particularly in terms of refinement. The use of new PSA engines is the biggest progress leap, providing potency and – hopefully – bonuses in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions. It feels much more like how a supermini should feel as we enter into the next decade, with the forthcoming electric version only adding to that.

Our two biggest pointers for Russelsheim’s engineers is to add a little of the previous-gen Corsa’s steering heft to differentiate it from other PSA products and provide a bit of feel from the clutch pedal. Some might debate the advantages of either, but in terms of injecting just a couple of milligrams of extra driver enjoyment, they would really help the Corsa’s cause in our book.

Still, the car is in a good place already and we’re interested to see how the new Corsa will fully shape up when we drive the full production car towards the end of 2019.

Vauxhall Corsa pre-production convoy

Check out our Vauxhall reviews

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: November 2019
Engine: 1199cc turbocharged 3cyl, 99bhp, 151lb ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.0sec 0-62mph (est), 110mph (est)
Weight / material:
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!
  • Vauxhall Corsa prototype (2019) review: it’s a car in a bag!

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

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