► Full review of the latest Vauxhall Corsa
► Driving impressions of Fiesta rival
► Petrol, diesel, manual and auto tested
A bit like Ron Burgundy, the Vauxhall Corsa is kind of a big deal. The supermini is almost as much of a UK institution as its closest rival, the Ford Fiesta.
Everyone knows what a Corsa is. While opinions may vary on actually how good a car it may have been over its five generations, it has persistently been a huge seller, in the UK particularly. This latest iteration is also shifting out of showrooms with the same frequency as hot cakes from a bakery.
How big are we talking?
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 had already started sprinkling its own influence into cars like the facelifted Vauxhall Crossland and Grandland. The Corsa, meanwhile, is a much grander project, although that was merely a taster of what was to happen with the Mokka.
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 (now Stellantis) 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 – so much so that the entire development project of the new Corsa was just two-and-a-half years.
So, what has Stellantis's influence meant for the new one?
For starters, the new Vauxhall Corsa runs on former-PSA’s CMP architecture and was the third car in the firm’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, around 15kg has been saved by using PSA’s all-aluminium engines, 5.5kg has been removed by revising the front seat designs and the use of an aluminium bonnet shaves off another 2.4kg. In total, Vauxhall says the new Corsa is up to 108kg lighter, with the lightest model slipping in at under 1000kg.
The new Corsa is 48mm lower but has 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 - and a world away from the cutesy curves of Corsa B.
Opel/Vauxhall 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 is 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 previously 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.
What engines and specs does the Corsa get?
The Corsa was initially offered with 74bhp naturally-aspirated and 99bhp turbocharged petrol engines, later joined by a 128bhp version of the same 1.2-litre unit. DERV fans have just the sole 1.5-litre diesel with 101bhp to consider. An all-new six-speed manual will be available for all models, and an eight-speed automatic will be optional for the turbocharged petrols.
As for running costs and emissions, ‘all new Corsas have lower CO2 than the best-performing [outgoing] Corsa,’ according to Wanke.
Of course, if internal combustion engines sound a bit too bygone era for you, the fully electric Corsa-e, packing a 134bhp motor and a 50kWh battery pack.
And how are those engines?
Vauxhall expects the turbocharged 99bhp petrol engine to take the biggest slice of sales. It helps, then, that it’ll be plenty of power for most tastes, with a torquey midrange and a very characterful three-cylinder throb. It’s a sweet engine that never feels strained when you rev it out, but it’s not particularly quick either, with a 10-second 0-62mph sprint. It settles down to a whisper in high-gear, low-rev driving.
The 128bhp engine feels pretty potent, no doubt helped by the Corsa’s flyweight structure, and manages to feel more urgent in its power delivery than the 128bhp four-cylinder seen in the new Renault Clio, or the 123bhp EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta. On the Euro-spec cars we tested, that engine was mated to an eight-speed auto only and were in sporty SRi spec with a Sport mode. Said Sport mode also included a bit of fake engine sound enhancement which wasn’t entirely unwelcome.
If SRi spec is a tad garish for your tastes you can also pair this punchier petrol with Ultimate Nav trim.
As for the diesel, when compared to others of its ilk it’s well behaved on the road, with some flexible torque in the middle of the revs. Naturally, it’s also far thriftier on fuel, but the compromise is a persistent grumble coming through the front bulkhead. In truth, few people need a small diesel unless they regularly travel enormous distances - not a task you'd necessarily choose a supermini to perform.
And how does it handle?
The steering is super light – much lighter than that of the previous-generation Corsa – with the ability to make right-angle corners with little more than a single finger. We miss the heavier weighting of the previous Corsa’s steering, but provided you pick an SRi, the Sport mode adds some of that missing heft. Compared with the latest 208, the Corsa’s steering is much more alert to inputs, especially on the straight and narrow – Opel/Vauxhall engineers made a point of saying how much they developed the steering.
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-termer) and, especially compared with the previous-generation Corsa. It seems that Vauxhall listened to our pleas to add some weight and bite feel to the clutch pedal from our earlier drive with a development prototype, too.
The new automatic – an eight-speed from PSA complete 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.
Opel/Vauxhall’s differentiators also stretch to the suspension, with the Corsa featuring a firmer ride setup to its PSA cousins, putting it more in line with the Fiesta for ride quality. It’s a balanced setup; firm enough for the Corsa to corner relatively flat (while the car doesn’t roll much, you will be due to the lack of lateral support on the seats) yet soft enough not to offend. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that the Corsa hasn’t kept the super-supple ride of one of its development protoypes but the end result is a good compromise.
NVH isn’t quite as impressive, however. While the new Corsa claims to be the most aerodynamic car in its class, the supermini’s door mirrors aren’t great for wind noise. Tyre noise on less-than-smooth road surfaces isn’t great either.
What about the Corsa’s interior?
Impressively like the exterior, the Corsa’s cockpit is heavily Opel/Vauxhall’s own doing. There are plenty of common PSA parts; the infotainment system, the window switches and the auto shifter, but they’re blended into an interior design that’s entirely Opel/Vauxhall. Boss of design, Mark Adams, says the interior uses ‘functional partitioning’ to split up certain areas.
The thing is, even with the zesty red elements in the sporty SRi cars, the cockpit is a bit… boring. Especially when cousin Peugeot can design something much more dramatic, upmarket and interesting. Still, the Corsa’s interior is certainly functional – and one which won’t in any way irritate ergonomically; everything is where you expect it to be.
Rear space leaves a little to be desired; legroom is limited and headroom is okay at best. The boot has 309 litres of space, even in the upcoming all-electric Corsa-e. That’s a modest 24 litres more than before, even if it’s not quite class leading. The new Corsa also ushers in matrix-LED headlights – a first for the supermini segment – which work supremely well.
Anything about a new Corsa VXR?
CAR understands that the performance brand hasn’t been killed off and replaced with an underwhelming GSi trim, so VXR fans can relax. The name will return, with a Corsa VXR and indeed other models, expected to use hybridisation to performance-enhancing effect.
Vauxhall Corsa: verdict
Vauxhall’s new Corsa, thanks to an intense development program from new overlords, Stellantis, nee Groupe PSA, is a hugely improved car on any supermini from Vauxhall we’ve seen. It’s more refined, has a much more frugal and interesting powertrain range and has much more technology on offer than the previous-generation Corsa. I also think the design will be pretty timeless over the years, too.
However, it falls a little short of being excellent in any particular area; a Fiesta is far sharper to drive, a 208 has a more impressive interior, a Citroen C3 is more comfortable and a Skoda Fabia more practical. Still, no one can witness such a turnaround of Vauxhall’s perennial supermini without being seriously impressed - and the number of them already plying Britain's highways and byways suggests people love them.
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