Vauxhall has revived the boy racer’s machine of choice. But rather than Nova SR, it's now called Corsa SRi, and you can even get a diesel. But we've got the turbocharged car on test, with a detuned version of the Corsa VXR's engine. Just think, in eight years times the streets will be lined with lots of white SRis.
Hang on, I’m getting confused. Doesn’t Vauxhall already have the sporty Corsa market covered with the SXi and VXR?
Indeed it does. But why, if you’re modelling yourself as a youthful, sporty, BTCC title-winning manufacturer, settle for just two racy versions of your best-selling hatch, when you can retail three? It works thus: SXi, with its double-digit bhp engines, is for newbies, and for Vauxhall to offer with free insurance. You can get a 1.2 SXi, which jsut isn't boy racer enough. The VXR, in contrast, is the uncompromised 189bhp nutter. But what about the gap in the middle?
Enter the SRi, with a detuned 147bhp 1.6-litre turbo from the VXR, or a 123bhp 1.7-litre turbodiesel. With lots of the VXR’s styling kudos, it certainly looks the part. Yet, in as-tested petrol guise, costs £13,625. If the VXR is the GTE of today, this is the Nova SR incarnate.
It’s £2k cheaper than a VXR – what’s the difference?
Apart from 42bhp, this car lacks the VXR’s muscular bumpers, central-exit exhaust (which burbles deliciously), mesh detailing and wing mirrors as cool as a BMW M car. The SRi has impact, but you won’t be mistaking the two. It also misses the VXR’s (brilliant) Recaro clamshells, flat-bottomed steering wheel and bespoke dials. And, mechanically, it doesn’t quite get the wealth of detail changes, nor the input from Lotus on damper tuning.
But Vauxhall is responding to spiralling teenage pregnancies, though. Unlike the VXR, you can the SRi with five doors as well as three.
I remember the Nova had those alarming tartan-check seats...
And so the Corsa continues the trend for garish upholstery, with dimpled black fabric edged with red bolsters. Matching the part red leather steering wheel. And… wait for it… red seatbelts! It really is the ‘80s all over again, albeit without the incessant trim rattles, thanks to Germanic interior quality. Alas, in the ‘80s, cars generally didn’t come with air-con and, unless you spend an extra £500, neither does the Corsa SRi. Unacceptable on a £13.5k car today.
But is it quick?
Yes – the 1.6 hits 60mph in just 7.6 seconds. It also does 130mph: expect to see teenagers defending some awe-inspiring speeds in courts come 2016. But it’s the 154lb ft of torque, yours from 1850-5000rpm, that really gives this car its muscle. Reactive to the throttle, it feels powerful and responsive in any of the six gears, and is plain fast over 5000rpm.
The noise, without the VXR’s exhaust, is rather throbby but plain. Nevermind, because this is one effortlessly quick Corsa. Well, save for the effort through your wrists as you counter wheel squirm under power.
But if rusty rear wheelarches didn’t do it for the Nova, corners would.
How things have moved on. The VXR has proven Vauxhall’s dynamics engineers have really upped their game, so you expect plenty from the SRi (fitted with standard ESP; parents will rejoice). Riding on 215/45 17-inch tyres, it’s 18mm lower at the front, 15mm at the rear, suitably stiffer and said to have variable-rate electric PAS. But that’s over-light and grey on turn-in, so maybe it should vary some more.
And while, as in the VXR, you can feel the rear end pointing you confidently in corners, aiding agile turn-in, it lacks that car’s repertoire. Springs and dampers just don’t seem to have the same cohesiveness; the ride is irritably firm, yet you’re aware of some roll on turn-in. Furthermore, sharpness is something you’re aware of, rather than truly sense. It’s nimble, chuckable and very able, but just a bit 2D.
Are the streets are going to be flooded with turbo SRis?
Well, we’ve spotted an interesting conundrum. Petrol? Insurance group 13. Prohibitive. Fuel consumption of 35.8mpg? Thirsty (and possibly optimistic, judging by how the tank emptied on our test run). Typical Vauxhall, they’ve almost made it too fast: what price a cheaper non-turbo 1.6?
There’s always the diesel, though. It’s £610 more, but group seven insurance and 23.1 more miles to each gallon are ample compensation. And, with 206lb ft, it’s more thrusting than 123bhp and 60mph in 9.3 seconds make it sound. Sign of the times: if the SRi is going to sell well, it could well be in diesel guise.
The SRi really is a true old-school Vauxhall hot hatch: very fast for the money, but more fun in a straight line than it is through corners. It doesn’t usurp the skilled VXR but is more exciting than a 207 THP GT or SEAT Ibiza FR. It also feels grown up, from the quality cabin to the striking yet substantial looks. Worth a punt if you’re not quite ready to grow up yet.