Not exactly the shy and retiring sort is it?
Come on, this is a product of Vauxhall’s VXR division, a sub-marque that makes a point of being ruder, lairier and louder than any of its rivals. So while Renault kept things decidedly low-key for its Clio 197, Vauxhall is taking the opposite tack with the hottest Corsa. Spoilers, skirts, massive rims, fancy door mirrors: it’s got the lot.
It looks very different to my gran’s 1.2 Club. Talk me round the changes
Big bumpers with aggressive air intakes and gills on each corner set the tone before passing the baton to the strange triangular-shaped door mirrors, and finishing at the rear with a prominent roof spoiler which Vauxhall claims produces real negative lift, unlike the smaller version fitted to Opel OPC cars in mainland Europe. That rear end was influenced by a certain Ferrari’s behind and features a neat triangular exhaust finisher, although as usual, the shiny bit is just dressing – the real exhaust pipe tip hidden some way back is much smaller, although still three-sided. Don't be fooled by the wide-hipped look. There are no sheetmetal changes. The Clio 197 gets unique steel flared arches but the Corsa makes do with plastic trickery to achieve the same effect. And for buyers who can’t quite stretch to the VXR but still want some VXR flavour for their cars, dealers will offer a range of VXR-style body kits to give regular Corsas the demonic look.
And what about inside?
No supermini looks better from behind the wheel except maybe the Mini Cooepr S. Those beautifully sculpted Recaro buckets are standard in the Corsa VXR; you’ll pay extra for something similar in the Clio, and the cabin still won’t have anything like the same ambience. The door plastics are nothing special and the stupid golf-club cosy gearknob is deeply unpleasant, but the piano-black console, the chunky rotary controls and tasty RS4-alike flat-bottomed steering wheel really create a fabulous impression. Those big seats mean it’s more difficult to climb into the back of the VXR version than in other Corsas, but it's still comfortable once you’re there. And you don’t have to compromise on safety because GM found a side airbag that works with the Recaros. You can tell your mates/dates that it's from a Lamborghini Gallardo.
This is the bit where you tell me it’s got 300bhp and eats Imprezas for breakfast
I could, but I’d be lying. Until GM discovered that Renault’s hot third-generation Clio would be packing 197bhp, the fastest Corsa was set to make do with 180bhp. But a bit of extra work has resulted in a total of 189bhp. That’s still 8bhp down on the Renault but the 1203kg VXR does have 37kg less bulk to haul around. Against the clock, the two are pretty evenly matched, the Corsa requiring 7.2sec to reach 62mph, 0.3sec longer than the Clio needs. But on the road, the differences are enormous. The Clio, all revs, natural aspiration and horsepower is hard work compared with the torquey turbocharged Vauxhall. Unless you’re stirring away at the gears like a madman, the Renault can feel surprisingly slow, far slower than the VXR does given the same conditions when its hearty 170lb ft of torque, delivered all the way from 1980-5000rpm, takes you safely past dawdling Mini Coopers.
It doesn’t sound particularly raw or bad-mannered. Are you sure it's a VXR?
It isn’t bad mannered at all, apart from the slight stickiness to the steering when feeding the power in. It's not exactly full-blown torque steer, but there's still some immoral interference going on between engine and rack which can take the edge of your enjoyment. However, that same steering turns the nose in smartly and there's enough help available from the throttle to get the rear axle to play, too. But it's not exactly 205 GTI lairy and the ESP safety net seems a bit too close to the tightrope for full-on opposite-lock japes. Does that matter on the road? No. But the fact that the Corsa rides incredibly well, even on the optional 18-inch boots allowing you to carry terrific speed across country, does. It also makes the VXR very easy to live with. It's torquey, quiet, and doesn't suffer the Clio's awful low gearing which makes motorway work such a pain. But the flipside is a surprising lack of drama. Flat torque curves are great for day-to-day driving, but make for spectaculalry dull engines. Peak power is delivered at 5800rpm and you rarely find yourself wanting to hang on to gears. If it's excitment you crave, the revs-or-nothing Clio is more fun.
Anything else in the pipeline?
Vauxhall is keeping tight-lipped about what the future holds for the hot Corsa but did say that more power is on the way, probably in the form of a dealer-fitted conversion to get round type-approval regs. In the meantime there will be some tasty options if you want to add some extra spice to your VXR. We’re talking about £2000 worth of AP brakes and a special Remus drainpipe exhaust. Spending £20k on a fully optioned supermini sounds ludicrous to us, but Vauxhall is finding customers want to spend far more than the list price on their cars in an effort to personalise them. It's not going to turn that business away, is it?
When it comes to showroom appeal, the Corsa VXR’s cup runneth over. Attractively priced, aggressively styled and easy to drive, it has an answer for every question the street cred-conscious 24-year-old target buyer is likely to ask. But while we’ll have to wait until we can test the Corsa against its rivals to be sure, we couldn't help but think we'd enjoy a Clio 197 more given a clear road to wring the Renault's neck. The compromises needed to enjoy that very occasional hedonistic thrill are considerable, though. The sensible money buys the Corsa, but if you like your hot hatches raw and real and put vim before value, the Clio's still the car to beat.