The Vauxhall Corsa's back to have another crack at the supermini market. Could this be the time it breaks the Fiesta's stranglehold? Jonathan Crouch weighs up its chances.
The fourth-generation Vauxhall Corsa delivers similar dimensions to the old car - but that's as far as the similarities go. With a fresh chassis and suspension and a three-cylinder petrol engine that takes star billing, it also gets a classier interior. Keep your eye on this one. It could give the Ford Fiesta a real tough time.
How we used to chuckle at the Vauxhall Corsa, the totem of the clueless supermini driver. That was until 2006 when the Corsa suddenly and unexpectedly became one of the best cars in its class. It drove well, it felt solid and it even looked pretty perky. The VXR models were complete hooligans and the diesel versions reliable and economical. Small wonder the Corsa became a fixture in the UK top ten best selling cars, albeit glancing up with barely-disguised envy at the massive-selling Ford Fiesta. Lasting right through to 2015 has been one marathon innings for Vauxhall's baby and in recent years, the Corsa has started to feel its age. Newer rivals like the Volkswagen Polo, the Renault Clio and the Peugeot 208 have all queued up to join the Fiesta in attempting to give the Vauxhall a good working over, so General Motors probably think it's payback time. Say hello to the response.
The Corsa has always been a pretty entertaining steer and Vauxhall is looking to continue that trend. Underpinning this latest fourth-generation car is a completely redesigned chassis with precisely zero carry-over components from the last model. It sports a 5mm lower centre of gravity, a stiffer front sub-frame and a sharper suspension geometry. The electrically-assisted power steering gets a City mode for you to twirl around effortlessly when parking , but receives a UK-specific tune to cater for our roads. Internal friction has been minimised, as has understeer. Both Comfort and Sport suspension set ups have improved dampers that aid ride quality. The star of the Corsa's engine range is the 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol unit. Recognising that diesel engines don't always make the big sales numbers in the supermini sector, Vauxhall has instead devoted its attention to super-efficient petrol units. The 1.0-litre is the only production three-cylinder engine on the market with a balancer shaft, helping it combat noise, vibration and harshness. This Euro6-compliant engine is offered on either 90 or 115PS power outputs and both manage 170Nm of torque at just 1,800rpm. An improved version of Vauxhall's 1.4 turbo engine is also featured and there are two budget naturally-aspirated petrol engines - a 1.2 and a 1.4-litre. Big improvements to the 1.3 CDTi diesel have elevated it to Euro 6 emissions standards. At the top of the range, there's the 205PS 1.6-litre turbocharged VXR hot hatch variant. Transmissions? Vauxhall has announced two six-speed gearboxes, a manual and an automatic, delivering greater efficiency and a slicker shift action.
Straight away, you'll spot similarities to the front end of the ADAM model and that's no coincidence, this looking set to become the Vauxhall family face for the foreseeable future. That means a rounded, friendly look with a broader front grille than Corsas of old. The overall proportioning isn't that much of a departure, this car retaining the somewhat tall and narrow shape of the third generation model. It's almost identical in length to that car too but all of this improved model's body panels are new and provide greater definition between the 'sporty' look of the three-door and the 'premium' five-door models. Some of the detailing is quite assured, including the sculptural 'blade' running across the lower door-sections. Drop inside and you'll see even bigger improvements. The old Corsa always felt a solid thing but time hadn't been kind to the basic design of the interior and this latest model rectifies that quite emphatically. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. The fourth-generation Corsa is also the first high-volume Vauxhall to be available with IntelliLink, the communications system which has already been seen in the ADAM.
The Corsa operates in a section of the market that, while headed by the Fiesta, has been turned on its head by the rise of Korean models such as the Hyundai i20 and the Kia Rio. Put bluntly, if your car isn't generously equipped right down to the entry-level model, it's going to face an uphill task. Vauxhall has announced a whole slew of equipment for the Corsa to make sure it is. Prices are much as before across the three and five-door range, starting at around £9,000, with trim levels running from 'Life' to 'Sting', 'Sting R', 'Design', 'SRi', 'SRi VX-Line' and 'SE'. Plus there are the inevitable special editions too, so you'll not be short of choice. All models get features like a heated windscreen, remote central locking, powered front windows and mirrors, a decent quality stereo with an aux-in socket and hill start assist to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Safety stuff includes twin front, side and curtain airbags plus ESP stability control. In its fourth generation, plusher versions of this Corsa get heat for the front seats, steering wheel and windscreen, as well as soft-tone ambient lighting, plus a full-size panoramic roof is also available. Safety systems include Side Blindspot Alert, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, bi-xenon lights and a rear-view camera.
Vauxhall can't afford to get the Corsa's cost of ownership figures wrong. This car has been the company's best-selling model for many years, generally sitting at number two in the overall passenger car sales charts. In its last full year, Vauxhall sold 83,000 Corsas in the UK, outstripping total full-range sales of manufacturers like SEAT, Skoda, Renault and Citroen. We're the lead market for the Corsa by a massive margin, the second biggest being Germany with 50,000 registrations. The UK is also a market that's very sensitive to fuel economy and emissions variations between models. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine makes some pretty impressive numbers, recording 54.7mpg on the combined cycle. The 75 and 95PS versions of the 1.3-litre CDTi diesel both come with fuel-saving Start/Stop technology fitted as standard. The former will reduce the three-door model's CO2 emissions down to 85g/km and fuel consumption is clocked at 87.8mpg in the combined cycle.
It's said that while the key to happiness is hard to define, the root of unhappiness is easy. It's trying to please all of the people, all of the time. Yet that's exactly what the modern supermini needs to do. It's a virtually impossible task and it's a tribute to the talent of the best of the current crop that they manage to do so much so well. The Corsa has long been a stalwart in this sector, but time and technology had overtaken the MK3 version. This fourth-generation car looks to have the talent to dive right back into the fray. At first, it looks like a mere restyle, but it's much more than that. Here's a car that's been designed from a clean sheet of paper, with an enormous development budget behind it. Available in both petrol and diesel guises, manual or auto, with three doors or five, the Corsa is off to a promising start.
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