As we approach the end of 2014, we’ve had the chance to drive some incredible cars - the BMW M3 and i8, Tesla Model S and Zenos E10, to name a few. It’s been a wonderful year for petrolheads, but in the big picture of UK motoring, this little Vauxhall is one of the most important car launches of the year.
The stats alone are impressive. In 2013, Vauxhall sold 84,275 Corsas, and despite being a small car where margins are traditionally harder to achieve, it’s the company’s most profitable vehicle. In fact, it made up a whopping 32 per cent of Vauxhall’s sales last year, so that should give you some perspective as to why this is such an important little car.
Simply put, if Vauxhall can get this right, Corsas will continue to be seen on every street in every town and, more importantly to the big cheeses, continue to drive profits.
Considering the Corsa’s popularity, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, from the outside, the new Corsa is more about evolution than revolution. But what’s interesting is that underneath the skin, there are a lot of completely new parts. In fact, the chassis that underpins the car is completely new, with no parts carried over from the previous car.
Every suspension component has been reworked too, and the whole package has been honed on Britain’s roads (because they’re the worst in Europe, unsurprisingly). There are two chassis options, Comfort (available on 14- and 16-inch wheels) and Sport. We had a brief drive in a Comfort-equipped car in the morning, and it was suitably quiet and, well, comfortable. But now I’m sitting behind the wheel of the sporty car, and I intend to spend most of my launch day here.
What makes the Sport chassis different is stiffer springs and shock absorbers, and the electric power steering gets a unique calibration for a more ‘direct’ response. Before driving the car, I assumed this meant the ride would be hard and crashy, with artificially-heavy steering, but the truth is I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On Britain’s broken back roads which make up the bulk of our test route on the border of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, the Corsa soaks up the myriad humps, bumps and potholes with remarkable ease. An unexpected yump can easily throw a lot of smaller cars off their stride, but I find myself blasting along at increasing speeds, confident that the car will settle itself quickly. For a city car this very impressive.
The words ‘electric power steering’ always raise concern, but this car has a great setup. There is an odd numb feeling around dead centre, but it has a natural weight, and even in ‘City’ mode it doesn’t become annoyingly ultra-light.
While the ride is the most immediately notable thing about this car, the new turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine deserves an honourable mention. Vauxhall’s engineers are rightfully chuffed with this three pot, which directly rivals a similar unit from Ford. The Blue Oval’s powertrain has become the benchmark in this segment, but we’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s got a mighty adversary here.
Performance-wise, the new Corsa won’t blow your socks off. In the car we’re driving, the 1.0-litre EcoTec makes 113bhp and 125lb ft (there’s also an 89bhp/125lb ft version), resulting in a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds and a top speed of 121mph. Most buyers will be pleased to see that it achieves around 60mpg on average, and since many younger drivers will be looking at this segment, the Corsa also makes a case for itself by dropping a couple of insurance groups (thanks largely to the revised front end’s safety features). Furthermore, Vauxhall has done well to make the engine incredibly quiet - the unappealing noise has been the downfall of many a three-pot.
It’s the exterior where, in my opinion, Vauxhall has been a little less inspired. In the metal it really doesn’t stand out enough. The front looks good and mirrors the styling used on the Adam, but after a short time following a fellow journo in another car, the Corsa’s rear-end simply blends in with the humdrum of traffic. Our SRi VX-Line’s 17-inch alloys and subtle rear roof spoiler give it a little extra spice, but across Vauxhall’s range it’s the more funky-looking Adam’s job to stand out from the crowd, so perhaps simple styling will be more of a hit with the future Corsa crew.
Inside it’s more of the same simplicity, with simple old-school dials for the heating controls. Higher spec-cars get Vauxhall’s Intellilink screen which links up with your phone via an app. It works well enough, and is a cost-effective way of incorporating audio and sat nav systems. All cars get a heated windscreen, as well as optional heated seats, door mirrors and steering wheel.
Overall, Vauxhall is onto a winner here. Taking chunks out of Britain’s best selling car, the Ford Fiesta, was never going to be easy, but this Corsa is in with a great chance. The styling is safe, and there is a decent selection of engines on offer, including a 69bhp 1.2-litre and 89bhp 1.4-litre petrol engines, as well as a 74bhp and 94bhp 1.3-litre diesels.
The pick of the bunch is the petrol-powered 1.0-litre turbo. I mentioned above how Ford’s EcoBoost has a worthy adversary in this Vauxhall unit, and I can’t stress enough how good this little triple is. It’s quiet, and has a wide power band to provide smooth progress. In fact, a Vauxhall engineer said his only concern was that it’s so quiet that customers might unknowingly rev higher than necessary, and not notice the economy gains.
The entry level car is a snip at £8995, a full grand less than the cheapest Fiesta. The three-pot we drove was a smidgen under £15,000, so it’s hardly bargain basement, but if you can do without the VX Line trinkets, then you can grab yourself a 1.0 without breaking the bank.
If you can afford to raid the bank a little more, then there’s also the forthcoming VXR version that will likely go on sale early in 2015. It’ll take on the likes of the Fiesta ST and 197bhp Clio RS through sheer grunt and aggression. The previous generation Corsa went out with a bang with the 202bhp VXR Clubsport edition, so expect that to be the horsepower starting point for the next-gen VXR; Vauxhall has a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo engine in the Cascada, so a mildly uprated version of this powertrain seems like the obvious choice. Bring it on.