13 Nov, 2019 11:00pm Steve Fowler
The fifth generation Vauxhall Corsa is the British brand’s first under new ownership, but will it be a success?
But of all the previous versions that have gone before, this fifth generation car is easily the most important, ushering in the first all-new Vauxhall introduced since the brand – and its German sibling Opel – has been owned by French firm PSA.
As a result the new Corsa shares much of its technology with models like Peugeot’s new 208 and 2008, as well as the posher DS 3 Crossback and future Citroens, too. It’s thrown into battle against its arch nemesis the Ford Fiesta, plus the Volkswagen Polo and the brilliant new Renault Clio. It’s a tough world out there and the fight for your supermini cash is stronger than ever.[gallery:1]
That this Corsa arrives so soon is testament to the Vauxhall/Opel team based out in Germany. You see, there was another Corsa heading along the development road under previous owners GM. Then along came PSA, the original project was scrapped and this new Corsa was born – with a gestation period of just a couple of years; remarkable in this day and age.
Under the Corsa’s skin is PSA’s latest CMP architecture, which means – like it’s new relatives – you can have your baby Vauxhall in three different flavours: petrol, diesel or all-electric.
While an all-electric Vauxhall Corsa is set to democratise electric cars (as much as a car costing £26,400 after the government grant can democratise anything) it’s the petrol-engined models that will find most favour with UK buyers. So that’s what we’re testing here.[gallery:2]
The petrol range starts with a 74bhp 1.2-litre unit and goes onto two versions of PSA’s award-winning three-cylinder engine with the same capacity. You can have that engine with 99bhp, while there’s also a pokier 128bhp version that won’t initially be coming to the UK.
If you must have a diesel – and we don’t think many will – there’s a 1.5-litre with 101bhp that claims 68.9mpg and 85g/km of CO2. Given that both the UK petrol engines cut below 100g/km and claim 51.4mpg, the diesel’s £1,210 price premium makes it strange that Vauxhall should even bother.
Talking of prices, the range starts at £15,550 for a 74bhp 1.2SE with what looks like a worthwhile £800 walk up to the 99bhp engine and a further £1,730 if you want to swap the six-speed manual box for an eight-speed auto. Of course, list prices don’t mean an awful lot and Vauxhall is already offering a PCP deal with 4.9 per cent APR and a £950 deposit contribution. Or you could do a straight lease deal for £1,194 down and £199 per month.
Our first experience of the new Corsa came courtesy of our German sister title Auto Bild inviting us to judge its Golden Steering Wheel Awards. The Corsa was a serious contender for a gong, so was made available ahead of the main launch. Sadly, it meant that the only model available had the 128bhp three-cylinder 1.2 on board and our driving was limited to the EuroSpeedway circuit in Lausitz Germany. But it gave us an early opportunity to get a first feel of this crucial new car and we’ll be driving the complete range in a couple of weeks.
You wouldn’t necessarily think that the new Corsa was related to the 208 to look at it, although the stats reveal the truth. Vauxhall/Opel’s Brit design chief Mark Adams and his team have given the car a mature, sporting look with familiar Vauxhall cues like the boomerang LED daytime lights and the kick back in the car’s C-pillar. The Corsa has matured nicely.[gallery:6]
It’s the same inside where the minimalist approach and decent-sized infotainment screen (7-inch in most models, 10 in top-spec Ultimate Nav cars) give the Corsa an upmarket look that wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi.
And while the screen takes care of many functions, there are separate controls lower down the dash for heating and ventilation, plus fast keys either side of the volume knob that sits just beneath the display.
Our car had a digital instrument panel ahead of the driver, but strangely it doesn’t fill the entire binnacle and looks a little odd when rivals have wider digital displays.
With the Viva and Adam soon disappearing from Vauxhall showrooms, the Corsa becomes Vauxhall’s ‘cheapest’ model. And to soothe that starting price the wrong side of £15,000, entry-level SE cars get a 7-inch touchscreen with smartphone connectivity, alloy wheels and LED headlights, while Nav upgrades add the obvious and Premium gives you heated seats and steering wheel, parking sensors plus auto lights and wipers.[gallery:8]
As you’d expect SRi adds a sportier look including a black roof, LED taillights plus powered rear windows. Then there’s Elite Nav, which adds few more luxury touches before Ultimate Nav, which goes to town with big-car features including leather, massaging front seats, radar controlled cruise, matrix-beam LED headlights, keyless entry and start and that lovely 10-inch screen. It’s only available with the 99bhp 1.2-litre engine and an auto box with a list price of, wait for it, £25,990. Yes, for a Corsa. It still undercuts the Corsa-e, though.
So is the Corsa worthy of its inflated prices? In some ways, yes – but in one particular way, no. And let’s get that out of the way first. Kids will find climbing in and out of the back no problem and will, by and large, be happy with the space back there. They may end up kicking the back of the front seats if they’re in their own child seat, but there won’t be too many complaints.
Adults, on the other hand, might find space a little tight behind taller people in the front. The rear door opening could make it difficult for taller adults, or older folk, to get into the back. It’s worth checking you’re not going to put your back out if you’re putting a little ’un into a child seat through the relatively narrow gap, too.
Up front, things are fine and the view out is good forwards and backwards. The infotainment display tilts upwards away from the driver slightly, but otherwise the layout, controls and driving position are all good.[gallery:14]
Quality is strong, too. When Volkswagen seems to be reducing the quality of its interiors on some models, the Corsa has nice squishy plastics across the dash top if not on the doors, while the body-coloured strip running the width of the dash and contrasting colours are all tasteful and add to the premium air.
There’s also decent storage inside with a useful bin ahead of the gear lever and underneath the ventilation controls. It’s ideal storage for your smartphone, so no surprise that there’s wireless charging in exactly that spot on some models.
The Opel engineers we chatted to before our drive were keen for us to notice the work they’d done with their new PSA toy set. And sure enough, they’ve produced a car that feels fairly sporting with a firmish ride over the surfaces we tried, decent body control and nicely-weighted and accurate steering.
Our top-spec 128bhp car had various settings to play with including sport, which added a little weight to the steering, sharpened throttle response and added a fruity-sounding exhaust note through the car’s speakers – it actually sounds better than you might think.
3.5 There’s much to like about the new Vauxhall Corsa, not least the way it looks and the way it drives. From the driver’s seat, it’s great – quality is good and you can have fun behind the wheel. You’re less likely to be happy if you have to spend much time in the back, though. However, this is a supermini so if the ultimate in rear space isn’t your concern, the new Corsa will be well worth considering.
- Model: Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 (130PS) Turbo Auto
- Price: £22,000 (est)
- Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol, 128bhp
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
- 0-60mph: 8.7 seconds
- Top speed: 117mph
- Economy/CO2: 45.6mpg/105g/km