Road Test: Vauxhall Corsa
The fifth generation of a household name is now equipped for a new era. By Alex Grant.
SECTOR Supermini PRICE £15,990-£25,990 FUEL 45.6-70.6mpg* CO2 85-99g/km**
You’d be forgiven thinking otherwise if you’ve seen the adverts, but Vauxhall’s first fully electric car – the Corsa-e – will also be available with petrol and diesel engines. It’s certainly significant seeing one of the UK’s best-sellers going battery-powered but, with most of its early customers likely to opt for combustion engines, big improvements to the familiar line-up are just as important.
Despite a heavy update in 2014, this is the first all-new Corsa since 2006, and the newcomer was rapidly developed in the two and a half years since Vauxhall became part of the PSA stable. It now shares a platform and technology with the Peugeot 208, though that’s only really obvious when you view both cars in profile, and it’s a passenger weight lighter than the outgoing model – entry-level versions come in under a tonne.
Over-complicated trim structures, a Corsa hallmark under GM ownership, are long gone. There are four base trim levels – SE, SRi, Elite and Ultimate – plus two equipment packs which can be added where they are not included as standard kit. The Nav pack (standard on Elite and Ultimate) adds satellite navigation and a bigger touchscreen, while Premium (standard with the Ultimate trim) includes seat and steering wheel heating and automatic headlights. LED headlights, autonomous emergency braking and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included across the range.
Petrol is by far the most popular fuel in this segment, and there are two options for the Corsa, producing 75hp and a turbocharged 100hp. The former wasn’t available to test, but the latter offers sprightly performance in any of its six gears and impressive refinement for such a small car. Also worthy of note is its optional eight-speed automatic gearbox – it’s a pricey upgrade but rewards with swift responses and smooth around-town shifts.
Diesel is still available too, primarily for the car’s one-third fleet sales mix. This is offered via a 102hp 1.5-litre engine which is remarkably quiet and vibration free, but also effortlessly fuel efficient. However, despite its NOx-reducing selective catalytic reduction system, it’s not RDE2-compliant yet – unlike the Astra’s GM-derived diesel engine. Re-testing will follow later this year, though tax-conscious drivers will also have a 136hp electric Corsa as an option by that point.
Lively engines and low weight are a good combination, particularly for the SRi. This gets trim-specific chassis bracing and a Sport mode, which tones down the otherwise slightly over-assisted power steering. It’s a better drive than the Ultimate, which is the only model to step up to larger wheels, noticeably affecting ride quality – the Corsa is firmly spring anyway. However, SRi versions are only available with the 100hp petrol engine and manual gearbox, and the fake exhaust growl in Sport mode is a little cheesy.
Aesthetically, it feels closer to an Astra than its platform-shared cousins. The dashboard is intuitively laid out, though air conditioning switchgear is needlessly duplicated as a menu within the touchscreen. Upgrading to the 10-inch screen reduces some of the lag of the entry-level 7-inch infotainment system, and adds remote functions via the Vauxhall Connect smartphone app. However, most of its extra screen space is taken up by climate control settings. Rear-seat adult occupants have adequate headroom, but the bench is tucked in behind the door aperture, which limits shoulder room.
It’s a sign of the times that marketing material and, fuelled by proposed tax reform and shifting public opinion, battery-powered versions have become the spearhead of the new Corsa range. But, for those who aren’t ready to go electric yet, the core product still has plenty to offer.
Key Fleet Model: 1.2 (100hp) Manual SE Nav
Strengths: Quiet and peppy drive
Weaknesses: Drab cabin, non-RDE2 diesel
The Corsa is a quietly competent product compared to glitzier newcomers, particularly from Peugeot and Renault. Its most important role could be as a familiar-feeling first step into electrification once the EV arrives.
Fleet rating: 4/5