The three- and five-door versions look very distinct from each other
The Corsa’s smart looks make a good first impression. The three- and five-door versions are very distinct from each other – the former having sportier, coupe-like looks, while the latter has a more premium feel – but the ‘eagle eye’ headlights, which incorporate LED daytime running lights on most versions, give the car a fresh face, while the sides feature the ‘blade’ design already used on the Vauxhall Insignia family car. The trim you choose also makes a big difference to how the car looks, with Sting adding twin stripes on the bonnet, roof and tailgate, and Excite bringing front foglights. Meanwhile, SRi and SRi VX-Line trims give the car a sporty makeover. The most extreme version of the Corsa, the VXR, really stands out, with bright colours, an aggressive body kit, bonnet vents and a big roof spoiler.
Buyers have the chance to brighten the cabin up with dashes of colour
The interior looks and feels relatively high-class, with dense-looking soft-touch materials on the top of the dashboard, and buyers have the chance to brighten the cabin up with dashes of colour. However, it’s not all good news, because there’s still plenty of hard, scratchy plastic lower down in the cabin and on the door trims. This rather lessens the appeal of the interior, meaning that it’s still behind the Volkswagen Polo for sheer desirability. That said, Vauxhall’s touch-screen Intellilink system (as seen on the Vauxhall Adam and which works via apps on a paired smartphone) is fitted to most models. And, every model has a reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel, and all but the most basic Life models have a height-adjustable driver’s seat, allowing pretty much anyone to get comfortable behind the wheel.
In this area, the Corsa is up there with the best superminis. Not only is there decent storage around the cabin, there’s more than enough room in the front for a couple of six-footers. It’ll come as no surprise that, if you regularly need to carry rear-seat passengers, you need to go for a five-door model. If you do, you’ll find that there’s enough room for a couple of adults in the back, and decent access through the rear doors. In the three-door, things are far more awkward, with a fair bit of anatomical origami required just to get into the rear seats, and considerably less room when you get there. Folding rear seats are standard across the range (but 60/40 split only from SRi trim upwards), and with them up, both versions of the Corsa share the same 285-litre boot capacity – smaller than the Renault Clio’s, but not bad. At least it’s a nice square shape, but it’s spoiled by the high lip that you need to lift luggage over, and the fact that the seats don’t sit flat when you fold them down.
Ride and handling
It’s pleasant to drive, with decent visibility, well-weighted controls and light steering
Vauxhall says it concentrated on making the Corsa easy to drive in day-to-day life, rather than focusing on super-sharp handling. On that score, the company’s succeeded: it’s no harder to live with any of its rivals. In fact, it’s perfectly pleasant to drive, with decent visibility, well-weighted controls and light steering that all make for easy manoeuvrability around town. It has safe and solid handling through the bends, too, and no nasty surprises waiting to catch you out. However, there are still some shortcomings. It doesn’t feel all that light on its feet, so it lacks that nimble feel you get in some of its rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta. Meanwhile, the ride is also less than ideal. It feels slightly jittery and unsettled for too much of the time – especially at low speeds and even more so in the sportier models with 17-inch wheels. The Grand Slam version – which has sports suspension and 18-inch alloys as standard, is even less comfortable, and rarely settles down, on any road. The exception is the VXR model, which – in standard guise – is agile, grippy, and changes direction like a mayfly. We would strongly urge you to avoid the optional ‘Performance Pack’ though, as it turns the ride from ‘acceptably firm’ to ‘downright uncomfortable’ and is only worthwhile if you plan to regularly use and abuse your Corsa around a track day circuit.
The turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine is the star of the show
The Corsa is available with a wide range of engines, and the turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol is the star of the show. There are two versions and we’ve driven the more powerful 113bhp version, which impressed us with its smoothness, willing nature and decent performance at the same time as delivering decent economy. We’ve also driven the 99bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre unit, which provides similar levels of performance to the 1.0-litre, but in a slightly different way. Its extra low-down torque means it responds even more strongly at low revs, but it doesn’t have quite the same ultimate strength at high revs. We’ve also tried is the basic 69bhp 1.2-litre unit, but we’d recommend you don’t bother. Not only is it frustratingly short of performance, what little power and torque it does have are concentrated at the top end of the rev range. That means you need to make regular use of the gearbox to get the best from the engine – and that only reveals that the five-speed gearbox is nothing like as slick as the six-speed manual that comes with the 1.0- and 1.4-litre units. If you fancy diesel power, you have the choice of two 1.3-litre units with either 74bhp or 94bhp. We’ve tried the latter, and it’s a perky performer that stays smooth and quiet most of the time. The Grand Slam has a hot hatch-like 148bhp from a 1.4-litre turbo engine, but it’s not as fast as the similarly priced Ford Fiesta ST. If you can afford it, the fire-breathing VXR model does pack a serious punch from its 202bhp 1.6-litre turbo – but it’s a fair bit more expensive than the equally rapid Fiesta.
Probably the most appealing aspect of the Corsa is what good value it represents. Its prices are extremely competitive compared with those of its most direct competition, and certain trim levels have been designed especially for company drivers – who will account for around half of all Corsa sales. Every model (except those with an automatic gearbox) averages more than 50mpg according to official figures, with the 89bhp 1.0-litre engine being the most economical petrol unit thanks to a figure of almost 66mpg. The most economical models are the diesels, all of which qualify for zero road tax, with the 94bhp unit averaging more than 80mpg.
With such a new car, there are no figures on how reliable it is. And, although customer satisfaction surveys don’t paint previous generations of the Corsa in a very good light, potential buyers can take some heart: according to figures from Warranty Direct, the Corsa’s reliability is no worse than average, while owners on our own site are almost uniform in their praise for the car’s reliability.
The standard safety-related kit looks good. Every model comes with Hill Start Assist, a tyre pressure warning system, six airbags and an electronic stability programme. The options list includes many features normally associated with much more expensive cars. For example, buyers can specify bi-xenon headlamps with cornering lights, Advanced Park Assist (a system that automatically steers the car when parking), Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning. When the car was tested by Euro NCAP, it scored four stars, with 79% for adult occupant protection. However, many supermini rivals have achieved the full five-star rating.
There’s a positively bewildering range of trim levels available with the Corsa, but every model in the range comes with power steering, electrically operated front windows and mirrors, and remote central locking. Excite is the trim most likely to appeal to private buyers, with air-con, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, and automatic wipers and headlights. Meanwhile, Design is focused on the fleet market, with the Intellilink system, cruise control and a leather covered steering wheel. SRi is a sporty option – with sports seats and sports pedals – while SRi VX-Line goes one step further with a unique bodykit and sports suspension. SE trim is the luxury choice, bringing heated front seats and steering wheel, and extra chrome trim.
The Corsa is a very attractive package, offering plenty of space and equipment at decent prices. All that’s missing is a better driving experience. It’s comfortable – as long as you choose your wheels carefully – but has less grip, and looser controls than the best cars in this class. The new 1.0-litre engine is superb though, as it manages to be punchy, refined and efficient – a very rare combination indeed.