First Drive: Vauxhall Corsa

It’s less than four years since the last Vauxhall Corsa was released onto the UK’s roads, although that was less all-new and more a very heavy facelift of the ageing 2006 model.

This new Corsa really is entirely new, although, thanks to Vauxhall now falling under PSA’s ownership, most of the hidden parts are exactly as you’ll find in the new Peugeot 208.

Front view of the new Vauxhall Corsa

That means the upright stance of the old Corsa has gone, unkindly described by one Vauxhall designer as being ‘van-like’, replaced by a sleeker, lower and sportier alternative. Describing it as aggressive might be going a little too far, but it’s as mean as anything this side of a VXR that we’ve seen to date.

Under the stubby bonnet of this test car is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel unit that produces 101bhp and 184lb-ft of torque. Despite the new car weighing in at a lightweight 1,090kg (with the Corsa starting at just 980kg for a lower spec, petrol-powered car) performance is rather pedestrian. The 62mph dash takes 9.6 seconds, which is perfectly acceptable, but most of that thrust comes at low speeds – the diesel Corsa runs out of puff almost immediately and makes progress tiresome, with gear changes required for every slight incline, any small change in pace, and even with a strong headwind. The little light that tells you to change gear to something more suitable will probably be the first thing to wear out, such is the frequency of its illumination.

The new Vauxhall Corsa

A quick blast in the similarly powerful 1.2-litre petrol engine shows that the car is transformed with what will be the most popular choice. Diesel’s getting a bad rap at the moment, and this example of it will further push the anti-diesel cause, if only because it’s so dreary. Stick with the petrol or the forthcoming pure electric model.

That weight saving means the Corsa now handles with aplomb, but it’s not entirely engaging. The steering is light, and never really gains enough heft to feel confident on country roads at speed. It’s a cinch in town though, where the power steering makes darting into spaces as easy as pie. Unfortunately, it’s in urban areas where the suspension jiggles and jostles around a fair bit, although it gets far more composed at speed. Vauxhall no longer tunes the car for UK tastes, relying on the German engineers at Opel and their autobahn-focussed approach, which could explain the suspension setup.

There have been some significant changes inside though, which could go a long way to making the new Corsa the success each generation has been so far. The cabin itself is quite neat, although unexciting, but it’s easy to use with a logical order to everything and an incredibly shallow learning curve for what bits do what. That’s something that is going to appeal to those considering a Corsa.

Space in the cabin is generous upfront, with no elbows or shoulders rubbing despite my robust frame. There’s less room in the rear, but it’s still just about ok for legroom unless you’re particularly tall, and ok for headroom. The boot comes in at 309 litres, which is pretty good by class standards.

That steering wheel on this Elite model is heated, which is an indicator of how much equipment Vauxhall has shoehorned into this car. There’s also heated seats, climate control, automatic lights and wipers with high-beam assist, a rear-view camera, keyless entry and start, and a whole host of safety equipment. That’s all joined by a large 10-inch infotainment screen (although there’s a very large black border to it, and lower models make do with a seven-inch unit) that is crisp and clear, and comes with the usual array of navigation, DAB radio, vehicle settings and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay options to fiddle with. Frustratingly, there’s only one USB port in the entire car but, pleasingly, heating and ventilation controls are kept as easily accessible physical rotary knobs. High levels of equipment run through the entire range, with even the entry-level models gaining quite a bit of kit. Prices have gone up to reflect that, which brings this particular car to a Volkswagen Polo-level £21,560.

If that all reads like the Corsa is being damned with faint praise, then there’s probably some truth to that. Undoubtedly, the Corsa is capable enough in each area, but it fails to excel in any of them. In diesel form, it’s frankly a dead loss; it’s not significantly more economical than the petrol model, costs more to buy, and removes any fun you can have from driving. The petrol-powered models are massively improved and aren’t too far behind the best cars in the class. Enthusiasts need not apply, but those that just need to get from A to B, and want to be comfortable when doing so, could do far worse.

Model Tested: Vauxhall Corsa Elite Nav Premium 1.5 Turbo D
Price: £21,560
Range: £15,550 – £25,990
Top speed: 117 mph
0-62 mph: 9.6 seconds
Power: 102 PS (101 bhp)
Torque: 250 Nm (184 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £294
Official economy: 67.3 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 85 g/km
Car Tax: £145
Insurance group: 18E