Best-looking, best-driving, most refined small Vauxhall ever. Makes great use of Peugeot’s hard work
You can spot the joins all over the rushed interior
What is it?
It's the second new Vauxhall Corsa that’s been dreamt up in the last few years. And the only one you’ll ever actually see. Confused? Strap in for a crash course in car industry economics: a few years ago, with a new Corsa design firmly agreed and production ready to kick off, Vauxhall-Opel was bought out by Peugeot-Citroen. And the merger wasn’t about to let its new acquisition carry on with a new supermini using not so much as a washer or bolt from its new foster parents. So, Vauxhall had to start all over again. Only this time, the instructions were in French.
Two and a half years later – a spectacularly short turnaround time for a brand-new car – the new Corsa you see here arrived. Many of the oily and electrical bits are shared with the new Peugeot 208, because of course the all-electric e-Corsa is twinned with the e-208. There are also three-cylinder petrol and four-cylinder diesel versions, but visually only the badging is different – the idea here is that you chose the powerplant you want, but the bodywork remains the same. No inferiority (or superiority…) complex.
What’s the big seller?
Welcome as the EV option is, it’ll be the humble 1.2-litre petrol mainly tasked with adding to the Corsa’s haul of over two million UK sales in the last quarter-century.
Will folks recognise it as a Corsa? Though Vauxhall’s done a good job of drawing a car that doesn’t look obviously Peugeot-related, it’s a big design shift from the van-like Corsas of yore. This new one is 48mm lower at the roof and the driver sits 28mm lower. The dashboard juts out less into the cabin.
The new car is a smidge longer, and fractionally narrower. It looks more planted, squat and purposeful. Handsome? Probably more so than a Fiesta or a Polo, at any rate. Awkwardly, it’s not as much of a head-turner as Peugeot’s 208 or Citroen’s C3, though. Can’t imagine that was deliberate.
How are kit levels?
Tech headlines come in the shape of a bigger touchscreen, a digital instrument display on top-spec models, LED lights across the range (with adaptive ‘matrix’ main-beam on the options list) and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, shared with you-know-what. It’s a five-door only this time, and there’s not a sniff of a hotted-up VXR performance version, for the foreseeable future. Hey-ho. The base car is up to 100kg lighter than before. That’ll help it just about everywhere.
So, think of the Corsa as a play-it-safe 208, riffing off the French car’s likeable powertrains but eschewing the divisive i-Cockpit interior layout. The right compromise? In some ways, yes. So let’s get on with the best news of all – that at last, this is a Corsa that’s good to drive.
Corsas of old have long been wooden to drive, nowhere near as lively and vivacious as the equivalent Fiesta. No longer. This is a mature, crisp mannered car that’s reassuring and well controlled on the road. It doesn’t fizz with energy, but is well damped and insulated, comes across as robust and capable, and doesn’t wilt at the first sign of a corner.
The 1.2 triple is the engine to have if you’re not going electric – and whether you should go electric is debatable. Not if you’re on a tight budget. Otherwise, it’s not a bad option, the 50kw battery delivering a claimed 209 mile range and perkier performance than any other Corsa (0-62mph in 7.8secs).
The Corsa’s bland and incongruous cabin rather snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, we’re afraid. It’s dark up front, cramped in the back and there’s little sense of style, ambition or attraction – all things that the Peugeot 208 does well at.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The Corsa’s bland and incongruous cabin rather snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, we’re afraid. All other Corsas have reeked of mediocrity, but this one drives with poise and precision, it’s very refined, it’s efficient, it’s comfortable and it looks smart. It’s less toylike. More desirable. It gives Vauxhall hope of what can be done with its new French overlords signing cheques and sharing tech.
When this car’s facelifted, we hope it gets the cockpit it deserves. Bin the screens and start again with clearer interfaces, align them into the design rather than jamming them into seas of plastic surround, and buy a really nice anniversary present for Peugeot-Citroen. Then beg them for their switchgear and trim. For the first time, ever, we’ve got a Corsa that actually deserves better. Repeat after us: this is a good Vauxhall.