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Road Test: Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 16V GLS 3dr (1997-1999)

Car specifications


Tenerife is home to the Brits abroad and the roads positively brim with tourists wobbling around in hired Corsas. So, donning our most patriotic shorts and chanting ‘ere we go, ‘ere we go, ‘ere we go, that was where we went to check out Vauxhall’s freshly reworked Corsa.

Being a smallish island, you can’t drive far unless you’re in an Amphicar. And, as most of the roads are switchbacks, you’re unlikely to get over 30mph - but with Vauxhall’s new economy-biased three-cylinder, 973cc ECOTEC-Compact engine under the bonnet, you’d be pushing it to break the speed limit in a playground. The old 1.2-litre, four-cylinder Corsa engine didn’t have much of a drinking problem but this new unit takes frugality to Mormon levels. Chopping a cylinder off saves at least 20 kilos, the weight reduction being one of the reasons Vauxhall is claiming a seriously healthy 48.7mpg combined economy.

Saving on juice takes its toll on performance, however. With just 54bhp on offer, 93mph is said to be possible, just, with 0-60mph in a touch under 18 seconds. The 12-valve engine needs considerable revving to make an attempt at acceleration but stays smooth throughout, emitting just a high-pitched lathe-like whirr. On the motorway it’s quiet too, although among faster traffic you feel like a Yorkshire terrier at a greyhound track.

The quest for fuel economy has also led to the introduction of an electronic power steering system which only saps power when assistance is needed, giving a further cut in claimed fuel consumption of up to five per cent. The other upshot of the new steering (standard on GLS, Sport and CDX, optional on others) is that it gives vastly better feel than the previously vague system.

For the final round of tweakery - to the chassis - Vauxhall have drafted in the help of Lotus. To sort the Corsa’s woolly road manners the chaps at Lotus have fitted revised springs and dampers all round, along with rejigged suspension mounting points and a front anti-roll bar bolted on to all models.

The result is much tidier handling than before. Yes, there’s still plenty of roll in the twisties (witness sombrero at full tilt, bottom left) but the Corsa is more communicative, better tied down and, ultimately, safer to chuck around than before; though still not rating quite as highly on the funometer as the Fiesta. The ride is now a little firm and thumpy, although the compromise is worth the overall improvements.Inside there’s a revised selection of subtly coloured trim combos, the flat- backed driver’s seat is fully height adjustable and the steering wheel still sits too high, with no adjustability at all. Air-conditioning is now available for 1.4-litre GLS and CDX models.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and externally the revamped Corsa has only been given a little chrome moustache and wider bumpers, neither of which alters the fact that it still looks as fresh and modern as any Fiesta or Polo.

Vauxhall have limited the most serious changes to making the Corsa a far nicer car to drive. For that, I take my sombrero off to them

Peter Grunert

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