First Drive: Vauxhall Corsa 1.6 VXR 3dr Reviews 2022 | Top Gear
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First Drive

First Drive: Vauxhall Corsa 1.6 VXR 3dr

£ 17,995 when new
Published: 26 Jun 2015


  • BHP


  • 0-62


  • Max Speed


What's this, then?

This is Vauxhall's second crack at a go-faster Corsa, and it's gunning straight for the current king of Planet Hot Hatch: the all-conquering Fiesta ST. Tough ask.

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What's under the bonnet?

Powering the Corsa's front wheels is the 1.6-litre turbo engine from the old car, but with new air filters, intercooler and a completely reworked dual-exit Remus exhaust - something previously only available on limited edition VXRs but is now standard. These alterations mean more performance and lower emissions.

How much performance?

Thanks to a slightly raised 5,800rpm redline, the headline stats are 205bhp and 180lb ft of torque. When applying maximum leadfootery, an overboost function sees that torque swell to 207lb ft for five seconds.

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That's enough to see off 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and punt the Corsa on to a top speed of 143mph: slower than a RenaultSport Clio but faster than a Fiesta ST.

Any changes to the chassis?

Plenty. The VXR sits 10mm lower than standard and is fitted with trick mechanical dampers from Koni. There are also new bushes, uprights, a stiffer rear suspension setup, fresh anti-roll bars, and, for the first time, a two-stage ESC system.

Stage 1 - ‘Competition Mode' - turns the traction control off but allows some slip from the ESP, for a little more adjustability and the occasional rear-end twerk round corners. Stage Two means you're bowling with no barriers, as everything is off. So pack your excuses in the glovebox.

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Is there one of those fancy performance pack options, a la Golf GTI?

There is, and we'd say it's a box you definitely need to tick.

Doing so will cost you £2,400 but effectively make your car into a new version of the Corsa VXR Nurburgring Edition that won a TG Award back in 2011. But for less cash.

There's no extra power, but you do receive a more sporting Koni damper setup, larger, more powerful 330mm-diameter four-pot Brembo brakes (they're 308mm as standard), 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, plus, best of all, a four-plate mechanical Drexler limited-slip differential sandwiched between the two front wheels.

That's the same face-warping voodoo diff from the old Corsa VXR Nurburgring and Clubsport editions, the defining feature that elevated them to TG hot hatch royalty.

How much of a difference does the Performance Pack make?

It makes the car innately more mechanical. The visceral, lairy nature in which the VXR engages and sniffs out grip to slingshot you round a corner is pretty brutal. But it's addictive, and heightens your driving experience by shaking up your synapses in only the way a good hot hatch should.

What's it like to drive, then?

On a wet, broken, flowing Scottish B-Road, the Corsa VXR is a fun companion. The engine feels barely turbocharged, the torque spread thicker from 1900rpm to 5800rpm. And, as you're in the juicy power band more than before, there's no need to scurry through the new, shorter-throw gearbox.

But even though the engine delivery is elastic and responsive, it's not one to will you on and encourage you to thrash it. When it gets into its stride at 5,000rpm, it drones rather than sings, any good noise drowned out by dreadful tyre roar.

There's no doubting the VXR is fleet-footed, though. And fun. At higher speeds on fissured roads, the Corsa feels impressively confident: thank the trick new dampers for that.

What makes these dampers so novel?

Unlike the Astra VXR, which employs electronic FlexRide active damping system, little brother Corsa has dampers that vary mechanically rather than electronically.

There's an extra valve in the damper housing that opens when things get overly busy and bumpy. This means that when you're going round town at normal speeds, the ride is seriously firm, which can get quite tiresome quite quickly. But going quicker on bumpy roads opens the valves, softening off the ride without compromising body control. It works well.

Does it understeer?

It simply grips, fiercely. But any feedback trying to telegraph itself form the front-driven wheels is lost in the plump, squidgy flat-bottom steering wheel, so you've just got to grit your teeth and trust that magic diff.

This requires some cohones, as the diff is less vigorous off-throttle. If you're in trouble, boot it, let the supportive hard-shell Recaros clasp you while the diff's witchcraft and apex magnetism sees you round the bend.

This, or a Fiesta ST?

VXR prices start at £17,995 - £1000 cheaper than the old one - which considering it comes with Bi-xenon headlights, Vauxhall's IntelliLink touchscreen system and posh bucket seats as standard, works out around £400 cheaper than the equivalent trim Fiesta ST-2.

However, boggo-for-boggo, the Fiesta ST is cheaper. And with the (recommended) Performance Pack taking the price to £20,395, in reality the Corsa is quite a bit more expensive than its Blue Oval adversary - which of course doesn't have the option of an LSD.

Against the Corsa's jiggly ride, the Fiesta's poise means it'll be easier to live with day-to-day, offering up its driving kicks without the need to wring its neck out.

The Corsa offers up something different. It'll excite a keen driver when they're really on it more than the Ford, but it doesn't do the the whole only-car-you-need thing with the same award-winning aplomb.

But don't discount the Corsa VXR, which lives firmly at the performance end of the market.

If you're into track days, the Performance Pack Corsa is better suited for your needs than an ST. With the Renaultsport Clio going soft, that end of the hot hatch spectrum now Vauxhall's for the taking...

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