When the invitation to Vauxhall’s new Corsa VXR launch landed in the Auto Express office a few months ago, there was only one man for the job: me. Having taken custody of the three-door on our fleet late last year, I was perfectly placed to assess the range-topping 202bhp hot hatch and compare it to our humble 1.0-litre Turbo
However, in order to do so, I had to drive our supermini 450 miles from the office in central London to Scotland’s Knockhill circuit 40 miles north-east of Glasgow – quite a slog in any car, let alone one designed primarily for use in and around town.
I needn’t have worried, though, because thanks to the six-speed manual gearbox, comfy seats and punchy turbo engine, the Corsa had no trouble keeping up with faster-moving traffic.
To draw worthwhile comparisons between the basic car and the firebreathing VXR model, I decided to follow a colleague’s advice and head cross country from Carlisle in Cumbria. Taking the A7 towards Hawick, I peeled back to Glasgow on the A72, before rejoining the M74 and M80 to Knockhill. The challenging, twisty sections of rural Scotland pushed the Corsa well out of its comfort zone, where the cosseting suspension saw it wallow and roll on the undulating country roads. Thankfully, the punchy engine meant it had plenty of grunt on the straights, and more than enough in reserve for overtaking when the road opened out.
After a relatively painless eight-hour drive and a good night’s sleep, we were handed the keys to the new Corsa VXR. It uses a tweaked 202bhp version of the outgoing Clubsport model’s engine, and offers an optional Performance Pack with a limited-slip diff and bigger Brembo brakes.
Retracing some of my steps from the previous day, it was clear this VXR was a totally different beast. Where the standard Corsa rolls, the hot hatch remained sharp; and while our Excite car felt calm and composed on the motorway, the VXR was firm and unbearably noisy – thanks in part to optional 18-inch rims and low-profile tyres.
There’s no denying it’s a better track day car, though. The VXR was agile and fast around the twisty Knockhill circuit, especially with the optional Drexler differential helping pull it out of the tighter corners with ease. We weren’t allowed to take our 1.0 Turbo out on track, but if its relaxed road manners are anything to go by, we weren’t missing much.
However, that would be missing the point. Our car costs a little over £14,000 – nearly £8,000 less than the VXR with the Performance Pack included – yet it gets loads of kit as standard. Everything from 16-inch alloy wheels to air-con and LED daytime running lights is included, as is a heated steering wheel, seats and windscreen. It really is exceptional value for money – especially when you consider the likelihood of a whopping dealer discount, too.
If I had to pick one to live with every day, it’d be our 1.0-litre Excite. It proved a great long-distance cruiser, feels fast enough in a straight line and, aside from the poor economy, doesn’t cost much to run. Hold the Lime Green paint, though; it’s certainly distinctive, but I’d have mine in Asteroid Grey with some dark alloy wheels, please.
Few people buy a supermini for its load-lugging ability, but as even the tiniest city runarounds now offer enough space for a weekend away, owners are expecting more from their small cars.
As deputy news editor, I spend a lot of time on the road, attending car launches and other events. But at the weekend, my girlfriend, Anna, and I frequently load up the car with luggage and visit friends and family up and down the country.
On paper that shouldn’t be a problem, as our Vauxhall Corsa’s 285-litre boot is on par with the best in class. Plus, it claims a total load volume of 1,090 litres with the rear seats folded flat, allowing plenty of room for the occasional trip to the tip.
Yet while all that sounds impressive, after living with the car for a few months, there’s one failing I simply can’t forgive, and that’s the single-piece rear bench.
While many rivals have 50:50 or 60:40 splits, it’s all or nothing with our Corsa Excite. Other versions have a split-fold back seat, but it’s not even an option on this car. As a result, you can’t fit three or four people plus luggage inside – some weekend essentials have to stay behind.
This was particularly apparent when we loaded up the Corsarecently for a three-day trip to the south coast. Anna and I offered friends Hannah and Rachel a lift, not realising they’d bring their entire wardrobes, plus the kitchen sink.
Fitting everything in was like trying to master a giant, three-dimensional game of Tetris. In the end we had to fill the footwells and pile stuff on the middle seat. Things would’ve been much easier if we’d been able to split the rear bench in two, although those in the back would’ve been squeezed on to two-thirds of the seat.
Still, as I pile on the miles, the Corsa’s tiny three-cylinder turbo is coming into its own. It’s incredibly quiet in town, and the addition of a sixth gear means it’s very refined on the motorway, too.
It’s also got bags of torque. Every time I pull up a slip road or away from some lights, I’m amazed at how sprightly it feels. This great engine transforms the Vauxhall from a middle-of-the-road small car to a true VW Polo or Ford Fiesta rival.
But while practicality isn’t crucial in this class, it’s currently a chink in the Corsa’s armour. And sadly for my passengers, it means a budget airline-style hand luggage-only policy from now on.
To find out, we’ve taken delivery of a 113bhp Turbo in Excite trim – the same model (albeit with two fewer doors) that beat the Fiesta EcoBoost in our supermini group test.
At the time, we praised the baby Vauxhall for its engaging drive and improved efficiency, with the new 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine promising 57.6mpg in mixed motoring. While we didn’t quite manage such an impressive figure during our test, it did pip theFord, which official stats suggest should be the more economical car.
We collected our new Corsa from Go Vauxhall in Wimbledon, south London, to learn a little bit more about the car’s features and the changes made over the outgoing model. Our mid-range Excite comes complete with Bluetooth connectivity, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and hill start assist.
You also get winter-friendly features such as heated front seats, a heated windscreen and even a heated steering wheel – toys we’ll no doubt make the most of over the coming weeks.
Also included is Vauxhall’s clever IntelliLink infotainment system – a feature we’d already sampled in our Vauxhall Adam, which we ran for six months back in 2013. However, there’s no harm in a refresh, and new car sales manager, Pedro Pereira, was happy to guide us through the set-up.
It’s really easy to use, and while there’s no built-in sat-nav, you can download one quickly and easily to your smartphone and mirror it on to the dashboard. The BringGo app is $49.99 (about £39) from both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and should work perfectly on the Corsa’s colour screen. Drivers not willing to stump up the initial purchase price can download a 30-day trial for less than £1.
Away from the dealership and out on the road, the Corsa feels more grown-up than before. It’s quieter around town, and the soft suspension prevents the car crashing over potholes. Even on the motorway the tiny 1.0-litre engine remains hushed, and the standard-fit cruise control is a welcome addition to the already extensive kit list.
Unfortunately, since visiting the dealership to collect our car, the infotainment system has been playing up. We drove 90 miles to Leamington Spa, Warks, last week and bizarrely the radio only worked when indicating left or right. On the way back, it functioned as normal. The fault will be hard to track due to its temperamental nature, but we’ll be taking the car back to Vauxhall for a diagnostics check soon.
It’s going to be an interesting few months with our Lime Green Corsa, but first impressions are good. If it can return anywhere near the quoted mpg, and continues to impress with its grown-up dynamics, I’ve no doubt I’ll be fighting my colleagues for the keys.
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