IAIN ROBERTSON  

Waxing lyrical is not something that Iain Robertson delivers with much willingness, because he thinks he should be more serious about critical appraisals but he might change his mind with the latest GM baby.

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Were I to tell a lie, a little white fib, a mild dose of perjury, a soupcon of economy with the truth, then I reckon that you might suss it out quick-sharp. I am not unknown for outbursts of legal turpitude that might cause a corporate lawyer to suffer from intense apoplexy. In my alter ego role as a restaurant reviewer, I even adopt a ‘Spitting Image’-esque characterisation (complete with disparate family members to aid my needy nom-de-plumery). ‘He’ cannot be sued. However, I review motorcars very much in my own name and my repute thereby is either hanged despairingly, or is lauded clamorously.

 

My outspokenness about one of the world’s largest (but emphatically NOT greatest, in my view) carmakers, General Motors, or ‘The General’, the US-based, ocean-going, triple-masted, destroyer of Saab, most of Isuzu, several US brands and aspects of Fiat Group, Subaru and Suzuki, has not gone unnoticed. Therefore, my reluctance, based purely on personal ideology, even to put GM products to the test, is manifold.

 

Yet, for Vauxhall, the UK subsidiary of the US master company, which, itself, was placed in a most precarious position by its owner (until recently, along with its German counterpart, Opel, its future was declared as untenable and buyers were being sought), I have always had a soft spot. I realise that it possesses a xenophobic aspect but I have also known a lot of Vauxhall people over the years, notably those that are not thoroughly imbued in the GM ethos. The company does warrant British support, not least because it still manufactures cars in the UK, an aspect no longer shared with Ford Motor Company.

 

While the Corsa model has always been a worthy little thing, intrinsically well-built, not unpleasant to drive and beloved on the used car scene, not least by the younger generations, it has never appealed to me, especially in its sportiest iterations. Fairly numb responses to driver input, allied to a marketing-led sales strategy have been two good reasons for me to elect to ignore it, most of the time. Yet, its arch-rival, the Ford Fiesta, is lively, characterful, dynamically sound and the nation’s best-seller (in class) by far.

 

Were Vauxhall to compete truly with the Ford sector equivalent, some highly pertinent changes would be needed. Well, Vauxhall has achieved it, with the comprehensively revised Corsa. It looks similar to the old model and most of the metal pressings are largely identical. However, with some pertinent Adam-style changes made to the tail-lamps, headlamps, grille details and the wheel designs, the new Corsa has adopted that sliver of extra character needed to hike it onto the next platform. Yet, the real graft has been applied internally and to its running gear, from the engine line-up, to the suspension.

 

The changes wrought have been radical enough to make the new Corsa the car it should have always been. However, the real proof lies in the driving and, on that score, the new model is simply stunning. Although the all-new 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder engine has two variants, developing either 89, or 113bhp, I drove the latter, as I believe it will be the more popular choice.

 

Up to now, Vauxhall has not been able to match the much-vaunted Ford EcoBoost equivalent. For starters, I can tell you that the Vauxhall engine is quieter, smoother, more linear in its power delivery and significantly more frugal than the Ford engine. It spools up like a turbine, without notable peaks in the power curve, yet it can be trawled around town in high gears, without betraying its small displacement. Vauxhall beats Ford, emphatically.

 

The figures speak for themselves, emitting 115g/km CO2, the Official Combined fuel return is given as 57.6mpg, which is believable, as my initial part of the drive sought to reach that figure. I did not but the car still recorded 54.9mpg on a mix of town and mainly country roads, which I believe to be most impressive. The 89bhp alternative emits 100g/km and is stated as being capable of 65.7mpg. Until I test that model more comprehensively, I cannot confirm how close to that figure I might attain. However, if you want to avoid VED, then the 1.3-litre turbo-diesel is the model to go for (85g/km, 88.3mpg).

 

While Vauxhall is launching the new Corsa with both the old 1.2 and 1.4-litre engines, to be quite frank, after I drove the 1.4-litre, my suggestion would be to forget it and rely on either of the 1.0-litres, as they are significantly smoother, punchier and more economical. While the engine is important, so are the other characteristics and the new Corsa’s driveability is utterly brilliant.

 

Every aspect has been placed under close scrutiny and modified, or changed, significantly. As a result, the steering is deliciously weighted and possesses the directional stability of a larger car. While it might lack the incisiveness of the Fiesta, thankfully it is not as tiring to steer, as the Ford provides responses that are sometimes too sharp. Allied to this is the sublime ride quality, which retains enough firmness to be roll-free and modestly sporting, while not suffering from the biliousness-inducing and sometimes jolting ride of the Fiesta. Vauxhall engineers have worked miracles here.

 

It is hard to believe that the bulk of the alterations are to existing components, because they are bolted to what is the same metal floor pressing. Interestingly, the dampers and springs are to a UK-specification, intended to suit our roads better than the smooth tarmac of Germany. They work exceedingly well and even at test speeds in excess of 100mph, straight-line stability was unhindered and the new Corsa possesses a solid and planted feel overall.

 

Naturally, other elements of the performance envelope are quite important and the 113bhp model will breach the 0-60mph benchmark in around ten seconds, although it does feel much livelier than that. From the easy to access cabin, through wide-opening doors, the previous, third generation Corsa was already quite spacious. The new version feels a tad airier, although the actual dimensions are unchanged. Much of this might lie in the fact that the switch and control blocks have been removed, to be replaced by the same touch-screen that features in the Adam model. As a result, the layout looks less confusing and proved to be better to use than most touch-sensitive systems. Dependent on model, the dashboard detailing is mostly attractive and well-assembled but not distracting.

 

The driving position is very good and accommodating for a wide range of driver statures, all the way to my two metres of height. The multi-function steering wheel works well enough and provides the fairly inexpensive hatchback with a premium quality feel. Talking about price, which remains a consideration at this more affordable end of the market, the well-equipped new Corsa starts at £8,995, which is around £1,000 less than its Fiesta arch-rival. This is an exceptional price point, as it also takes in the current raft of new city-tiddlers (VW up!, Peugeot 108 and so on), with the obvious exception that it is providing a much larger base for the money.

 

While I would question putting three passengers in the rear seats, the belt number suggests it would be okay, even though, when folded, it does not split 60:40. However, I do not want to suggest that the new Corsa is anything less than eminently practical and there are plenty of cubby-holes and pockets for storing personal belongings, while the boot is accommodating enough for a small hatchback. The body designs are different for three, or five-door models, a quirk that Vauxhall has made its own for the past few years.

 

Conclusions: Vauxhall has produced a brilliant new model in the Corsa. The 1.0-litre engine is simply one of the best I have driven in years. Unless you have a compulsion to drive the 1.2 (70bhp), or 1.4-litre (90/100bhp) models, I would propose that you ignore them. If diesel is your bag, then the upgraded version (75/95bhp) is acceptable. My choice would be the 113bhp, 6-speed version, which is utterly wonderful. I congratulate Michael Harder and Thorsten Kniesa (the suspension and engine gurus respectively) for their sterling efforts. If I harbour one minor issue, it lies in the fact that the acquisition choice between Fiesta and Corsa is a virtual ‘default’ . Most buyers could not care. I simply hope that enough readers are swayed by not just my words but the positive views of many other motoring writers. In my book, now you can forget Fiesta and choose Corsa confidently.