Vivacious Corsa VXR bares its flawed Vauxhall mettle
Despite displaying a true fascination for the ‘regular’ versions of Vauxhall’s sterling compact model, Iain Robertson felt as if he were forced into a corner, not of his manufacture, while sampling the latest, sportiest variant.
A strong breeding ground for our nation’s ailments lies in the failed educational standards introduced by a previous government, which insisted in a stirring mantra of ‘Education. Education. Education.’. The truth was that a compliance with feeble averageness and a ‘guaranteed place’ at establishments for further academia could never be acceptable, at any stage in societal development. Producing clones does not work.
In danger of sounding like my own father, I realise that I am not alone, in our fast-ageing population, for detesting the hordes of ’youngsters’ hanging out around corner-shops and pedestrian precincts, some of whom do cause distress to other members of the population. While only a tiny minority of them are ‘bad’, many are led too readily.
It is a situation that transmogrifies into the similar gatherings of chassis-illuminated, wide-wheeled, luridly-painted, raucously-exhausted and ‘street’ language-speaking ‘teen-somethings’ that populate car parks at fast-food eateries. Anything that does not comply with their (primarily) ‘Japanese Domestic Market’ affectations is a source of combined derision, sarcasm and deviant humour.
This is a group of people defined by the outstanding pride shown towards their vehicles, some of which, I must admit, look simply stunning, even if their actual ‘re-engineering’ might cause certain safety, quality, legality and refinement aspects to be ignored and compromised injudiciously. Yet, this is the sector of the market at which compact and sporty automotive numbers are targeted. All carmakers use their model ladders as a means to reach into demographic groups and it starts with the STs, GTis, Type-Rs, Turbos and VXRs of this world.
The problem is, most of the designers are forty-somethings desperately clinging onto their fast-fading youthfulness. Even the so-called critics, the motoring journalists of our scene, are swept along on a wave of semi-nostalgia, believing themselves to be ‘hip’ and ‘down with the kids’, because a little bit of ride harshness, nervous control responses and vibrant performance figures are all expectations of the breed. Well, ‘pooh’ to that!
What could have been little more than seriously up-rated brilliance in its VXR-designated Corsa, has resulted in a Vauxhall that can turn heads on every street corner and even motivate the otherwise unmotivatable fast food brigade. Yet, somewhere in its wicked concoction lies an edge that is not entirely satisfactory, which originates from a desire to create a hooligan road-racer (not exactly PC) that can turn in a few fast lap times at track days, at speed hillclimbs and auto-gymkhanas, while looking good at The Golden Arches.
Ford has already performed the same ‘miracle’ with its Fiesta ST. It is zesty. It is moderately well-equipped. However, its suspension is so unforgiving that every minor road surface imperfection, including camber changes and white lines, can send the car scurrying in an unintended direction. Vauxhall’s Corsa VXR represents those remarks. I can understand it. Vauxhall and Ford are locked in a high stakes duel for UK market supremacy. Like-for-like models are an inevitability.
While I believe that the Corsa is generally a prime example of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse, a factor for which Vauxhall should be congratulated, as that has been occurring with successive models to be fair, the transition from eminently sweet to voraciously vibrant is not as comprehensive as it might have been. Look, I realise that this is mere opinion. However, I do believe that there is a better way.
Sitting on its (£500 optional) multi-spoke VXR alloy wheels, the car looks resplendent in its Flame Red paintwork, with pertinent carbon-fibre detailing (door mirror caps; £150 extra cost). In fact, it is every bit the racy little number that we have come to expect from Vauxhalls carrying the VXR badge. It embodies the family ethos that is so deeply imbued by the firm in all of its dealings…even if this is the unruly teenager of the line-up.
While VXR is intended to be the most focused trim, the transition from ‘cooking’ to refined is incorporated within its hide-clad, Recaro interior (£1,045 optional leather pack). While ‘competition-orientated’, with thin backs, seatbelt ‘holes’ and bolstered squabs, the front seats are supremely comfortable and supportive, even for my larger-than-average frame. Yet, their rearward travel seems restricted, even when compared with the more regular versions of the Corsa. As a result, my driving position was compromised, a factor not helped by the high position of the clutch pedal, which demanded that my entire foot be raised off the carpet to depress it. Although I feel certain that it might be adjusted, it did not help with my initial impression of the car.
When you combine a high biting-point with a trigger-response throttle, the enjoyment aspect to driving the Corsa VXR takes a long time to acclimatise, resulting in kangaroo progress that is hindered by the sudden jouncing of the suspension (as mentioned earlier). In fact, encountering the first unavoidable crack in the road surface delivered such a leaden blow to my spine that I feared I might have broken something, not merely on the car!
I am informed that a ‘Competition Pack’ is available for this model, which takes the already spine-jarring ride onto a even higher plane. Considering the VXR’s price tag, which is a deliciously affordable £17,995 (plus aforementioned extras), while appreciating its ‘flag-flying’ intentions for the rest of the Corsa line-up, buyers are still going to come from the 45+ age-range, which is some two decades above the market at which it is aimed. Can you see where the disparity arises?
As suggested earlier, the VXR model does not need to be SO focused. Yes. In the superficial appearance terms, which gift the model its place in the new car market. No. In dynamic terms, where the valuable gifts afforded to the rest of the Corsa line-up have been dispensed with. What I fail to comprehend is how ‘focused’ needs to be redefined as ‘hard’, or even ‘harsh’.
Interestingly, when I first drove the car, I noticed an audible ‘click’ and felt a brake pedal pulsation, even before I pulled out of my domestic driveway. Having been asked about this idiosyncrasy by other Vauxhall users, I have checked with the company and it lies in the ABS (anti-lock brake system) recalibrating itself; something it does prior to every driving experience and is absolutely nothing about which to be concerned.
The rest of the driving experience is perfectly acceptable, at least on good quality tarmac. The turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine delivers a solid 202bhp, which is enough to propel this bolide to a maximum speed in the vicinity of 143mph, despatching the customary 0-60mph benchmark in around 6.5 seconds. In truth, it does not feel as quick as the figures suggest, despite the jostling, although its mid-range punch is strident and ensures that (on ‘overboost’, a carefully engine-managed benefit of the forced induction) overtakes can be carried out painlessly in higher gear ratios.
Indulging in the unit’s mostly pleasant performance can become costly at refuelling time, as the VXR will return as little as 24.8mpg in ‘fast road’ mode, when its sporty nature is exposed in both aural (twin Remus exhaust tailpipes) and physical ways. However, allow the engine to work more industriously, using its available torque, and the figure monitored on the on-board computer can return in excess of 40mpg, which compares most favourably with its Official Combined figure of just 37.7mpg. Factor in a CO2 reading of 174g/km, which equates to a first year VED of £295 (£205 in year two onwards), allied to a mid-range insurance group of 30A and you also appreciate that small in size does not equate to low operational overheads; an important consideration to the company car buyer.
As already suggested, the lack of proper suspension compliance does ruin its handling prowess for me, although I am sure that ‘weekend warriors’, notably of the motorsporting variety, will find little about which to complain. Corsa VXR certainly looks the part, if not delivering to my requirements. I am certain that the suspension wizards at Vauxhall-Opel can find better settings without resorting to a preconceived genre. To do so would highlight their competence; a competence for which I harbour no doubts.
Conclusion: Despite being an ardent fan of the Vauxhall Corsa, considering it to be a far better example of small car engineering than the Ford Fiesta, I was sorely disappointed by the VXR model, despite its excellent build quality and use of first-class trim detailing. Just because the three-door hatchback is the line-up’s sportiest offering does not mean that it needs to appeal to late-teenagers, as they are unlikely to be its first buyers, dissuaded by a higher insurance rating and running costs. Vauxhall can do better than this and, perhaps, a ‘Comfort’ version (no, not with smoking jacket and slippers provided!) would broaden potential sales. I really wanted to like the VXR but felt that it was pandering too much to a ‘younger me’, who never really existed.