IAIN ROBERTSON 

Outright potency is not the aim of Vauxhall’s run-out SRi version of the compact Corsa, states Iain Robertson, as his appreciation of a time-honoured model from Vauxhall’s fast-fading line-up provides him with a motoring-for-today ethos.

Power-to-weight is a readily justified measurement for carmakers to contemplate, as they seek to fulfil customers’ burgeoning demands for greater frugality. While some, not many, manufacturers are achieving near-Lotus-like qualities of lithe, agile and first-rate performance statistics, others are still committed to a ‘bulk is best’ philosophy, working on the basis of strength being the most important precursor for enhanced safety. The latest Vauxhall Corsa is on a weight-saving mission.

Yet, keeping it compact is always going to be a preferable route, as there is a decreasing amount of space on our roads, in our car parks and even on our streets for the archetypal ‘size-queens’. In a sea of SUVs and crossovers, it is almost too easy to forget that the compact car sector remains as buoyant as ever, even though some ‘remoaners’ might suggest that its overall volumes (which are substantial) are also static. However, ‘market sector growth’ should never be the consideration, as there are so many contributing factors to accommodate. I am certain that you can think of some elementary consumables, to which you give scarcely a second thought, yet which remain as essential as a roll of Andrex.

Despite an environment of niche-filling, by which many marketing aspects of many industries lure consumers into acquiring ‘the next best thing’, which is seldom better than ‘the previous thing’, with ten per cent greater girth and carrying a 25% bigger price tag, it does seem that we are actually a tad wiser than the ‘fiddlers’ might presume, as ‘the previous thing’ continues to sell and hold its value. Such are the joys of product marketing.

While Vauxhall, which has recently changed ownership from General Motors to PSA Group (that owns Peugeot, Citroen and DS brands), is still a major car manufacturer, the number of PSA-derived models that will carry Vauxhall badges (Opel in Europe) will grow exponentially from the current Grandland X and Crossland X alternatives. While there is a GSi version of the Corsa yet to make an appearance, the SRi test car uses a body that will be the last of the Vauxhall breed, a factor worth contemplating, should you be considering it as your next car.

Over the past four decades, both Ford and Vauxhall have battled regally for market share with their compact models, both claiming the high ground at various stages and to various buying segments. Competition is always good for any retail product, which has led to both Fiesta and Corsa models achieving the top spot in the UK sales charts at various times. Both are excellent hatchbacks but, for sheer eye-appeal, the dynamic styling of the Corsa, with its judiciously detailed bodywork and trim, both external and internal, gives it the upper hand.

However, wearing SRi model nomenclature gifts the Corsa junior-league captaincy. Ever since Vauxhall introduced the trim level, incorporating initially a small power hike too, it has been a semi-serious badge of office, popularised by a TV programme of the late-1980s that elevated the role of the company ‘rep’ to that of ‘denizen of the nation’s motorway network’…the regular salesman would have the GL model made by Vauxhall, while his regional manager would drive the much-vaunted SRi. Almost exclusively Vauxhall, SRi is as important as GTi is to Volkswagen.

While outright potency is almost as frowned upon as noisy exhaust pipes, hit by swingeing insurance premiums (because Lloyds knows how), it was inevitable that a broader liberty was applied to SRi. As a result, boasting an insurance-friendly Group 10E rating, a 97bhp, 1.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, aided by a light-pressure turbocharger, provides a modest but more than adequate amount of urge. In fact, the turbo boosts low-revs verve by delivering a chunky amount of torque (147lbs ft) from a lowly 1,850rpm, to 3,500rpm, which is without doubt, a few revs either side of the flatter part of the curve, the most important engine speed range for modern-day driving conditions.

Although it is rated as covering the 0-60mph benchmark sprint in around 10.7s, the Corsa actually feels zestier than the on-paper figure proposes. Its top speed is given as a respectable 115mph and, driving through a nicely-spaced and ever-so-slick six-speed manual gearbox, the SRi never feels lacking. Of course, the beauty of a leggy top gear means that cruising at 60mph demands a smidgen less than 2,000rpm on the rev-counter. In turn, that equates to exceedingly refined motoring, when you want it. Yet, drop down the cogs, use the punchy mid-range of the engine, and progress can be satisfyingly speedy on-demand. It ought to be highlighted that Vauxhall also installs its effective 1.0-litre ‘triple’ in this model, which might be a more preferable unit in some respects.

With an Official Combined fuel return of 51.4mpg, which is readily attainable, while emitting around 128g/km CO2, the 1.4-litre Corsa’s road tax bill demands £165 in the first year and the standard £140 annually thereafter. Armed with an almost ten-gallon fuel tank capacity, a borderline 500-miles range is a distinct possibility. Of course, if you plan to be behind the steering wheel for a journey of that magnitude, it pays if the interior also meets expectations…and it does.

The upper moulding of the dashboard is ‘soft-touch’, which adds to the overall quality feel of the car. However, the signature splashes of a racy red on dashboard and seat stitching, combine with the piano-black and alloy trim sections to create a nicely assembled cabin environment. The door pockets are deep and accommodating and, while the can-holders ahead of the gearlever will almost (but not quite) allow a McDonalds milk-shake to be carried, the extra oddment space is appreciated. The driving position is multi-adjustable and provides significant space for occupants of larger stature.

However, there could be an elephant-in-the-room, with the three-door format of the Corsa. It is available as a five-door, which would alleviate the child-seat hassle and having to alight from the vehicle, every time you wanted to carry a second, or third, passenger. Yet, I like the additional structural rigidity that the three-door imparts (1,138kgs kerbweight), which is a factor noticeable in the car’s first-rate on-road dynamics. The three-door is also a distinctive outline, gifting the little Corsa a coupe-like appeal but not at the expense of back seat space, which is tight but compares favourably with most of its competitors.

In fact, its boot, complete with adjustable boot floor and a natty rear shelf locator, is a moderate 280-litres, which is good for the class but also extends to a whopping 1,000-litres, when the rear seats are folded forwards, which is great for child accessories, shopping expeditions and even the golf clubs. Yet, the best bit of the Corsa SRi lies in its effortless styling. It is one cracker of a good looker.

Conclusion:   Priced at a chunky £19,410 in test guise, which includes almost £1,800’s worth of extras, while a 3-door Corsa SRi is a niche product, it is also a real crowd-pleaser, which is a novelty in the compact car scene.