The Vauxhall Corsa really is part of this nation’s motoring landscape. More than 2 million of the 14 million or so Corsas sold over the last 25 years have gone to British buyers. Replacing the Corsa, then, is not something to be rushed. Or is it?
This is where it becomes complicated. Because, actually, the car tested here isn’t the new Corsa as Vauxhall had originally intended it to. No, that car was essentially canned at a late prototype stage when, in 2017, Vauxhall shifted from GM’s custodianship to become part of PSA. With the deal done, Vauxhall was asked (well, ordered) to use the PSA’s CMP modular architecture (think platform, engines, electrics and so on) to design and build a completely different new Corsa – and do to it with some haste.
That was a mere two and half years ago, which in terms of a car’s typical development cycle is diddly-squat. Admittedly, Vauxhall had a readymade box of bits to work from. But even so to get everything done in that space of time is really quite extraordinary. Perhaps alarmingly so.
2020 CORSA STYLING AND SPACE
Things get off to a good start with the styling and proportions, which seem just right. This new model is also almost 50mm lower than the outgoing Corsa. Along with the contrasting roof colour this helps to make it appear wider, even though it’s not.
The boot has grown to a respectable 309 litres (a Ford Fiesta offers 292 litres). While not huge the rear seats should cope with ferrying kids around. Just be aware that the small back doors do mean access is compromised for taller passengers.
The engine range is also new to the Corsa, and also from PSA. There’s a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol that has 75bhp without a turbocharger or 100bhp with it. The former is manual only, whereas the latter can alternatively be paired with an eight-speed automatic. There’s also a 1.5-litre diesel option and, arriving in 2020, a fully electric Corsa E. With a range of 205 miles per charge it should add yet more momentum to the electric car sector.
PACKED WITH TECHNOLOGY
Trim levels range from SE through SRi, Elite and Ultimate. Even the base model comes with LED headlights, air-conditioning and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto . Spend more and features such as massage seats, Matrix-LED headlights, and a 10-inch touchscreen start to appear. Just be aware that the larger touchscreen is far from fully optimised; the main display area is actually the same as you get on the smaller screen, only this time flanked by two black bars that contain only very basic information. If there is one area where you can see the Corsa is a PSA product – and a somewhat rushed one – this is it.
Note too, that just as technology has changed, so have prices, which now start from £15,500 and sail all the way past £25,000 for a top-spec model. The Corsa is no longer the default cheap option for supermini buyers, then. In fact, at this launch phase at least the prices look positively punchy.
DRIVING THE 2020 CORSA
Our first drive was in the turbocharged 1.0-litre with a six-speed manual gearbox. In Elite Nav trim this car will set you back £20,350. Climb in and the interior is smartly designed albeit minus the levels of perceived quality you’ll find in a new Renault Clio. What is impressive is that, despite the clear PSA origins, the new Corsa stills feels like a Vauxhall. The stalks, heater controls, analogue dials and conventional steering wheel all differentiate it from the i-Cockpit layout in Peugeot’s mechanically similar Peugeot 208.
After an unusually long push of the starter button the engine fires up quietly. It is also instantly smoother than Renault’s similarly powerful 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit. Indeed, it’s a strong engine full-stop, with the kind of performance that’s hard to believe a mere 1.2 could muster.
While tractable from very low revs, it’s from about 1,500rpm that the engine starts to get into its stride. And it’ll pull with some enthusiasm all the way through to 6,000rpm. The official 0-62mph time for a Corsa with this engine is 9.3 seconds, but it feels keener, helped by the gearbox’s tightly stacked ratios. That the gearshift itself is precise, well-weighted and generally satisfying to use adds further driver appeal.
Those who prefer an automatic meanwhile will find much to like about the eight-speed unit now offered in the Corsa. It’s smooth, quick to change gear and there’s a Sport mode with gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel should you want to be more involved in the action.
RIDE AND HANDLING
When it comes to ride and handling, Vauxhall’s intention has been to make the Corsa more responsive than the Peugeot 208 with which it shares its underpinnings. While the hardware in terms of springs, dampers, steering components and so on are unchanged from the Peugeot, the tuning has been altered. The result is a car that on 17-inch wheels has an identifiably firm edge to its low speed ride, although because the damping is very good it’s still fundamentally comfortable.
It keeps getting better as you pick up the pace, too. This Corsa has a very positive feel to the way it drives; it’s light on its wheels (and indeed light full-stop, with the base model coming in at just 980kg), quick to change direction and generally unflappable. The steering, while light overall, does build in weight as you turn. And although the chassis is ultimately set up to understeer, you have to be clumsy to make that happen. Dynamically, the Ford Fiesta still has the edge, but the Corsa has made up an enormous amount of ground.
Alongside the Elite model we also had a chance to drive a Corsa with the same engine but in SRi specification. This is as sporty as Corsas get for the time being, although aside from the addition of a Sport button which amplifies the engine sound into the cabin, it doesn’t feel night and day different to drive. Indeed, what stands out more is the interior trim, which combines dark plastics with bright red highlights to give it a sportier feel. The SRi is no hot hatch then, but if you want your car to have a sporty flourish without upsetting your insurance company then it could be worth a look.
So, what to make of this PSA-era Corsa? It’s certainly not the car Vauxhall had intended to build. And the fact it exists at all is impressive given the timeframe. What’s best of all though is that this sixth generation of Corsa doesn’t feel like a rushed, rebadged Peugeot.
No, what the Corsa feels like is a very impressive small Vauxhall, not to mention the biggest evolution yet of one of Britain’s most popular cars. Whether you measure it against the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza, Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia, Hyundai i20 or any other of the myriad superminis that vie for consumers’ attention, this latest Corsa puts up a very strong fight.
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