It didn’t win our most recent group test, but can Vauxhall’s new supermini win our hearts? It has six months to impress…
Why we’re running it: To get to know Vauxhall’s new supermini and to test the combination of 1.2-litre petrol turbo triple and eight-speed auto
Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 1
Welcoming the Corsa to the fleet – 11 March 2020
Every home needs a small car. That’s a very simple conclusion to reach when you’ve been going about in big cars for months, as I have, and you get offered something that slips into every parking bay, fits down every street, turns lightly into every corner, looks great in a bright colour and makes a virtue of cuteness, all because of its size.
All of which goes to explain why I’m happy to be running a Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto, a car that’s just 4.06 metres long and weighs 1090kg at the kerb. That’s less than half the weight of the full-size Volkswagen SUV that’s been my main transport these past few months, and you feel the benefit (plus one or two drawbacks) with every mile.
I’m also glad to be driving a car by Vauxhall, a marque I believe deserves more respect than it gets from people who think they know about cars. It’s traditional for a large proportion of our car-nut community to look past Vauxhalls almost without seeing them, despite the history of the brand being peppered with great and iconic models, many British-designed.
Now owned by progressive and profitable PSA, Vauxhall has already put a succession of modern-design cars on the road (MD Stephen Norman is bidding for a double-figure market share with a range of six cars and three vans), and the biggest seller is likely to be the Corsa.
True, it hasn’t topped a group test so far, but what we’ve recently learned is that the modern crop of superminis sets such a high standard that it’s fine to come fourth if your dealer is helpful and conveniently located and your financial deal is the right one.
My Corsa has arrived with around 2900 miles on the odometer, having already played a cameo role in press launch activities. It’s the best-equipped model you can get, with the Navi Pro package, leather seats, a driver’s seat massage function, automatic lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control and LED matrix headlights. There are only two options – £650 worth of Power Orange two-coat premium paint and a £110 15in steel spare wheel. The all-in cost of £26,640 looks high, until you remember this model comes with every option including a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox that would otherwise add £1500.
So far the styling and colour have both come in for praise by onlookers and passengers. Slightly lairy paintjobs play well on superminis (although this car’s black pillars and top give it a certain gravitas). It’s a reasonably roomy parents-and-kids five-door with decent-sized doors, and its boot is spacious enough for holiday luggage while leaving room for a 44-litre fuel tank that (with the 1.2-litre, 99bhp three-pot turbo and that eight-speed auto) gives an easy 400-mile range. The claimed best combined official fuel rating is 48.7mpg but you can beat 50mpg without trying too hard.
It has taken time to find my ideal driving position: the Corsa Ultimate has a power-adjust driver’s seat but it’s one of those designs that changes the cushion angle fairly radically as it rises, and most of those angles don’t suit my backside. I’ve found a position not far off the floor that doesn’t quite give the view over the bonnet I’d have liked, but at least it is long-distance comfortable.
Talking of long distances, the motorway performance is a nice surprise. The engine’s torque means it’ll sustain high cruising speeds at low revs – 70mph and 2000rpm in eighth is a common combination – and wind noise is fairly low. Road noise isn’t too intrusive, although other rivals set better standards. I’d like to try this car on 16in wheels if they were available; how many times have you heard that before?
One fascination for me, going in, was to investigate how a small three-pot turbo engine would work with an eight-speed auto: I’m delighted to find it’s one of the car’s best features. The step-off is brisk (in the hunt for smoothness you have to be a bit delicate with power applications) and the progression through the gears is smooth and refined. There are three driving modes and you can intrude with the well-sited paddles if that’s your fancy. The Eco setting is a bit dismal, dulling throttle response as you’d expect, but Sport delivers extra alertness even if it can be annoyingly reluctant to pick up eighth gear. Most of the time, Normal does the job.
My one disappointment is this car’s secondary ride. It rides flat and with good control but rumbles and bucks on poor surfaces, as if the tyres were hideously over-inflated (they’re not) or radically low in profile (they’re pretty sensible 45-section hoops on 17in wheels). My memory says there are better-riding Corsas down the range. Still, the combination of alert steering and a sweet-sounding, flexible engine – with a generous 151lb ft – still makes zipping about town fundamentally pleasurable.
So far it’s the convenience that I’m enjoying most. And the economy. Surprises are the decent open-road performance and the sweet engine. This Corsa is not a car whose unique qualities make a quick and powerful impression, but I suspect its subtle character traits will grow on me.
I’ve spent time in auto and manual Corsas and prefer the latter. I like simple superminis, but also the eight-speed ’box didn’t greatly impress me when we road tested it. On our recent supermini giant test, the Corsa’s just-ordinary ride and handling, undistinguished practicality and slightly plain cabin failed to stand out against some really accomplished competition. Maybe living with one will make us better appreciate it.
Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto specification
Specs: Price New £25,990 Price as tested £26,640 Options Power Orange paint £650, 15in steel spare wheel £110
Test Data: Engine 3-cyls, 1199cc, turbocharged petrol Power 99bhp Torque 151lb ft Kerb weight 1165kg Top speed 119mph 0-62mph 11.2sec Fuel economy 41.6mpg CO2 99g/km Faults None Expenses None