It’s a fact of motoring life that more stringent crash and pedestrian safety regulations – plus customer demands for greater space – mean small cars are getting bigger. So it’s no surprise Vauxhall’s new Corsa is longer and taller than the outgoing model.
As with the larger Astra, the three and five-door variants are distinguished by a unique shape from the windscreen back. And in profile, the curvy roofline hints at the Astra Sport Hatch.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Vauxhall Corsa
At the front, the company has followed the ‘cab forward’ school of supermini design, so you get a high nose and sweeping A-pillars. This gives the car the appearance of a shrunken MPV, and with its family face the Corsa resembles the Zafira people carrier when viewed head-on.
Together with a tapered hatch and shapely tail-lights, the Corsa looks very modern, and our SXi test model adds some extra style in the form of a chrome tailpipe and front foglamps. Build quality is impressive, with doors that shut with a robustness which is unmatched by any rival. What’s more, the five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating proves the Vauxhall is a strong and well engineered small car.
Interior quality is also the best we have seen in a supermini, with superb materials and fabrics that make the cabin a match for models from the class above. Previous Corsa cockpits have been criticised for being bland, so Vauxhall has added stylish touches such as translucent switches and piano black surrounds on the circular air vents in an attempt to attract young buyers.
It’s not quite enough, though, as the design is still a bit conservative; it simply lacks the imagination of the Clio and 207. The Corsa can’t match the Yaris for stowage space, either, but despite the sweeping roofline, rear passengers get plenty of room and the 285-litre boot is the second biggest on test. With a wide range of steering reach and rake adjustment, plus comfortable seats, the driving position is also excellent.
The previous model didn’t offer enough in terms of driver enjoyment, but with its stiffer springs and 20mm lower ride height, the SXi corners well and delivers bags of grip. It hasn’t got the Peugeot’s steering feel and isn’t quite as light on its feet as the Renault. But stability is excellent, even if the SXi’s firmer suspension means the ride is harsh in town and unsettled on bumpy surfaces.
We also drove the more comfort-oriented Design range-topper, and as it features the standard set-up, this was smoother, with no noticeable drop-off in handling or body control. So overall, the Corsa is dynamically accomplished. The trouble is, while it’s very refined, the car still isn’t that involving, and feels heavy – even though it’s lighter than the Clio and 207. This impression of sluggishness can partly be explained by the slow gearchange and the 1.4-litre engine’s lack of character. Delivering 89bhp, the Corsa sits in the middle ground in the power stakes, and only the Renault provides more torque. But at a wet test track, it trailed the Clio by 1.7 seconds in the sprint from 0-60mph.
Chief culprit here is the £250 traction/stability control option fitted to our test model. It can’t be turned off, and so the system kept cutting power on the slippery surface. In-gear performance is more important in a supermini, but unfortunately the Vauxhall proved less responsive than its French rivals; it was 0.8 seconds slower than the Renault from 30-50mph in fourth. Still, whatever the speed, engine and road noise are well isolated.
The Corsa is the most expensive car on test, at £11,095, yet SXi trim brings 16-inch alloy wheels and six airbags as standard. It also sits in a lower insurance group than all but the Yaris, and while most of the cars here are well matched on kit, the Vauxhall is still excellent value – especially when you take into account the quality on offer.
Roomy, well built, strong and modern, the Corsa is a big improvement, and deserves to stay at the top of the sales charts. But with such tough competition, is it good enough to win this test?
Model tested: Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SXi
Chart position: 2
WHY: Prices for the Corsa range from £7,495 for the base Expression to £13,795 for the flagship Design. We test the sporty three-door SXi, which rides 20mm lower than the standard car and features uprated springs and dampers. It comes with air-con, and costs £11,095.
Boasting a claimed combined figure of 47.9mpg, the Corsa should be the most frugal car here. Yet our 33.6mpg return is the worst, possibly due to this model’s low mileage.
Most superminis are bought privately, so used values are crucial. There are no residuals for the Corsa yet, but it is claimed they will be £500 up on the outgoing model’s.
The Corsa is the second cheapest car here to service, with a 500-strong dealer network and class-leading 20,000-mile intervals. There is a three-year recovery deal, too.