Vauxhall Corsa review
The new Vauxhall Corsa MK4 is an affordable and practical car that's well worth a place on any supermini shortlist
The Vauxhall Corsa is a perennially popular supermini that’s constantly in the top five best selling cars in the UK – and with good reason. While the latest model (new for 2015) doesn’t break any ground or outshine the class leaders in any area, as an overall package it’s very good indeed.
It has a spacious interior, a decent-sized boot, a comfortable driving position and supple ride quality. Every version comes well equipped with a generous specification including Bluetooth. The Corsa is fun to drive too, though any potential purchase involves traversing a baffling array of trim and engine possibilities. Fortunately, if you pick the excellent new three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, you can’t go far wrong.
It's easy to be a little underwhelmed by the fourth-generation Vauxhall Corsa. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it's actually based on the same platform as the last car - but don't let that put you off. The styling may not have made a huge leap forward, but a raft of updates including more kit and improved engines means the latest Corsa is well worthy of its spot near the top of the UK best-sellers lists.
The Corsa has been at or near the top of the UK's best-seller list since its inception, and the last generation maintained that position right up until the end of its life in 2014, where it was only beaten to the top spot by the Ford Focus and Fiesta.
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The Corsa range is spread wide, with a huge array of engines and specifications available, meaning that, at times, the task of picking the best one for you can be daunting. Prices range from just over £9,000 to around twice that for the flagship 202bhp VXR hot hatch. The most efficient version, which cost-wise sits around the middle of the engine range, is a 1.3-litre diesel with an automated manual gearbox boasting more than 80mpg and 84g/km CO2.
Vauxhall has deliberately tried to undercut the prices of the Fiesta in an attempt to lure buyers away from Ford, although it’s worth noting that in the cutthroat world of high-volume superminis, the list price is usually just a starting point. Still, a lower starting point is better than a higher one.
The big news for this generation of Corsa is the addition of an all-new 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, which gives Vauxhall a direct rival to the Ford Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost. It’s available with either 89bhp or 113bhp, with the more potent version instantly becoming our pick of the range.
The other good news is that the Corsa remains as practical as it was before, largely because the overall shape has been left untouched. The A, B and C pillars are identical to the previous model’s, which means there’s still enough room for three passengers in the rear. The three-door remains the more stylish choice, while the five-door is much easier to access for rear-seat passengers.
So the new Corsa is essentially a refinement of what went before, which means it’s improved in all areas – more comfortable, quieter and a little more involving to drive, as well as having more standard kit across the range.
However, for some reason the Corsa’s safety rating hasn’t made an equivalent leap, with the car achieving only four stars in its Euro NCAP crash test. Plenty of its rivals score five stars.
Engines, performance and drive
The looks may be familiar, but Vauxhall has reengineered a substantial proportion of the Corsa’s running gear to ensure it can compete with the Fiesta when it comes to driver engagement. The truth is that it still can’t quite – but it’s closer than ever.
The basic platform from the outgoing Corsa has been carried over but bolted on is a new suspension setup, which improves the ride considerably and gives better body control.
The importance of the UK market to the Corsa’s success has prompted Vauxhall to set up the suspension and steering specifically for our roads. So, while it still feels a little nervous on the motorway and slightly juddery at times, it makes up for that with fast responses on twisty roads.
The suspension soaks up low speed bumps well – a little better than the Ford Festa, even. Turn-in is quick and there’s plenty of grip, and while a little body roll is present, the Corsa generally feels stable and sure-footed.
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Around town, the City steering mode makes the wheel extremely light for parking, and it disengages at speeds above 30mph to deliver a more natural feel – though there still isn’t a great deal of feedback to tell you what the front wheels are doing.
There’s more of a feeling of quality and solidity in this Corsa than ever before – the gearbox has more heft despite still being very light through the gate, for example. We’d avoid the Easytron automatic gearbox though – it’s an automated manual type so while it doesn’t affect fuel economy negatively, it does degrade the driving experience with slow and jerky changes.
The Corsa comes with a confusingly large engine range. There are ten in total, many with very similar outputs, though the difference between the three-cylinder and four-cylinder units is significant.
Power ranges from 69bhp with the most basic 1.2-litre petrol engine, to 202bhp in the fire-breathing 1.6-litre turbo of the VXR.
The naturally-aspirated 1.2- and 1.4-litre engines share a similar character, with the former available only with 69bhp but the latter with 74bhp, or 89bhp. Vauxhall labels some of them ‘ecoFLEX’, which is the company’s green brand, featuring start/stop and such like. But in fact, these petrols are so lacking in torque (the 1.2-litre has just 115Nm, compared to the 1.3-litre diesel’s 190Nm), that you’ll be hammering the accelerator to get them moving, which will dent your fuel economy.
There’s a turbo version of the 1.4-litre with 98bhp that’s a little better, but it’s still quite noisy and nowhere near as characterful as the new 113bhp three-cylinder turbo petrol – which completely changes the character of a car. Happy to rev and sweet-sounding, it takes 10.3 seconds to get the Corsa to 62mph, which is a little slower than the rivaling Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost, but it’s a supremely refined engine.
Around town or at higher speeds, there’s very little noise from the engine in the cabin and even from low revs it pulls surprisingly strongly.
Black Edition Corsas come with a 148bhp version of the 1.4-litre turbo, which is notably stronger than the 98bhp version, naturally, and negates the need to stamp on the accelerator when going up hills or overtaking. Its 220Nm of torque helps the Corsa to 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds.
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The 1.3-litre diesel is the most frugal engine available in the Corsa, but it feels heavier in the nose. It’s available in two power outputs, 74bhp and 94bhp, they both have 190Nm of torque, so the main difference is in the mid-range. Having said that with 14.9- and 11.9-second 0-62mph sprints respectively, they’re not built for speed, and they tend to rattle and chug in a manner typical of four-cylinder diesel units.
Finally we come to the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine in the VXR, which propels the car to 62mph in 6.8 seconds. In a hot hatch world where milliseconds matter, it’s worth noting that the Fiesta ST has only 180bhp and takes 0.1-second longer to hit that benchmark. It’s also true, however, that the Ford is by far the more engaging driving machine.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
One vital characteristic of a supermini is that is has to be cheap to run. Purchase prices for the Corsa have been slashed to give it even greater showroom appeal, with the new car costing around £1,000 less than the equivalent Fiesta. But don’t think you miss out on standard kit, as USB connectivity, LED daytime running lights, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel are fitted across the range.
Plus, the volume of Corsas sold means dealers are more able to give discounts on a Corsa than you’d perhaps get from a rival such as the Volkswagen Polo, SEAT Ibiza or Toyota Yaris. And Vauxhall’s predilection for making special editions of the Corsa means there’ll likely always be something on offer in the showroom.
What you’ll find, however, is that the Corsa’s engines aren’t as unanimously fuel-efficient as you might expect. Yes, the headline-grabbing 1.3-litre CDTi diesel with 94bhp is excellent on paper, returning 85.6mpg whether manual or automatic (though the latter, strangely, puts out a little less CO2), but elsewhere the reality is quite average fuel economy. The vast majority of Corsa models offer fuel economy ratings in the 50s, meaning a reality in the late 40s, if you’re careful.
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1.2- and 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engines are also available, but neither are as efficient or as clean as the downsized three-cylinder. The least powerful 1.2-litre engine in the cheapest Corsa, for example, returning 53.3mpg and 124g/km, but because it needs to be thrashed to get the best from it, you’re unlikely to ever match that figure.
And so it is with the other petrol engines, with the 1.4-litre petrol returning 55.4mpg in 74bhp, 89bhp and 99bhp forms. The lower powered three-cylinder turbo unit, with 89bhp, does better with 65.7mpg – it’s an engine you don’t need to work as hard to get the best from.
The 113bhp version of that engine – our favourite of the range – doesn’t do as well, dropping back to 57.6mpg and 115g/km of CO2. However, you’ll find that in the real world it’s better on fuel than a lower powered 1.2-litre or 1.4-litre. As ever, it’s a case of balancing the fuel savings with the higher list price and your potential enjoyment of the car.
The 1.6-litre turbo engine in the VXR is not one purchased with efficiency as a priority, but in this class it’s always important. That’s why the 38.7mpg and 172g/km figures are disappointing – you’ll be giving £205 to the taxman every year before you’ve used any fuel. Consider that the Fiesta ST returns 47.9mpg and 138g/km.
As you’d expect, the Corsa isn’t especially expensive to insure – and that’s without considering the sort of free insurance offers that lower end versions are often sold with.
Comparable to the Ford Fiesta, it’s popular with first time drivers and there are abundant parts available, so it’s not too expensive to repair. Starting in Group 2, most Corsa models sit in single figure insurance groupings, with the more powerful turbo versions in the teens. The VXR will cost a similar amount to insure as the group 30 Fiesta ST, unsurprisingly.
There are so many Corsas on the road that there’s no shortage of supply on the used market, which hits used values hard. Nonetheless, you can expect an average mileage Corsa to be worth just under 40 per cent of its purchase value after three years.
Because the Corsa is better equipped as standard than it once was, spec choice isn’t as imperative as it used to be in keeping values high. However, the higher the trim the better the desirability, and therefore the retained value.
Interior, design and technology
At a glance, you could easily mistake the new Corsa for its predecessor – it has the same door pillars and glass area as before. According to Vauxhall, that’s because existing customers liked the look of the previous car, although clearly, retaining the same layout helps save money on the redesign.
Instead, the brand has splashed the cash on a comprehensive re-skin, with updated bodywork, new lights and a nose inspired by the Vauxhall Adam. The front end is closer to the ground, with a low-set grille and LED running lights that are similar to the Adam’s
Two sharp creases have been added to the doors, while the window line kicks up at the rear. Open the back doors, and you’ll see that the glass is identical to the old model’s, with a painted section covering the exterior metalwork. However, it’s well executed for a cost-cutting measure, and you don’t notice it when you’re sitting in the back.
At the rear, the lights extend over the tailgate, while new wheel designs add a finishing touch. All that said, a casual observer might not notice that it’s a brand new Corsa model.
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Climb inside though, and the differences between old and new Corsa are obvious. The dashboard gains the touchscreen from the Adam, which groups all the cabin functions together bar the climate controls, while the plastic trim across the dash adds a bit of style.
Higher-spec cars get extra silver trim, and a grey-metallic painted finish for the dash that complements the gloss-black trim found elsewhere. All in all, the cabin looks neat, is as well built as ever and the plastics are of a decent quality.
And you’ll be impressed by the amount of standard kit in there, including Bluetooth, cruise control, a decent stereo system with remote controls on the wheel, and USB connectivity for your phone or iPod. All versions get alloy wheels too, so no more plastic wheel trims.
Corsa trim levels are many and varied, and are regularly tweaked, added or discontinued by Vauxhall, so it’s hard to keep up. But fundamentally they stick with the same equipment hierarchy. There are four mid-level models at present, called Design, Energy, Excite and SE. They get stuff like LED daytime running lights, a touch screen media interface called Intellilink, leather for the steering wheel, and manual climate control – base Sting models don’t get air conditioning at all, sadly.
It gets sporty with SRi, which includes 16-inch alloys, sporty seats, a split-folding rear bench (another base model oversight) and sportier looks, though you’ll have to spec up to SRi-VX Line for sports suspension, bigger wheels and a body kit – making that a desirable specification.
Beyond that the Corsa begins to look luxurious on paper, with top-spec Limited Edition cars including equipment like rain sensitive wipers, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, parking sensors, 17-inch alloys, a smart body kit and tinted rear windows.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Vauxhall has made much if its Intellilink system, a touchscreen unit that includes mobile phone app support. It’s an option across most of the range and standard on Energy specification upwards, but unfortunately it doesn’t yet feature much functionality bar the usual DAB radio, Bluetooth and hands-free calls. However, it does include a clever programme that reads text messages to you and allows you to dictate them back.
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A fundamental irk with Intellilink is its small screen, placed low in the dashboard, which together mean your eyes are diverted for a little longer than you might like when using it.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
As the Corsa hasn’t changed shape or size, practicality remains unaffected but that’s no bad thing as the supermini has always been rather spacious – more so than the Ford Fiesta, especially at the rear.
The wide rear bench makes this a genuine five-seat car for adults, in both the three- and five-door versions, but the long doors of the former make entry and egress quite difficult. The five-door is the one to go for if you’re using the rear seats a lot.
There’s a fair amount of interior storage, with door pockets capable of carrying a 1.5-litre bottle – though there’s no box in the centre console between the front seats, and the glove box is on the small side.
The driver will find it easy to get a good driving position on the Corsa because there’s plenty of seat and wheel adjustment and, vitally, the pedal placement is good – there’s a sizable left footrest for your size 11s.
All occupants will find the latest Corsa largely comfortable, with its all-new suspension setup tuned for the potholed roads of the UK. It’s especially supple around town at lower speeds – where Corsas will generally spend most of their time. And while this translates into a little bounciness on the motorway, this is generally a settled, comfy car.
The Corsa is available in either three- or five-door body styles, with no difference in overall length or height between the two; the three door Corsa’s more coupe-like look is a trick of design.
Cars like these are designed to be nippy around town, capable of darting in and out of tight traffic, and parking comfortably in small spaces. The Corsa excels in those respects, although visibility seems limited compared to the new breed of supermini-based crossovers that sit drivers much higher up in cars with similar dimensions (the Vauxhall Mokka, for example).
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The Corsa is longer, wider and lower than the Ford Fiesta, but only by a few millimetres either way, which means that in reality it feels the same size.
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Vauxhall has packaged the Corsa’s interior very well, meaning headroom and legroom in the rear is excellent for the class – tall adults will be ok in there. Plus, you’ll actually be able to use the two standard rear Isofix child seat mountings without having to push the front chairs all the way forward.
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The 285-litre boot sits right between the VW Polo and Ford Fiesta in terms of capacity but a high boot lip can make loading items a little tricky. The rear bench isn’t a 60:40 split as standard and doesn’t fold completely flat, so you’re left with a loading area that isn’t too well designed.
Reliability and Safety
The latest Corsa uses many parts from the old car, which bodes well for reliability, while the IntelliLink touchscreen system features in the Adam, Astra and Insignia, so it should prove trouble-free – or at least be very familiar to Vauxhall technicians if there are any glitches.
It’s worth noting that this Vauxhall Corsa came a lowly 175th overall out of the top 200 cars featured in our 2015 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, placing 133rd in the reliability category.
The Corsa achieved a four-star Euro NCAP rating, which is disappointing considering the Ford Fiesta achieved five – the Ford did the basics of the cash test better, achieving a 91% adult occupant score, where the Corsa managed just 79%.
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Still, the Corsa has more safety kit than the car it replaces, including six airbags, electronic stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and Isofix. One feature notably lacking, however, is automatic low speed braking, which is becoming increasingly common even in small cars.
In addition, the Technical Pack, which adds front collision warning and lane departure, is a pricey £1,300 option.
Vauxhall made much of its 100,000-mile, unlimited time warranty when it launched in 2010, but in 2014 announced that it was withdrawing the scheme and reverting back to a standard three-year, 60,000-mile one. That means it runs out two years before a Hyundai warranty and four years before a Kia one, although it is transferrable to subsequent owners, where the unlimited one wasn’t.
Despite the relatively short warranty, the good news is that Vauxhall’s dealer network is extensive (to say the least) and parts are both reasonably priced and abundant.
Vauxhall does offer fixed price servicing on the Corsa too, with payments starting from £15 per month. Those taking up the scheme can also get discounts on wear and tear repairs or replacements that aren’t covered under warranty or the service plan.