Vauxhall Corsa VXR Arctic

Special edition gets sports exhaust and exclusive colouring

Hot hatches have to tread a fine line between purposeful aggression and brash boy racer looks – and the styling of the ordinary Vauxhall Corsa VXR is already in-your-face.

Which side of the line the limited-run Arctic Edition falls on is a matter of debate, but with its dramatic bumpers, deep side sills and large 18-inch wheels, it’s certainly the raciest-looking car in our trio. The white paintwork, smoked windows and black alloys ensure it stands out, and with only 500 examples being built, it also provides a dose of hot hatch exclusivity.

Inside, an individually numbered plaque on the dashboard confirms the car’s limited-edition status, although the Arctic isn’t a stripped-out racer like the Renault. A pair of fantastic Recaro sports seats comes as standard, there’s plenty of kit and the quality of the fit and finish is impressive.

However, the cabin design is beginning to look dated, and while the chunky leather steering wheel and huge gearknob appear expensive, they don’t really feel right for a small hot hatch. The dash is poorly laid out, too, and the low-mounted heater controls and fiddly stereo are irritating. The thick A-pillars also cause blind spots on the road.

For a car aimed at enthusiasts, the VXR doesn’t have the well judged weight and feel to its controls that make the Ford such a delight to drive. Its six-speed gearbox also lacks the precision of the Renault’s. The Corsa makes up for this with pace, because its 1.6-litre turbo engine produces 189bhp. Vauxhall claims the sports exhaust increases this figure by around 15bhp – although we didn’t detect much of an improvement compared to the performance figures we have achieved with the standard car.

Even so, the low-down thrust provided by the VXR’s turbo means it’s punchier than its normally aspirated rivals here. A great hot hatch has to offer more than power, though – and this is where the Corsa stumbles.

Its steering is sharp, yet the Arctic simply doesn’t offer the engagement of the Renault or Ford. It turns into corners well and grips strongly, but you can’t adjust your line with the throttle. Crucially, you get neither the constant stream of feedback provided by the Fiesta nor the sheer grip of the Clio.

Pushed to the limit on the track, the Corsa feels heavy and dead compared to its rivals, and the stability control tugs at individual wheels even when it’s turned off. For enthusiasts planning to use their car at a circuit, the Corsa would prove frustrating.

It’s just as disappointing on the road, as the uneven power delivery means it pulls from side to side under hard acceleration, and the suspension crashes over rough surfaces. The VXR is the priciest of this trio, but is well equipped and has the most power. Is that enough to give it a chance of victory?


Chart position: 3WHY: Vauxhall’s special-edition Arctic gets distinctive styling tweaks and the promise of even stronger pace.

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