The upcoming new Vauxhall Corsa could become the biggest selling car in the UK in 2015. We drive a prototype to find out exactly how new, and how good, it’ll be

There will be a new Vauxhall Corsa at the Paris motor show in October. Amid the usual array of eccentric concept cars and more eye-catching production unveilings, it won’t figure too highly on very many a ‘must-see’ list.

Yet, anyone who knows their onions won’t leave the Parc des Expositions without running the rule over it. Because new superminis are important; the lifeblood of European car-making. And this one’s more important than most.

The new Corsa’s turbulent story is emblematic of the uncertain few years that General Motors has just endured. This car was supposed to be the big money-spinner for the Global Small Vehicle ‘Gamma II’ platform developed in Korea, and also used under the Chevrolet Aveo and Vauxhall Mokka. That was until Opel’s engineers realised that ‘Gamma II’ would need too much modification to be ready on time – and would ultimately create too large a car for the brief. 

Two false starts and a few years down the line and the fifth-generation of the Corsa is now almost ready for the showroom. It’s based on a redesigned version of the platform that underpins the current car, and will be built in the same Spanish and German factories. But neither fact need suggest to you that this isn’t a new car - nor a much, much better one than what it replaces. One quite lengthy drive in a prototype – and an equally lengthy, technical conversation with the man who made it ride and handle – is right now convincing me of both.

“Everything inside the cabin; everything ahead of the A-pillar; and everything downwards of the suspension turrets and outwards from the steering wheel; all of this is new,” explains chassis development manager Michael Harder. “And all of the body panels, of course.” 

So it’s really just the Corsa’s basic cabin architecture and packaging that is carried over – which is why the car’s silhouette looks familiar. 

Draped in disguise, covered in tape and off-limits to the photographer’s lens, our prototype’s cabin will be the subject of a later appraisal; today is just about driving impressions. Vauxhall high-ups have suggested that the finished interior will be nothing short of class-leading on quality; the car’s outstanding selling point. To me, it looks like there are a few too many fixtures and fittings inherited from the unexceptional Adam to take that claim seriously. But we’ll see.

Powertrains have never been a strength for the Corsa, but with Opel’s new 113bhp ‘SGE’ 1.0-litre turbo triple petrol engine and six-speed manual ‘box in its armoury, they could be for the new one. “I love the new engine. It goes like a rocket,” says Harder.

Meanwhile, GM Europe’s development engineers have seized the opportunity not just to retune but to entirely re-commission the Corsa’s suspension and steering systems, right down to the rubber, metal and oil. 

“We moved closer to a 100 per cent Ackermann [ratio] on the steering system,” Harder says “which also improves steering response. We rebalanced lateral grip a little more towards the front wheels by stiffening the mountings for the torsion beam at the rear, and introducing some ‘roll-understeer’. We’ve also tuned the steering linkage for more precision, made the steering ratio more direct, and that combines with a much more powerful steering ECU to improve steering behaviour.”

You’d need a very specialised skillset indeed to understand exactly what all of that means and why it achieves the desired result for the Corsa; later in the day, I need several re-runs just to note it all down. The difference it all makes, though, is as plain as plain can be from the driver’s seat.

For starters, the elastic helm of the old car has been banished - replaced by consistent, fluent steering that engages your interest in the driving experience from the get-go. Once you’re off and running, there’s well-judged weight in the wheel, as well as a genuinely rare sense of accuracy and ease to the way in which you guide the car. 

Our prototype is running Vauxhall’s sport suspension. It’s a far cry from the reactive, unresolved setup I remember from the last Corsa. Even on mass-market superminis, good sporting tunes are characterized by the kind of close ride control that only well-configured dampers can provide. Bad ones are described by over-specified springs and roll-bars that jiggle, deflect and annoy. And the new Corsa’s ride is remarkably sophisticated. Not perfect - but you can feel the shocks working away gently in the background, even at quite a low level. Dynamically, the car has come on leaps and bounds.

The prototype’s 1.4-litre, 99bhp turbo four-pot engine feels asthmatic at times, but it’s well-insulated and flexible. Gearshift quality is only okay. There again, neither this car’s engine nor its particular transmission are the ‘new’ ones expected to score highly with the critics. 

Only time will tell if what’s under the Corsa’s bonnet can complete an otherwise promising picture. Whatever transpires, there is evidently a lot to be said for refinement and evolution of a car like the Corsa, instead of starting with a totally blank sheet of paper. This car’s handling has been transformed, though, and you wouldn’t expect anything short of an entirely new, billion-Euro supermini platform to deliver such a gain.

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Our Verdict

Vauxhall Corsa
Good driving position, but would be better if all models had height adjust on seat and reach adjust on wheel

The Vauxhall Corsa is very refined, stylish and practical. Engines are not so good

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Comments
13

4 June 2014

I wonder if any of the changes to the suspension and steering can carry across to it's sibling, the Fiat 500 whose suspension tune continues to underwhelm

4 June 2014
concinnity wrote:

I wonder if any of the changes to the suspension and steering can carry across to it's sibling, the Fiat 500 whose suspension tune continues to underwhelm

Indeed the Fiat 500 shares it's platform with the current Ford Ka. The Fiat Punto is based on the Corsa platform, as is the Alfa Mito in modified form and the Lancia/Chrysler Ypsilon.
I'd expect Fiat, Alfa et al will have to implement their own improvements as the GM/Fiat agreement has been terminated for some time.

"Will accept donation of a Carrera GT, EB110 SS or McLaren F1...oh yeah or a Spyker C8 Aileron Spyder"

4 June 2014

I think you are mistaken there, you will find the Fiat 500 has the same platform as the Ford Ka...

4 June 2014
Roc R wrote:

I think you are mistaken there, you will find the Fiat 500 has the same platform as the Ford Ka...

Which in turn is taken from the Mk2 Panda. Quite amusing when you see people paying big money for a car built on a Panda chassis.

In terms of the Corsa, surely it doesn't really matter how much time and money GM invests in making it good to drive? The vast majority of Corsas will be bought by people who haven't got the faintest interest in driving for pleasure. That's not intended as a dig at the Corsa, but just the reality of the market it caters for.

4 June 2014

this is not a car that will be bought by enthusiasts for its dynamic attributes. Buyers are more likely to want to know how much it will cost, what will the running costs and residuals be like, how big is the boot and will the seats fold flat, and will it look good on the driveway. Unfortunately for Vauxhall making the car drive well, as I'm sure it does, is only a small part of the task.

4 June 2014

..because it wouldn't take much to improve what is presently way, and I mean WAY, behind the Fiesta on all fronts - ride quality, gearshift, steering feel, handling and engines. If they can't get to grips with these then they will have wasted their money. Let's hope they've had some flipchart meetings on the size of the glove-box too!

4 June 2014

I'd be surprised if a turbocharged 1.4 was only putting out 99bhp, especially as Vauxhall have a 1.4 n/a engine putting out 99bhp. The lack of a turbo would explain the asthmatic performance. As for the Corsa as a whole, it will be very interesting to see how it performs. Having just had a spin in a new Fiesta, the ride quality was deeply impressive so they've got a difficult task ahead, but a 1.0 turbo triple, with good ride and handling, plus a high quality and refined interior is going to be an appealing package.

4 June 2014
Will86 wrote:

I'd be surprised if a turbocharged 1.4 was only putting out 99bhp, especially as Vauxhall have a 1.4 n/a engine putting out 99bhp. The lack of a turbo would explain the asthmatic performance. ....

You think that's low the BMW 114 is a 1.6 Turbo that puts out 101hp now that is premium!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

rxl

4 June 2014
xxxx wrote:
Will86 wrote:

I'd be surprised if a turbocharged 1.4 was only putting out 99bhp, especially as Vauxhall have a 1.4 n/a engine putting out 99bhp. The lack of a turbo would explain the asthmatic performance. ....

You think that's low the BMW 114 is a 1.6 Turbo that puts out 101hp now that is premium!

that's why a prefer a Toyota...1.3 NA with 99 bhp and 1.6 NA with 132 hp... much more simple and reliable engines and with equal or more power.

4 June 2014
rxl wrote:
xxxx wrote:
Will86 wrote:

I'd be surprised if a turbocharged 1.4 was only putting out 99bhp, especially as Vauxhall have a 1.4 n/a engine putting out 99bhp. The lack of a turbo would explain the asthmatic performance. ....

You think that's low the BMW 114 is a 1.6 Turbo that puts out 101hp now that is premium!

that's why a prefer a Toyota...1.3 NA with 99 bhp and 1.6 NA with 132 hp... much more simple and reliable engines and with equal or more power.

But what about torque? The 114i puts out 132lb/ft from 1100rpm-4000rpm. It's true a Toyota NA engine will run and run, but the lack of torque gets tiring after a while. I think these new small turbo petrols are the best compromise between the torquey and efficient but very complex and expensive new diesels, and the gutless but simple NA petrol engines.

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