“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.
Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below: