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.