It didn't win our most recent group test, but can Vauxhall’s new supermini win our hearts? It has six months to impress...
Steve Cropley Autocar
30 July 2020

Why we’re running it: To get to know Vauxhall’s new supermini and to test the combination of 1.2-litre petrol turbo triple and eight-speed auto

Month 3 - Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 3

Lockdown benefits to fuel consumption - 22 July 2020

If our lockdown experience with the Corsa is being repeated across the country, fuel consumption must be falling everywhere. Our figure for the past 750 miles has risen to 47.7mpg, reflecting the fact the car spends less time at 60mph-plus, so it’s not battling aero drag as much as usual. Given the excellence of the engine, its frugality comes as a huge bonus.

Mileage: 5277

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Could this be an ideal car to have during a lockdown? - 17 June 2020

The other day, as I pulled out from the kerb after one of my sporadic visits to the local Marks & Sparks food store, it occurred to me that you could hardly want a better lockdown car than this 1.2-litre Corsa Ultimate. It has everything you need and nothing you don’t.

What you need is docility, ease of driving, enough space, a decent boot, a sensible touring range (to forestall unnecessary disease-laden trips to filling stations) plus enough enjoyment built into your meagre bits of driving – for me, M&S is an eight-mile round trip – to make it something better than a chore.

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I’ve really come to like the smooth thrum of the 99bhp three-cylinder engine and I’m as convinced as ever that no human could wield a stick shift and friction clutch to match the smoothness of the eight-speed automatic gearbox. On efficiency, the score’s on the board: for all our short-hauling, the Corsa’s overall fuel consumption sits steady at 45mpg.

What doesn’t the Corsa have? Number one is bulk. The one place in my town where parking can be problematic is outside M&S. But the four-metre-long Corsa slips into confined slots neatly, aided by the rear parking sensors that no modern car should be without. It doesn’t have a lot of performance, so it doesn’t have a big thirst. Or a big price, compared with most cars. I see people in whale-like Audis, BMWs and Jaguars wondering quite why they’re wearing the automotive equivalent of a fat suit at a time like this.

When the Corsa came my way, I was pleased if not overcome with delight. Now, I’m downright keen on the four-metre-long Corsa, and starting to worry, as I always do with good cars, about giving it back. So lockdown’s good for one thing, at least.


Mileage: 4524

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Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 2

We’re still singing the praises of the engine, but has that knobbly ride got any better? - 20 May 2020

Funny how your attitude to a car can change quite a bit during lockdown. The Vauxhall Corsa lives at present with half a dozen others in our Gloucestershire bunker, but it has become the car of choice for our two or three weekly runs to the supermarket, because of its sheer convenience. The compactness and ease of driving are the main points of appeal, although I have a powerful feeling we also choose it because it has such a cheery paint job.

I must say I felt a frisson of pride when I saw the car sales figures for the tortured month of April just past. The Corsa came in third, best of the normally dominant superminis, even if the identity of the two leaders (the Tesla Model 3 and the Jaguar I-Pace) went to prove what an extraordinary year we’re having. Vauxhall bosses set up a ‘talk to a real person’ system of remote car selling early on in the difficulties, and it seems to have worked for them.

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Two things always strike me about the Corsa when I drive it, one good and one debatable. First is the sophistication of the powertrain, a 99bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Given that this is a big-bodied supermini and that’s only a small engine, I can never quite get over the effortlessness of it.

The throttle response could do with some work, mind. When people unfamiliar with the Corsa drive it for the first time, it rather explodes away from standstill in an uncontrolled way, not through an excess of torque (although its pull is impressive) but because it’s not very intuitive. It gives more than you expect.

There’s so much about a car that needs subtle tuning nowadays; I find myself wondering whether the engine’s over-eagerness means it’s suited for a five- or six-speed manual gearbox rather than this auto with its torque converter and ultra-low first gear. You soon learn about it, though, and the problem departs forever.

Second is the ride, which seemed too knobbly at low speeds when the car arrived and, although I’m more used to it now, still doesn’t feel properly composed. Given that the Corsa is closely related under the skin to the new Peugeot 208, which people praise for suppleness, I can hardly wait to try the Pug to see how big the difference is between the two. No point in asking anyone to tell me: these things are personal.

Our plan would have had this car swapped by now for an electric Corsa-e, a car of many fascinations, but of course it has been delayed. An important impression for me will be its contribution to the ride comfort debate, given the presence of a 200kg battery pack. Enlightenment is still a couple of months away, it seems.

In the meantime, I bet we’ll go on preferring the Corsa for our shopping run, because it does an essential job very well – always its design purpose.

Love it:

Eight-speed auto I’m still getting used to its excellent blend of high-geared cruising and sparkling step-off – while delivering manual ’box-like fuel economy.

Loathe it:

rear seat room As a six-footer, I can just about sit ‘behind myself’, but that requires a big compromise in driving position.

Mileage: 4338

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Liking the automatic option - 6 May 2020

Hooray for the Corsa. I’m using it for the bulk of my lockdown motoring, a succession of short trips during which the engine barely gets warm, yet the fuel consumption stays well up around 45mpg and the fuel gauge never moves. The economy allowed by this car’s new-age eight-speed auto is totally at odds with the ‘slushmatics’ of old. Now, if we could just trim the option costs of automatics (this one’s standard on our fully loaded Corsa Ultimate but a £1570 extra on most), I reckon we’d have a good solution. Our Corsa has paddles: I don’t miss a stick-shift at all.

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Mileage: 4183

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Orange isn’t the only colour - but it might be the best - 15 April 2020

Light duties for the Corsa lately, like most cars in the UK, but because it’s easy to use, smallish and automatic, it’s what we choose for life-sustaining errands. However, these local trips have shown it to be somewhat snug in terms of rear room. It’s really for two adults and two kids, but we’ve been asking it to house four large adults. We all fit, but everyone is pretty snug. It’s fascinating, meanwhile, to clock the effect the Corsa’s jaunty colour has on people. Young male drivers want to pass it at any opportunity, older men (the horde who choose silver or grey) think it’s OTT. Women of all ages find it ‘cheerful’, though, making it ideal for lifting the prevailing mood.

Mileage: 4159

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The new Corsa is 95% great, but we’re starting to learn about the other 5% - 8 April 2020

The Corsa seems to have accumulated a lot of miles this past month or so without trying. You just jump in and go.

I’m still getting used to how well the eight-speed automatic gearbox works with the refined but none-too-powerful (99bhp) petrol turbo triple. That’s probably because it produces a much more respectable 151lb ft at just 1750rpm, which in turn is why it can easily sustain high gears and low revs when cruising on a motorway. In the Normal driving mode, it usually stays in seventh; you’ve got to be doing 80-plus before it’ll select and stay in its top ratio.

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Two things are especially pleasing. One is the economy: the 44.7mpg overall we’ve returned so far sounds good, yet it doesn’t quite do the car justice. If you decide at the outset that you’re going on a 50mpg trip, you can do it without really trying. The other is the way the Sport mode sharpens the Corsa’s throttle responses, hangs onto gears (handy when it comes to engine braking downhill) and makes good use of the engine’s urge around 4000-5000rpm. Revving is never a trial: the PSA Group’s 1.2-litre triple is one of the best small engines going, and it works especially well in this application.

When the mood strikes, you’ll also enjoy driving in Manual – response to the paddles is close to instant – and my frequent preference for this mode is probably why our overall fuel consumption isn’t closer to the 46-47mpg that calmer owners would get. I’ve seen 50-plus on journeys plenty of times. I’m not a fan of the Economy setting, though. It just dulls everything – never an efficient way of delivering, well, efficiency.

I’ve more or less got used to the knobbly low-speed ride, although it still sometimes grates. And my passengers often notice it. It’s no disaster but rather out of kilter during these days of subtle suspension tuning even for cheaper-end cars. It seems to be generated by unnecessarily stiff spring rates, at odds with the more supple Peugeot 208 that’s its blood brother. Still, the Corsa has very decent steering (best in Sport, because it’s then a shade heavier) and the brakes are powerful.

There’s only one thing I truly hate. It’s the lane-keeping assistance system, which attempts to turn the wheel quite strongly in your hands when it decides, often wrongly, that you’re off line. It’s infuriating.

Whoever decided these godawful systems should be mandatory has surely caused accidents as drivers (who have invariably forgotten to turn the damned thing off before departure) sense the first unwanted tug at the steering and scrabble distractedly around the front of the centre console to kill the system fast. The distraction must be as great as talking on a mobile phone: why didn’t they think of that?

Don’t get the idea I’m not enjoying the Corsa; I really am. Its compactness means it easily fits the frequently torrid UK motoring scene, and I never stop being impressed with how much it does with a 1.2 three-pot engine. It’s the rougher edges I regret, unlikely to be found in a Volkswagen or a Toyota. When PSA brought this car to market so quickly, I did wonder whether there would be enough time for the refinement phase. They did 95% of a brilliant job and produced a nice car, but my experience with the Corsa is showing it wasn’t perfect.

Love it:

Performance feel Having eight automatic ratios in a lightish supermini (only 1100kg) makes the best of its modest but smooth three-pot power.

Loathe it:

Low-speed lumpiness Sensitive throttle plus unrefined stop-start often makes step-off untidy, especially for those new to the car. It can’t help on test drives.

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Mileage: 4151

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Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 1

Can't miss it, really - 25 March 2020

The Corsa has £650 worth of Power Orange paint and I swear you get treated differently by your fellows in the traffic. People seem more obstructive. If, say, you beat them away from a traffic light, they remember you and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve also started noticing how dowdy other cars seem. Bright colours rule.

Mileage: 3857

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Welcoming the Corsa to the fleet - 11 March 2020

Every home needs a small car. That’s a very simple conclusion to reach when you’ve been going about in big cars for months, as I have, and you get offered something that slips into every parking bay, fits down every street, turns lightly into every corner, looks great in a bright colour and makes a virtue of cuteness, all because of its size.

All of which goes to explain why I’m happy to be running a Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto, a car that’s just 4.06 metres long and weighs 1090kg at the kerb. That’s less than half the weight of the full-size Volkswagen SUV that’s been my main transport these past few months, and you feel the benefit (plus one or two drawbacks) with every mile.

I’m also glad to be driving a car by Vauxhall, a marque I believe deserves more respect than it gets from people who think they know about cars. It’s traditional for a large proportion of our car-nut community to look past Vauxhalls almost without seeing them, despite the history of the brand being peppered with great and iconic models, many British-designed.

Now owned by progressive and profitable PSA, Vauxhall has already put a succession of modern-design cars on the road (MD Stephen Norman is bidding for a double-figure market share with a range of six cars and three vans), and the biggest seller is likely to be the Corsa.

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True, it hasn’t topped a group test so far, but what we’ve recently learned is that the modern crop of superminis sets such a high standard that it’s fine to come fourth if your dealer is helpful and conveniently located and your financial deal is the right one.

My Corsa has arrived with around 2900 miles on the odometer, having already played a cameo role in press launch activities. It’s the best-equipped model you can get, with the Navi Pro package, leather seats, a driver’s seat massage function, automatic lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control and LED matrix headlights. There are only two options – £650 worth of Power Orange two-coat premium paint and a £110 15in steel spare wheel. The all-in cost of £26,640 looks high, until you remember this model comes with every option including a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox that would otherwise add £1500.

So far the styling and colour have both come in for praise by onlookers and passengers. Slightly lairy paintjobs play well on superminis (although this car’s black pillars and top give it a certain gravitas). It’s a reasonably roomy parents-and-kids five-door with decent-sized doors, and its boot is spacious enough for holiday luggage while leaving room for a 44-litre fuel tank that (with the 1.2-litre, 99bhp three-pot turbo and that eight-speed auto) gives an easy 400-mile range. The claimed best combined official fuel rating is 48.7mpg but you can beat 50mpg without trying too hard.

It has taken time to find my ideal driving position: the Corsa Ultimate has a power-adjust driver’s seat but it’s one of those designs that changes the cushion angle fairly radically as it rises, and most of those angles don’t suit my backside. I’ve found a position not far off the floor that doesn’t quite give the view over the bonnet I’d have liked, but at least it is long-distance comfortable.

Talking of long distances, the motorway performance is a nice surprise. The engine’s torque means it’ll sustain high cruising speeds at low revs – 70mph and 2000rpm in eighth is a common combination – and wind noise is fairly low. Road noise isn’t too intrusive, although other rivals set better standards. I’d like to try this car on 16in wheels if they were available; how many times have you heard that before?

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One fascination for me, going in, was to investigate how a small three-pot turbo engine would work with an eight-speed auto: I’m delighted to find it’s one of the car’s best features. The step-off is brisk (in the hunt for smoothness you have to be a bit delicate with power applications) and the progression through the gears is smooth and refined. There are three driving modes and you can intrude with the well-sited paddles if that’s your fancy. The Eco setting is a bit dismal, dulling throttle response as you’d expect, but Sport delivers extra alertness even if it can be annoyingly reluctant to pick up eighth gear. Most of the time, Normal does the job.

My one disappointment is this car’s secondary ride. It rides flat and with good control but rumbles and bucks on poor surfaces, as if the tyres were hideously over-inflated (they’re not) or radically low in profile (they’re pretty sensible 45-section hoops on 17in wheels). My memory says there are better-riding Corsas down the range. Still, the combination of alert steering and a sweet-sounding, flexible engine – with a generous 151lb ft – still makes zipping about town fundamentally pleasurable.

So far it’s the convenience that I’m enjoying most. And the economy. Surprises are the decent open-road performance and the sweet engine. This Corsa is not a car whose unique qualities make a quick and powerful impression, but I suspect its subtle character traits will grow on me.

Second Opinion

I’ve spent time in auto and manual Corsas and prefer the latter. I like simple superminis, but also the eight-speed ’box didn’t greatly impress me when we road tested it. On our recent supermini giant test, the Corsa’s just-ordinary ride and handling, undistinguished practicality and slightly plain cabin failed to stand out against some really accomplished competition. Maybe living with one will make us better appreciate it.

Matt Saunders

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Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto specification

Specs: Price New £25,990 Price as tested £26,640 Options Power Orange paint £650, 15in steel spare wheel £110

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Test Data: Engine 3-cyls, 1199cc, turbocharged petrol Power 99bhp Torque 151lb ft Kerb weight 1165kg Top speed 119mph 0-62mph 11.2sec Fuel economy 41.6mpg CO2 99g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Join the debate

Comments
8

18 March 2020

I don't think there have been any since the late Fifties unless you include the Lotus built VX220. 

Incidentally there is a 75kg discrepance in the weights quoted in the text and the data panel - the latter presumably being the more accurate for this upmarket automatic version?  

30 July 2020

Must be a very rigid monocoque.

18 March 2020
It is a handsome little car and the colour combo suits it, sounds like a smaller wheeled lower spec model may be a better buy for ride quality and you can still tick all the option boxes you want, but I've always thought highly optioned superminis too expensive compared to reasonably specced next size up cars, but not everyone wants the next size up so it's good to have the choice.

11 April 2020

Vauxhall deserves more respect, says Cropley. I've read the report to find out why... and it seems this is yet another mediocre car.

Maybe Vauxhall should respect its customers a bit more and give them better products?

12 June 2020

I don't think there's anything different from this car to the Opel Corsa we get here in Ireland and mainland Europe! Must check to see if they have Made for Europe on them.

12 June 2020

Thanks for providing us such a useful information about this car i love the color as well.

12 June 2020

The new Corsa may have been the third best seller in April, but that comes at a price. There's now a decent selection of delivery mileage cars now available on a popular used car website. Prices start at £13,500 - and all advertised at a 15% or more discount. To be fair this probably has more to do with the state of the market and dealers urgently needing to shift stock rather than the desirability of the model. But it's not a great start. 

1 July 2020

No actually I think PSA needs more respect, they have taken a lame duck, one that the mighty GM have failed with for over a century, and managed to turn a profit in a few short months, and produce a fairly viable supermini in the process, well done PSA, shame on you Vauxhall.  

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