All-new Vauxhall Corsa raises its game with the end result being a classy supermini that’s decent to drive, but still short of the benchmark set by the Ford Fiesta

A heated windscreen. That’s what, in customer satisfaction surveys, current Vauxhall Corsa owners said they wanted. Not a revolution in looks, nor in dynamics, nor in cabin ambience, but a heated windscreen, please.

So you’ll excuse the new Corsa for not reinventing itself. The new model is as all new as many cars get these days. Elements of the monocoque have been carried over, because until a revolution in the cost of composites comes, modern finite element analysis means that its steel shell is as stiff and crash resistant as it’s likely to get.

Vauxhall makes encouraging noises about the new engine, and it doesn’t disappoint

That makes it a similar size and weight to the outgoing Corsa, at a whiff over four metres long and 1177kg. Beyond that, new means new. Every panel on the mildly Vauxhall Adam-ised, slightly more butch exterior is different. Every component forward of the A-pillars is new. Every suspension component, too, as are the pick-up points for the front MacPherson struts and the rear torsion beam.

GM retains an engineering centre at Millbrook in the UK and is no stranger to tuning cars there, because it knows that British road conditions are different from those elsewhere. So whereas Opel Corsas, belying their German engineering origin, will apparently have greater straight-on stability to their steering, UK Vauxhall cars get a different power steering tune (electric assistance makes that much easier).

It’s said to be more responsive off the straight-ahead to suit our twistier roads. Although the rest of the chassis tune is no different here or across mainland Europe, development of that has taken place in Britain, too.

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Discovering what's under the Corsa's bonnet

The motor's all new as well. At least, this 114bhp one is. Like Ford, Vauxhall now has its own 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol unit. The rest of the range is made up of mainly petrol engines, with only a 1.3-litre diesel in 74bhp and 94bhp to choose from the oilburning fratenity. The gasoline line-up starts with a duo of naturally aspirated 1.4-litre engines producing 74bhp, and 89bhp respectively, followed by a pair of blown 1.4-litre units producing 99bhp and 148bhp, while the Vauxhall Corsa VXR (2015-2018) gets a 202bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

Vauxhall says this new three-cylinder engine is the only triple that gets a balancer shaft, that it’s extremely smooth and that the torque and power curves are both plump. That last bit is certainly true. Peak torque arrives at 1800rpm and hangs around until 4500rpm, only 500rpm before peak power arrives, which stays until 6000rpm.

Inside, the Corsa has been refreshed, again with hints of Adam. It’s classier but less distinctive than the smaller car, presumably because that’s what supermini buyers like.

The Corsa does what it has always done well, providing competitive space in the rear seats and boot and a sound driving position. It’s less classy in feel than a Volkswagen Polo, but broadly it’s good.

There are a slightly unnecessary 11 different trim levels to choose from, with the entry-level Sting model coming equipped with 16-inch alloys, heated windscreen, driver's seat height adjustment, cruise control, a leather clad steering wheel, Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard. Upgrading to Sting R adds VX-Line interior styling, sports suspension and gloss black exterior trim, while Energy trimmed Corsas include air conditioning, heated front seats and steering wheel, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, auto lights and wipers, front foglights, LED day-running lights and Vauxhall's IntelliLink infotainment system complete with DAB radio, 7.0in touchscreen display and smartphone integration.

SRi models get sport style seats and distinctive 16in alloy wheels, while those opting for the SRi VX-Line models get 17in alloys, sports suspension and an aggressive bodykit thrown into the package. The special edition models consists of the Limited, Red and Black Edition Corsas. Limited Edition models get Vauxhall's OnStar concierge and emergency portal, sports seats, air conditioning, chrome exhaust, sports suspension, 17in alloy wheels and front foglights included in the package, while the Red and Black Edition gets a red or black paint job, 17in diamond-cut alloy wheels and are the only Corsas fitted with the 148bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine.

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Design-trimmed cars lose the alloys and get 15in steel wheels, while SE models gain an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, electrially adjustable front seats, a 60/40 folding rear bench split, parking sensors and 16in alloy wheels, whole the range-topping Elite models include luxuries climate control, rear view camera, bi-xenon headlights, tinted rear windows, sports suspension and 17in alloy wheels.

Does the 1.0-litre Corsa engine better Ford's and VW's?

The 114bhp 1.0-litre engine fires to a near-silent idle, and in general it’s responsive and keen. It revs willingly, and such is the quietness and consistency of output that there are times while cruising when you could be in any of, say, three gears and you wouldn’t notice much difference in either noise or throttle response. It drives as standard through a six-speed gearbox that is occasionally notchy but otherwise positive.

The rest of the Corsa package hasn’t quite taken the same leap forward betraying the fact that this isn’t an all-new Corsa. That comes in 2018, with it based on a smaller version of the Vauxhall Astra’s underpinnings, which means significant weight reduction, and increased cabin space.

The steering of Vauxhall models has been tuned specifically UK, and no question, the Corsa feels quick to turn, with light, lively but mostly consistent steering. It doesn’t have the dynamic moves of a Ford Fiesta, and all of the controls, which again are consistent and easily modulated, have a lighter touch. It’s an easy car to drive.

Ride comfort is competitive, too. The last Corsa’s ride was well isolated. This one feels like it will retain that, but our test car might not be the best example from that viewpoint, because it rode on 17-inch wheels. I suspect that smaller ones will be more absorbent.

Pricing is competitive; they all are in this segment, but the Corsa starts from under £11,000 and in the meat of the range there’s a lot of standard clobber. Like that heated windscreen. Class leads aren’t won or lost over such details for us, but they matter to a lot of buyers. The Corsa will go on pushing their buttons.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Vauxhall Corsa 2014-2019 First drives