British brand’s fully electric car will go up against the likes of the Mini Electric with a 209-mile official range and 100kW charging

You know some fairly large change is afoot when the humble Vauxhall Corsa is reconfigured in such a way that it can run on nothing but the electrons that flow from a power socket.

In fact, it seems entirely fair to state that this new electric Corsa-e – which has an official WLTP range of 209 miles – is actually the most important car that Vauxhall and German twin brand Opel have launched since, well, the original Corsa arrived on the scene way back in 1982.

Even in Normal driving mode, wherein power and torque are slightly limited unless you hit the accelerator’s kickdown switch, the Corsa-e’s appetite for snatching gaps in the traffic is fun to exploit.

Of course, the Spanish-built supermini was originally known as the Nova here in Britain, before the decision was made to import the Corsa moniker from the Continent in the early 1990s. But even with that rebranding occuring in between the first and second generations, very little has stood between the little Vauxhall and continued sales success year after year after year. Well, very little aside from a certain blue oval-badged rival, anyway; but let’s not get bogged down in a game of whose sales are greater than whose.

With the arrival of this new electric version, Vauxhall and its new French owner will no doubt be hoping to spur the Corsa on to even greater heights.

How has Vauxhall made room for an electric powertrain?

As with its combustion-engined sixth-generation counterpart, the Corsa-e sits atop the PSA Group’s Common Modular Platform (CMP) – an architecture we’re fairly familiar with now, seeing as it also underpins the likes of the new DS 3 Crossback and Peugeot 208, plus their respective electric versions.

Back to top

However, it’s interesting to note that, despite the fact the CMP was developed from the ground up to accommodate full-scale electrification, the process of converting a standard petrol Corsa into a zero-emissions Corsa-e isn’t as straightforward as you might think. It’s certainly not a question of dropping a few battery cells in the boot and calling it job done.

In fact, in order to properly accommodate the entirety of the 50kWh battery pack while also making the Corsa perform and handle as it should despite having an additional 345kg to lug about, some light surgical alteration was required. This included pushing the rear torsion beam farther back, widening both the front and rear tracks ever so slightly and extending the wheelbase by a few millimetres. At the same time, the front subframe was stiffened to increase torsional rigidity, the spring and damper rates were revised and the steering response was recalibrated.

The positioning of the battery and the additional mass it entails also lower the Corsa-e’s centre of gravity by 10% from the standard car. The pack itself is shaped to roughly resemble an H, with the bulk of its weight sitting directly beneath the rear bench and a smaller section under the front seats.

It powers a synchronous electric motor that drives the front wheels through a single-speed transmission and develops a modest 134bhp and 192lb ft.

How does the Corsa-e perform on the road?

The Corsa-e isn’t exactly bristling with performance, but even with 1455kg of car to transport, the motor still lends it quite a sharp turn of initial pace. On a dry surface, you could imagine it matching Vauxhall’s claimed 0-62mph time, but it’s the way it accelerates between 20mph and 50mph that will be of greatest relevance in the congested urban environments that most examples of this model will call home.

Even in Normal driving mode, wherein power and torque are slightly limited unless you hit the accelerator’s kickdown switch, the Corsa-e’s appetite for snatching gaps in the traffic is fun to exploit.

An extended poke of the throttle makes it spring forward with impressive but not startling urgency, but press the pedal all the way to the floor and, on slippery, uneven streets, it will vigorously spin its front wheels until the traction control steps in to make things civil again.

Back to top

Provided you’re not too foolhardy with your right foot, the Corsa-e actually makes for an impressively mature and appealingly polished runabout. The regenerative braking proffered by the motor isn’t too forceful, even in its strongest setting, and brake pedal feel is reasonable too. You can definitely tell when the friction brakes step in, but the transition is generally pretty smart – certainly smart enough so as not to be offputting to a first-time electric car buyer, which is precisely the point.

Through the busy streets of Berlin and on the congested motorways that surround the German capital, it became apparent that the Corsa-e really works hard to isolate you from outside interference. There’s an appealing calm that sets over the cabin when you’re cruising at speed, too. Wind noise is minimal and there isn’t a great deal of tyre roar to be experienced, either (at least on our smoothly surfaced test route).

In fact, this sense of calm is only really punctuated by the odd thump as you roll over an expansion joint or rut. And unless you happen to drop into an absolute crater, these intrusions are smartly rounded off, with their sharp edges impressively dulled by the time the initial shock is transferred to the base of your seat. You hear a bit of a hollow thumping sound here and there as the suspension goes about its business, but the cabin generally feels calm and well-insulated.

What it doesn’t really feel is particularly opulent or style-led in its design; next to the decidedly chic Peugeot e-208, the Corsa-e wants for visual pizzazz. Build quality is generally good, though, and there’s impressive adjustability on offer that enables you to sit surprisingly low down, despite the presence of the battery pack beneath your seat. What’s more, there’s decent room in the second row, while 267 litres is a usable-enough size for the boot.

The additional mass of the electric powertrain becomes noticeable during directional changes, but the steering is accurate and sensibly weighted enough that it doesn’t sap confidence from the driver. You don’t get the sense that there’s endless grip available or that the car takes particular delight in being driven enthusiastically. But when operated within its comfort zone, there’s a likeable maturity about its driving experience that will no doubt carry plenty of sway with its target market.

Back to top

With prices starting at £27,665 after the Government’s plug-in car grant, it’s fairly expensive by regular Corsa standards. Included in that price, though, is the installation of a home wallbox that’s capable of charging the battery to maximum capacity in about 7.5 hours. The Corsa-e supports 100kW DC rapid-charging as standard, too, which brings the charge times down to around half an hour. Given that many manufacturers will charge you extra for the fastest possible charging capability, Vauxhall’s transparency on this front is refreshing.

The Corsa-e is far from the most charismatic electric supermini; the Honda E and Mini Electric have it licked in that regard. But while you get the sense those cars will appeal to those who have already come around to the idea of electric car ownership, the Corsa-e’s ease of use and the relative familiarity of its driving experience are no less significant.

In fact, they could just be what it takes to get a tentative customer off the fence and into the showroom. Surely that can’t be a bad thing.

What Car? new car buyer marketplace - Vauxhall Corsa

First drives