From £18,1908
The Vauxhall Corsa VXR majors on pace, purpose and performance value. Brash, boisterous and great fun – but lacks the overall finesse of the best in class

What is it?

The new Vauxhall Corsa VXR may look a bit under-endowed next to its bigger-engined VXR siblings, but it sits pretty at the top of an important notional pyramid for its maker.

Volker Strycek, performance director for the VXR brand and former DTM champion himself, says despite the lower-order standing that its price and power level implies, the Corsa is actually the most hardcore model in the VXR range.

And that’s the way VXR owners like it, apparently. “The market research tells us that Astra and Insignia buyers expect more comfort, refinement and ease of use,” says Volker, “but the Corsa VXR owners are the real enthusiasts. It’s great fun making cars for customers like that.”

It’s also plenty of fun driving the car that Nürburgring ace Volker has made for customers like that. Not, perhaps, the most delicate, subtle or precise sort of fun you’ll ever have at the wheel of hot hatchback, but a visceral giggle, undoubtedly – and a particularly purposeful and involving one if you’ve got the forearms, and the budget, for it.

What's it like?

The new Corsa VXR isn't a vastly different prospect from its various special-edition predecessors. It does, however, feel like a car that has matured over the several stages of development delivered by the Nürburgring and Clubsport versions. There’s now enough sophistication about the normal, series-production VXR car, and choice about the ordering process, that it can serve tastes as lukewarm or as specialised as Vauxhall is likely to find.

The car’s 1.6-litre turbo engine benefits from a new air intake and an exhaust with less back pressure, liberating modest improvements in power, torque, fuel economy and emissions. It’s a four-pot with a smidgen more grunt than the class norm and a linear, fairly crisp kind of performance routine that only really wants for a bit of endearing aural character.

The 207lb ft of torque it serves is available for full-throttle bursts of only five seconds, but that should be enough to convince most owners that they’ve bought just about the most potent car they could afford - a key pillar of appeal for the VXR brand, you’d guess.

The car’s six-speed manual gearbox is new, too. Particular emphasis has been placed on shift quality, which is short and staccato but could be slicker. More annoying is the yawning gap between third and fourth gears that trips you up regularly at typical UK country road speeds. Thankfully, the engine’s generous spread of torque earns the car a ready-made get-out-of-jail-free card on that front.

The Corsa VXR’s chassis, updated with a new torsion beam rear suspension set-up and the optional 18in alloy wheels of our test car, provided plenty of traction and lateral grip and a pleasing mix of agile steering response, mid-corner balance, handling adjustability and high-speed stability and precision.

A Ford Fiesta ST has a more natural sense of directional poise and better steering feedback, but the Corsa’s handling would take some beating by anything else in the class. Equally impressive, it’s married to a more supple, civil ride than that of the Ford, one that wouldn’t wear on your senses like some.

Back to top

The car's cabin is not the match of the richer and more imaginatively appointed hot hatchbacks money can buy, with a fairly monotone fascia and performance detailing sparingly applied.

The Recaro bucket seats are fine, if a little short on shoulder and under-thigh support, and there's competitive levels of passenger accommodation in the back seats for what is a fairly small car. So much is probably acceptable in something offering, above all else, plenty of bang for your buck.

Should I buy one?

At £17,995 for the standard car, Vauxhall has priced the Corsa VXR to undercut the equivalent Fiesta ST by £400 – and at that level it’s at its most effective and appealing, fit for fast road driving and occasional track work.

Add the £2400 Performance Pack (bringing with it stiffer springs and damper settings, bigger brakes, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and VXR’s Drexler mechanical limited-slip differential) and you’re compromising the easy precision of the handling and consistency of the steering for the sake of a bit of added traction. And it's traction that, in this tester’s opinion, the car barely needs.

Like most mechanical LSDs, the Corsa’s sends traction-related forces back to your palms during hard cornering, corrupting the steering’s weight and willingness to return to centre.

Packaged as it is with a suspension tune that makes the ride a touch reactive and excitable anyway, that diff is an intriguing addition to the spec and will be appreciated by those who like their fast front-driver to present a bit of a physical challenge  - but it’s best avoided for those who intend to spend longer on road than racetrack.

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Location Knockhill; On sale May; Price £17,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Power 202bhp at 5800rpm; Torque 207lb ft at 1900-5800rpm (overboost); Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1368kg; Top speed 143mph; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Economy 37.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 174g/km, 29%

Back to top

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Rob3038 17 April 2015

UK Car Prices

Can't believe how much you pay for cars in the UK. Drive away price for a Fiesta ST in Australia converts to about GBP15000. If the VXR was sold here it would cost the equivalent of 14200. A Focus ST, fully loaded will set you back less than 22000 and a Golf R with dsg, adaptive suspension 19 inch wheels and satnav can sit in yor driveway for 31000.
You guys must be earning too much.
rybo1 15 April 2015


Ah, No thanks.
DBtechnician 15 April 2015

It's not compulsory to drive like a twat.

In any case it's not the car or it's price that allows youngsters to kill themselves, they are quite capable of doing that in a similar price second hand vehicle.