First DriveLuton looks to a name change to stoke interest in its hottest supermini; we still like it but its silly pricing means its quality is a moot point
First DriveThis retitled hot Corsa is still very entertaining, but it’s expensive compared to newer rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST
What is it?
The hot turbocharged version of Vauxhall’s new Corsa supermini. VXRs are known for being well, lairy is the most polite way we can think of putting it. Visually, at least, the latest product from the Luton-town tuners isn’t about to change anyone’s preconceptions.
With its brash grille, 17-inch alloys, big spoiler, rear diffuser and central exhaust, the Corsa VXR makes the Clio 197 look understated.
No upsets from the figures, either. With 189bhp the Corsa might lag the Clio on power, but with 192lb ft from the turbocharged 1.6 engine (on 15-second overboost; 169lb ft is normal from 1980rpm), the Corsa is the hardest-hitting of the sub-16-grand hot hatches, 0-60mph taking just 6.8sec.
What’s it like?
It might have the usual styling cues, but to drive though, the Corsa is quite different to what we’ve come to expect from VXR.
Power delivery is progressive, the throttle mapping sensible, with none of the sudden, attention-seeking turbo surge that can make the Astra VXR such a frustratingly blunt tool. Drop the windows an inch and it even does a decent impression of the Astra’s ripping turbo snarl.
More surprises are in store at the first corner. First, how with very little steering effort the Corsa darts towards the apex – the electrically assisted variable-ratio rack making the steering quick-acting around the straight ahead, more progressive mid-corner and then faster again at full lock. It takes a little learning and, like the flat-bottomed steering wheel, feels a bit gimmicky until you get used to it.
And while there is occasional stickiness through the wheel on full beans, there’s none of the dreaded torque steer of the Astra VXR.
The second mid-corner discovery is grip, and masses of it. Our test car rode on 18-inch wheels, wrapped in 225mm-section tyres, which give the Corsa pretty much unbreachable adhesion in anything less than full hooligan mode.
Vauxhall says the standard 17-inch wheels give the best blend of handling and ride, and although we’ve yet to try that set-up, we don’t doubt it. That said, on the choppy roads of our test route the big-wheeled Corsa flowed impressively. Over the same roads, a Mini Cooper S would have heads bashing the headlining.
Be provocative with the throttle mid-corner and the Corsa will react, the rear axle eager to affect the cornering angle. Yet the effect is more comedy playfulness than precision cornering balance. Switchable ESP is standard, quickly curtailing any over-exuberance. Unlike its VXR stablemates – which are rapid, but rather crude – the Corsa VXR is quite the polished article.
It’s a similar story inside. Yes the VXR steering wheel and Recaro sport seats are both suitably sporty, but they are also perfectly liveable, demanding little compromise. Add to that the intrinsic Corsa qualities of space, refinement and big-car feel and for all the VXR’s go, it’s a pretty civil car.
Should I buy one?
The Corsa VXR is infinitely more practical day-to-day than the furious Clio 197 or compromised Mini. With decent kit, including air-con, and a price that’s £400 cheaper than its two chief rivals, the Corsa VXR deserves every success.
But at the risk of being labelled impossible to please, we have a nagging feeling Vauxhall may have overdone the polishing. For all its outright pace and high grip levels, the Corsa VXR is missing a little rawness and connectivity. For example, peak power arrives at 5800rpm, meaning there’s never the need or desire to chase the redline, or the same sense of urgency you get with the Clio.
For many this won’t matter, or is counterbalanced by the VXR’s better long-distance comfort. For us, however, it does, and that’s why, by the thinnest of margins, the 197 remains our choice.