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Major revisions give the popular supermini a stylish new look and refreshed hardware, but to what effect?

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At what stage might the enduring popularity of the Vauxhall Corsa become a problem for its maker, do you think? The Corsa, just in receipt of a facelift for the 2024-model-year, remains the biggest-selling traditional supermini in the UK and, at present, Vauxhall is still selling between three and four petrol-engined ones for every Vauxhall Corsa Electric registered.

But, as the ZEV mandate legislation that all big car makers face from January 2024 ramps up over the coming years, and potential penalties mount for selling too many ICE cars, having the country’s biggest-selling supermini might well begin to seem like a less and less brilliant idea.

So, if you were Vauxhall, what would you do? Ramp up equipment levels, and prices to suit, in the hope of making more money from fewer sales, perhaps? Where small combustion-engined cars are concerned, we can imagine that might be a common theme as we approach 2030 – and there are indeed hints of it here. But, for the time being, this car maker seems mostly happy to continue playing the big-volume game, and to keep faith with internal combustion.

The sixth-generation Corsa (although only the fifth to bear the model name in the UK, after the original Nova) was the car that was all but ready for market in 2017, on a General Motors platform, when the then-PSA Group – French manufacturing giant and owner of Peugeot, Citroën and the reborn DS – bought Opel-Vauxhall from GM for £1.2 billion. The decision was made to ditch the Vauxhall Astra-platformed model, which had already been more or less signed off, and instead build a new Corsa on the CMP platform due to underpin the Peugeot 208, Citroën C3 and DS 3

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The finished pre-facelift car then, appearing in 2019, was developed from the ground up in less than two years. Getting it to market in such a compressed timeline was some achievement. But where does it rank in the slowly shrinking class of combustion-engined superminis today?

The Vauxhall Corsa range at a glance

Though it may seem counter-intuitive under the circumstances, Vauxhall’s actually adding what some in the industry call a ‘thermal’ powertrain (a bit like an octaganarian’s underwear) to the Corsa range for 2024: Stellantis’s new 48V, 134bhp, 1.2-litre petrol-electric hybrid engine. 

Elsewhere, both normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.2-litre Puretech three-cylinder petrol engines continue, so you can have anything from 74bhp to 128bhp and either manual or automatic gearboxes, with prices starting just under £20,000.

Those options are in addition to the Corsa Electric models. The EV is now available in regular (222 miles WLTP) and Long Range (246 miles) form, and with either 134bhp or 154bhp.

Trim levels have been simplified and now run from base-level Design, through mid-level GS, to top-line Ultimate.

DESIGN & STYLING

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 02 panning side

It might be built on new Stellantis mechanicals, but the Vauxhall Corsa is made in a factory that's been building Corsas since 1982: at Zaragoza, Spain.

The car's two-box silhouette is, in the words of one Vauxhall engineer, "considerably less van-like" than it used to be. It’s no surprise that this car resembles a Peugeot 208, and the dimensions for the two are similar. However, the Corsa is also 39mm longer, 48mm lower and a scant 1mm narrower than its GM-engineered predecessor.

Active aero shutters and an unusually smooth underbody contribute to a 0.29 drag coefficient, which, Vauxhall says, helps noticeably with fuel economy at cruising speed. An Audi A1 manages 0.31.

Overall, it’s elegant if understated, with some eye-catching features. The 2023 facelift, meanwhile, has brought the car in line with Vauxhall's latest family look - adding the 'Vizor' grille treatment (the black panel between the new headlights), the 'Compass' look to the bonnet, and a shark fin roof aerial that the Corsa didn't have previously.

Under the skin, most of the car's engine range is updated but otherwise unchanged. Stellantis's 1.2-litre, three-cylinder Puretech petrol engine appears in both atmospheric and turbocharged forms, producing anywhere between 74bhp and 128bhp and partnered with either five-speed or six-speed manual gearboxes, or an eight-speed automatic.

The car's old 1.5-litre diesel engine has long since been deleted from the UK model line. But a new 48V hybrid will be added to it in spring 2024, built around a 1.2-litre turbocharged three-pot engine adapted for efficient running. It is electrically assisted at low speeds and under acceleration, and drives the wheels through a new six-speed automatic gearbox.

Whichever engine the Corsa takes, it uses MacPherson-strut suspension at the front and a torsion beam rear, which are common in this class. And unlike in the past, when Vauxhall would subtly retune Opel’s steering set-up to trade some autobahn-centric stability for more B-road-friendly off-centre response, the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa twins are now identically tuned.

The move to the CMP platform has delivered weight-savings that total more than 100kg for the Corsa, though: the body is 40kg lighter but 15% stiffer than before, while the engines are on average 15kg lighter, and there’s now an aluminium bonnet.

INTERIOR

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 06 dash

The shift in design proportions manifested on this car is as obvious from within the Vauxhall Corsa’s cabin as it is from without. Having been, for a couple of previous generations at least, a functionality-first supermini with a slightly raised roofline and hip point (both intended to squeeze extra usable cabin space into a small overall footprint), this new cabin is lower of profile, less perched of driving position, and quite plainly less space-efficient than its predecessor. That last point is somewhat regrettable, in ways that we’ll come to describe that fly in the face of its maker's claims.

This Vauxhall has undoubtedly progressed for perceived quality and on technological content. Owners familiar with the old car will need to get used to the lower driving position and slightly tighter door apertures of the new one. Once inside, they may also notice the shallower footwells and more distantly removed fascia that both betray the adoption of a Stellantis-née-PSA platform architecture here.

If car makers look to move their piston-powered superminis upmarket over the next few years, to try to make greater margin out of fewer sales and avoid ZEV mandate fines, Vauxhall will have to do more to make this interior materially appealing. At present, it feels quite cheap in places.

But they will also notice the liberal adoption of high-gloss black and satin chrome trim around the cabin and, where fitted, the car’s new 10.0in widescreen central infotainment display. Both have become typical ways in which car makers seek to drive up the impression of expensiveness and sophistication conjured by a volume-selling hatchback in recent years. The glossy trim in particular gives the cabin at least a note of ritzy, upmarket material feel. It’s notably less impressive to the touch, however, as a result of particularly hard plastic mouldings on the dashboard and door panels. Compared with some rivals at least, there's also still a lack of youthful colour and charm about this interior.

For those travelling in the back seats, the Corsa might not seem quite so clever. The key upshot of the lower roofline and hip point is that less leg room is left for those in the rear. There, we measured 890mm of head room and a pretty meagre 620mm of typical leg room, which is at least a couple of inches shy of both the current Seat Ibiza and the Volkswagen Polo in both respects, although less far adrift of other rivals. Boot space has grown by about 10% over that of the previous Corsa, to just over 300 litres – which is another broadly competitive but far from outstanding showing.

Vauxhall Corsa multimedia

In bottom-rung trim level, the new Corsa comes with a 10.0in touchscreen infotainment system that features wireless smartphone-mirroring functionality as standard so, even without a factory navigation system on board, few drivers are likely to be without decent navigation, entertainment and connectivity options.

The addition of a factory navigation system comes on Ultimate trim (although the Corsa Electric adds it at mid-level, in tandem with wireless device charging and Vauxhall Connect networked functionality).

The car's new Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered multimedia system is well laid out, responsive and made fairly easy to navigate through large menu shortcuts on the lateral extremes of the screen. It's disappointing not to see the physical menu shortcut buttons you get on the bigger Astra, not least because the pre-facelift car had more of them. But at least physical ventilation and lane departure warning controls are retained.

Vauxhall's factory navigation system, on models where it appears, is mostly good, although the mapping auto zoom control is annoyingly prescriptive if you prefer a 'north up' style of display.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 19 engine

In persistent rain, our 99bhp Vauxhall Corsa test car battled through a shortage of traction off the line to hit 60mph in 11.2sec. In similarly adverse conditions last year, however, a 94bhp Volkswagen Polo with smaller, 15in wheels and 185-section tyres was able to hit 60mph from rest half a second quicker. A respectable but not outstanding standard, then.

The Corsa’s eight-speed automatic transmission made getting the car away from rest trickier than in the manual Polo, and was a contributing factor in its slower 0-60mph time. But it doesn’t quite explain why a lighter car with greater power and torque reserves and more intermediate gear ratios to pull on was then 4.1sec slower to 100mph.

Basic Design-spec Corsas have 16in alloys that are sure to do ride quality no harm. Mid- and upper-level cars ride on 17s – although, with generous 45-section sidewalls, the Michelin tyres are no elastic bands.

The Corsa’s healthy provision of torque does at least mean that, subjectively, it isn’t short of on-road punch. It doesn’t accelerate in quite as linear a fashion as some rival modern turbo superminis, and it can come across as a touch boosty in its power delivery through the lower middle of the rev range. But there’s a likeable pluckiness about the way it picks up pace and then revs that won’t leave you feeling grossly short-changed either for performance in town or at speed on the motorway.

Our test numbers confirmed as much: the car’s 11.5sec 30-70mph through-the-gears time was only 0.3sec behind that of the Polo. And while the 1.2-litre motor’s power delivery can start to feel strained as you approach the very top of its rev range, flexibility is nonetheless competitive in relation to the wider class. Locked in fourth gear – our measure of an engine’s flexibility – the same 30-70mph run took 12.7sec, versus 14.8sec in the 123bhp Ford Fiesta we road tested in 2017. That showing is flattered by the fitment of an eight-speed automatic gearbox (with a shorter fourth gear than, say, a six-speed manual might have had) to the Corsa, of course, but it’s a strong one all the same.

The eight-speed automatic ’box itself is competent enough, although our testers agreed that Vauxhall’s six-speed manual ought to be preferable to all but the laziest and most disinterested of drivers. Shifts are delivered smoothly, but the transmission can dawdle at times, and brake pedal feel is somewhat over-assisted and mushy-feeling. Take the manual instead and shift quality is good, and brake pedal response better.

That said, step-off in the auto is generally smooth and it’s perfectly willing to accommodate manual shifts via the steering-column-mounted paddles, although not always with as much haste as you might like or hope for.

Vauxhall Corsa assisted driving notes

All Corsa models come with a suite of driver assistance systems that include speed limit sign recognition, a lane departure warning system, forward collision alert, AEB crash mitigation with pedestrian detection, plus cruise control with a manual speed limiter. Mid-spec GS cars add blindspot monitoring, while top-level models get a more sophisticated AEB system, extended traffic sign recognition, and both a lane keeping assist system and adaptive cruise control for automatic-gearbox models.

The systems aren’t groundbreaking but they work reliably. The lane departure warning system feels well calibrated for UK motorways. The manner in which it steps in to guide you back into your lane is gentle and it hands back control in a smooth fashion.

Elsewhere, the adaptive cruise control is adept at reading changes in traffic speed and will adjust the speed of the car in a usefully progressive fashion. The absence of a chorus of warning chimes, beeps and bongs in the car more widely (speeding reminder buzzers, which will be mandatory from June 2024, haven't yet been added to the car) is also welcome.

RIDE & HANDLING

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 21 cornering rear

Unlike many of its equally well-established European rivals, the Vauxhall Corsa has never harboured ambitions of being particularly ‘fun to drive’.

Even in now-lapsed VXR-branded form, its reputation for driver appeal was a bit mixed. That’s largely because Opel-Vauxhall has never been minded to put agility or responsiveness ahead of obliging usability, convenience or functionality as key components of the basic car’s appeal. And, given how well the car has sold over the years, conceivably quite rightly so.

The Corsa’s light steering wants for both feel and a build-up of resistance as lock is applied, but the car is stable and predictable at speed, and easy to manoeuvre in town

Perhaps somewhat predictably when prefaced in that light, this new version handles a little like a car of conflicted priorities: one that’s fundamentally better able than its predecessors to distinguish itself on agility, body control and handling precision (thanks to its lower body profile and kerb weight), but one that hasn’t been tuned with quite the required agenda to capitalise on it.

In an echo of its slightly stodgy and over-assisted brake pedal, the car’s steering is also quite light and a little disconnected in its feel. It maintains a monotone weighting as you add angle rather than increasing resistance to mimic load building into the suspension and tyre sidewalls, and this is precisely the kind of dynamic trait that Vauxhall might have ‘tuned out’ for UK-market cars under its former General Motors ownership.

That the system is also calibrated to return to centre at surprising pace makes the car a shade less intuitive than it might be both to place on the road and to manoeuvre. That said, no driver will complain about the amount of physical work required of them to get the car into and out of spaces and around tight car parks. That the handling responses are quite gentle and measured means that the lack of steering weight and feedback is less of an issue at speed than otherwise might have been the case.

The Corsa steers with only moderate pace from the rack, plenty of grip from each corner, and with stability quite plainly prioritised from the chassis balance. Driver engagement is still in slightly short supply, then, but outright body control and security at speed are both good and handling precision is more than respectable. And this is a small, light car, remember, the likes of which always supply more relative driver appeal than many bigger, heavier ones.

Vauxhall Corsa comfort and isolation

If you imagined that a model platform shared with a posse of small French cars might provide something of a dynamic personality transplant for the Corsa, you’ll already be disappointed with what you’ve read so far. 

There isn’t much better news to come. That’s because a fairly firm, and occasionally recalcitrant and slightly wooden-feeling ride is one of the more conspicuous dynamic failings of this car. Being as small and light as it is, you might imagine that Vauxhall could have afforded to make it feel lighter on its feet - but instead there's more of a determined, faintly Germanic flavour to the car's suspension tuning.

The Corsa deals with smoother, level roads perfectly well, and it fusses less at urban speeds than it does elsewhere. The suspension trips up a little over sharper edges and bigger inputs, though, and finds too many motorway undulations and surfaces to fidget and roar over for it to produce quite the sense of on-board refinement and comfort that it would need in order to rival the most dynamically sophisticated superminis in the class.

It is at least mostly quiet and is comfortable enough for the broadest of usage patterns. It will cause offence only to those who know how good this car’s competitors have become over the past five years or so. One way or the other, though, it ultimately conspires to deny this car membership of the class’s dynamic elite.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 01 tracking front

In some ways, but clearly not all, the Vauxhall Corsa exudes an air of maturity that will enhance its appeal in the eyes of those who found the previous version too ‘boy racer’. Pitched against the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Renault Clio, all of which are shadowed by the Corsa’s starting price, it holds its own in terms of ergonomics and equipment. That alone represents a move upmarket for a car that was pretty plainly value-positioned in its previous model generation.

The petrol-powered models are fairly efficient on account of their lightish kerb weights - cars, mostly, that will return 45mpg without any effort at all, and top 50mpg if you bother. Vauxhall's auto gearbox does hurt the potential there a bit, but if you do want a frugal two-pedal car, the forthcoming 48V Hybrid should do even better still for efficiency. At 51.8mpg, touring economy as tested proved reasonable if not exceptional for our test car. (The equivalent Renault Clio managed 56.9mpg.)

A top-spec Corsa isn’t expected to perform quite as strongly as some in the class when it comes to residual values.

Those looking for cheap benefit-in-kind prospects will be drawn by default to the Corsa Electric, and while both versions of the car are expensive compared with ICE versions, their enhanced electric range (up to 246 miles in the case of the Long Range version) might just make them worth considering as company cars.

VERDICT

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vauxhall corsa review 2023 24 static front

The Vauxhall Corsa certainly represents a smarter, more refined, superficially classier and more desirable prospect than the car it replaces - and even more so in mid-life facelifted form. Its Stellantis platform has brought more appealing proportions, and paved the way for a stronger range of powertrains, and a fairly impressive roster of digital technology.

However, while this is undoubtedly a ‘nicer’ and more desirable car, it hasn’t been made better in every respect. Its slightly remote if assured handling, at times over-firm ride, and questionable four-seat practicality leave the car short of the class's highest standards in a number of areas. And although it’s competent, secure and broadly inoffensive to drive, it lacks dynamic character and fails to make up for that shortage by reproducing ‘big car’ motive qualities in the manner of the best of its competitors.

The majority of Vauxhall’s faithful customer base will be much more likely to notice what the Corsa has gained than what it has lost, of course, and will no doubt appreciate the more modern-feeling, premium-age supermini they find. But those who are inclined to stray to other showrooms will still be able to find even swisher and more upmarket cars therein.

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.

Vauxhall Corsa First drives