The Vauxhall Corsa's back and brings with it the latest supermimi must-have; a downsized 1.0-litre engine. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall joins the party with its own high-tech downsized 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. Available in 90 or 110PS power outputs, the former boasting 54.7mpg fuel economy, it also gets balancer shafts for class-leading smoothness. It's taken them a while, but Vauxhall should be onto a winner here.
There's a lot to be said for a wait-and-see policy. It usually allows the innovators to invest all the money and succumb to the pitfalls, before swooping in with a product that hits all the right notes. Vauxhall have proven pretty adept at this. A vast company like General Motors is usually too mired in bureaucracy to be first to market consistently. Therefore the next best policy is to work in a more measured fashion and bring to market vehicles that just won't fail to chime with the buying public. The Vauxhall Zafira is a case in point. Compact MPVs weren't new news when the Zafira first appeared in 1999, but it quickly established market dominance. Likewise, the Ford Fiesta had been on the market for fully six years before GM responded with the Nova/Corsa. These days that game is still being repeated. Ford introduced its 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol engine back in 2012. Now Vauxhall has its own three-cylinder 1.0-litre ECOTEC. But has launching late this time come at a price?
There's little doubt that this 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol unit is the big drawcard of the latest Corsa's engine line-up. Recognising that diesel powerplants don't always make the big sales numbers in the supermini sector, Vauxhall has instead devoted its attention to super-efficient petrol units. The 1.0-litre is the only production three-cylinder engine on the market with a balancer shaft, helping it combat noise, vibration and harshness. This Euro6-compliant engine is offered on either 90 or 115PS power outputs and both manage 170Nm of torque at just 1,800rpm. The Corsa has always been a pretty entertaining steer and Vauxhall is looking to continue that trend. Underpinning this latest fourth-generation car is a completely redesigned chassis with precisely zero carry-over components from the last model. It sports a 5mm lower centre of gravity, a stiffer front sub-frame and a sharper suspension geometry. The electrically-assisted power steering gets a City mode for you to twirl around effortlessly when parking, but receives a UK-specific tune to cater for our roads. Internal friction has been minimised, as has understeer. Both Comfort and Sport suspension set ups have improved dampers that aid ride quality.
Design and Build
Straight away you'll spot similarities to the front end of the ADAM model and that's no coincidence, this looking set to become the Vauxhall family face for the foreseeable future. That means a rounded, friendly look with a broader front grille than Corsas of old. The overall proportioning isn't that much of a departure, this car retaining the somewhat tall and narrow shape of the third generation model. It's almost identical in length but all of the car's body panels are new and provide greater definition between the 'sporty' look of the three-door and the 'premium' five-door models. Some of the detailing is quite assured, including the sculptural 'blade' running across the lower door-sections. Drop inside and you'll see even bigger improvements. The old Corsa always felt a solid thing but time hadn't been kind to the basic design of the interior and this latest model rectifies that quite emphatically. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. The fourth-generation Corsa is also the first high-volume Vauxhall to be available with IntelliLink, the communications system which has already been seen in the ADAM.
Market and Model
As you would expect, there's a slight premium to pay for this more modern 1.0-litre engine but it's not too great, with figures starting from around the £11,000 mark. You'll get much of the premium back anyway with the ECOTEC unit's lower running costs. This isn't the first Corsa to be offered with a 1.0-litre engine. Vauxhall will doubtless argue that they were ahead of the curve in offering a 58PS 973cc engine back in 1997 but that wasn't anything like today's 1.0-litre units in terms of efficiency and power. This time round, the ECOTEC engine appeals to those customers who cover lower mileages but don't want the outlay of a diesel yet still require decent economy and response. It's not a budget bookend to the range. This latest generation Corsa ECOTEC is anything but built down to a price and equipment available for these cars includes heated front seats, steering wheel and windscreen, as well as soft-tone ambient lighting and a full-size panoramic roof is also available. Safety systems include Side Blindspot Alert, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, bi-xenon lights and a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
If there's one thing that has consistently soured the public's relationship with the latest small-capacity petrol engines it's the gulf between the published fuel economy figures and what owners get in real world scenarios. Studies claim that the real world fuel economy of Fiat's TwinAir engine in its 500 citycar is only 68 per cent of the claimed 70.6mpg figure. Likewise the 1.0-litre Ecoboost 125 engine in the Fiesta actually made 69 per cent of its claimed 65.7mpg. Perhaps Vauxhall has played a bit of a blinder here in downplaying the 1.0-litre engine's economy a bit, claiming a more credible 54.7mpg on the combined cycle. After all, Vauxhall knows a thing or two about this market. The Corsa has been the company's best-selling car for many years, generally sitting at number two in the overall passenger car sales charts. In its last full year, Vauxhall sold 83,000 Corsas in the UK, outstripping total full-range sales of manufacturers like SEAT, Skoda, Renault and Citroen. We're the lead market for the Corsa by a massive margin, the second biggest being Germany with 50,000 registrations. This latest ECOTEC model is going to contribute a big part of that bottom line.
Facing down Ford's all-conquering Fiesta is a devilishly tough assignment but Vauxhall seem confident that the latest Corsa has what it takes. The 1.0-litre ECOTEC engine will be a big part of their product offensive and by launching a couple of years after Ford's 1.0-litre, Vauxhall will hopefully avoid many of the problems that have beset their rival over claimed versus actual fuel economy. The very fact that Vauxhall claim 54.7mpg for the 90PS Corsa where Ford reckons on 65.7mpg for their more powerful 100PS unit would suggest that Vauxhall has set this engine up for everyday driveability rather than merely spoofing the NEDC economy test. Although this latest Corsa at first looks like a mere restyle, it's much more than that. Here's a car that's been designed from a clean sheet of paper, with an enormous development budget behind it. The 1.0-litre engine could just be the secret weapon that will unhinge the Fiesta. Don't bet against it.