The Vauxhall Corsa SRi delivers an intriguing alternative to diesel power with its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall's 1.4-litre ecoFLEX turbo might not be the headline-grabber in the Corsa range, but the 100PS petrol engine offers 55mpg economy and plenty of torque. In SRi guise, it delivers a sporty look which won't break the bank. Unassuming it might be, but it makes all kinds of sense, with prices starting at just over £12,500.
There's a price point in the car market where buying a diesel car starts to make sense, and it's usually about halfway up the range of the typical supermini. That's the reason why smaller citycars tend to have petrol engines fitted, bigger family hatches are almost completely diesel-powered, but superminis sell more or less equally with petrol and diesel engines. Vauxhall has known this for years and has delivered some excellent petrol and diesel powerplants for its Corsa model. But what happens if you like the economy and the torque of a diesel engine but prefer the smoothness and response of a good petrol unit? A blend of these qualities has had many manufacturers busting the overtime budget, and it's something that Vauxhall's 1.4-litre turbo EcoFLEX engine, as seen in the Corsa SRi, comes closer than most to achieving.
This four-cylinder 1.4-litre turbo engine sits alongside Vauxhall's 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbo unit in offering petrol buyers something with real talent. Unlike the three-pot, this 1.4-litre isn't all-new, instead being a redesign of an existing powerplant. The results certainly earn this engine an extended lease of life though. Power is rated at an even 100PS, and the torque figures of this engine clue you in on the best way to drive it. The healthy 200Nm of torque arrives at just 1,850rpm and ebbs away at a modest 3,500rpm, so this engine is anything but rev-happy. It's like a diesel in that regard, lugging well from low revs. The SRi is meant to be one of the sportier models in the range, but the 1.4-litre turbo engine doesn't feel wholly sporty, getting to 62mph in a leisurely 11 seconds and then onto a 115mph top speed. The long-legged and relaxed feel to the engine suits the standard Comfort chassis the car comes with, but there is also a more firmly-suspended Sport chassis on offer if you want to scoot through corners with a little less body roll.
Design and Build
The SRi versions of the latest Corsa can be identified by their 16-inch alloy wheels in gloss black and you can also get SRi VX-LINE models with 17-inch silver-finished alloys, spoilers, sills and skirts, a chromed tailpipe extension, plus sports suspension with a lower ride height. Like the rest of the latest Corsa range, these SRi models have the ADAM-style front end 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 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. Sports seats and pedals are the biggest differentiators of the SRi's cabin.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £12,500 for the three-door Corsa Sri, with the 100PS ecoFLEX turbo unit, with the VX-LINE pack tacking just over a grand onto that asking price. Go for a five-door car and you'll need to stump up a £600 premium. In case you were getting a little confused when looking at the Corsa pricelists, yes, the 100PS 1.4-litre Corsa SRi is around £900 cheaper than the 90PS 1.0-litre SRi variant. That makes little sense to us either. The SRi gets a decent array of standard equipment for that modest asking price. Expect to find air conditioning, the sports seats and pedal set, an IntelliLink stereo with digital radio, Bluetooth, USB and iPod controls as well as steering wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control. Then there's a trip computer, automatic lights and wipers, heated door mirrors, LED daytime running lights, a 60/40 split rear seat and a driver's seat height adjuster. Safety systems include six airbags and stability control, but should you want to go further, you can option in Side Blindspot Alert, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, bi-xenon lights and a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
Yes, some other 1.4-litre turbo charged petrol engines in the supermini class are routinely making around 130PS, but then they can't match the economy and emissions performance of this ecoFLEX unit. By scaling back the horsepower a bit, Vauxhall has been able to deliver an engine that not only costs less at the pumps, but also means insurance premiums are that bit less punitive for younger drivers too. It's a smart move. The Corsa SRi 1.4 ecoFLEX nets a combined cycle economy figure of 55.4mpg, with carbon dioxide emissions rated at just 119g/km. Ford's Fiesta range features a 1.0-litre engine that just pips this on paper at 57.6mpg, but in real life? We'd be willing to bet that the Corsa will deliver better real world fuel figures than the Fiesta - and by quite some margin.
Every once in a while, big car manufacturers seem to build a car that works in the real world. Not something that marketers insist we'll want, or something built in response to some perceived threat from a rival: just an honest-to-goodness vehicle that suits a group of target buyers. Score one for the Vauxhall Corsa SRi 1.4 ecoFLEX right there. On paper it doesn't seem too exciting. A de-powered 1.4-litre turbo engine doesn't promise fireworks and, to be frank, it doesn't deliver them either. Instead it's easy to drive, comes with reassuringly compact running costs and offers a real alternative if you don't really fancy a diesel engine. So, while other car manufacturers may employ more overt methods to get your attention, think long and hard about what you're buying your next car and what will work for you. For a good proportion of supermini customers, something like this quietly confident Corsa will be just the ticket.