Jonathan Crouch wades in at the cheap end of the Vauxhall Corsa range and sees if there's anything to get excited about.
Ten Second Review
The 1.2-litre engine might be the least impressive powerplant in the latest Vauxhall Corsa range. So should you give it the cold-shoulder? Not if you like the look of the Corsa and want to minimise your outlay on a vehicle that's not going to cover too many miles. The 53.3mpg economy isn't bad enough to make forking out for a diesel economically viable if you're just using the Corsa for urban duties. It might not be a great engine, but it's got enough about it to more than justify itself on the balance sheet.
The Vauxhall Corsa has been one of the nation's favourite small cars for quite some time now and a good proportion of Corsa sales are made up by relatively inexpensive versions. The strange thing is, while there are some vehicle model ranges where the cheapest cars are the plum picks, we would never have selected the Corsa as one of them. If we were spending money on a Corsa, we'd probably go for the one with the gruntiest diesel engine we could lay our hands on. Still, that just goes to show that perhaps we're a little addicted to torque in the office. In the real world, buyers are a bit more sensible and realise that paying over the odds for a diesel engine when you don't cover too many miles probably isn't the most sensible course of action. So is there something to be said for an entry-level Corsa? We take a look at the 1.2-litre car that props up the range.
You're probably not getting too juiced up at the prospect of 70 untamed horses under the bonnet but bear with this one. For zipping about town, it's perfectly fine. Now, this might sound a whole lot like damning with faint praise, but it's really not. It's about understanding what you want from a car and budgeting accordingly. You don't walk into a camera shop and ask for the latest and greatest Canon SLR if you just want to snap a few pictures of your mates in a bar. Likewise, stretching the budget to an expensive Corsa doesn't make sense when all you really need is something to do the shopping and school run and which won't attract the wrong sort of attention if you take it out in the evening. The 1.2-litre engine revs sweetly enough and will get to 62mph in 16 seconds which can be slotted into the Quite A While category. The gearing is such that it steps off the line up to 30mph quickly enough which again makes it fit for purpose. It's also very manoeuvrable and vision out of the car is good, with electrically-assisted power steering with a City mode to take the effort out of parking. The engine has been revised from the previous Corsa model and the chassis of this fourth-generation model is a completely redesigned chassis with precisely zero carry-over components. It sports a 5mm lower centre of gravity, a stiffer front sub-frame and sharper suspension geometry. There's a five-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard.
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. The 285-litre boot is big for the supermini class. 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.
Market and Model
Somewhat surprisingly for an entry-level engine, the 1.2-litre is available in all the mainstream Corsa trim levels from Life right through to ritzy VX Line. Five-door cars tack another £500 onto those prices. Life is ostensibly the entry-level trim and gets a heated windscreen, tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control, hill start assist, a stereo with an auxiliary input, remote central locking and electric front windows. The reason we say 'ostensibly' is that Vauxhall seems to have priced the better-equipped Sting trim level at almost £2,000 less. So you'll pay £10,900 for a three-door 1.2 Life and £8,995 for the Sting which also adds a better stereo with Bluetooth and AUX-in, cruise control, LED daytime running lights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with built-in audio controls and a few other cosmetic extras. No, we can't work that one out either. The Design version is sure to attract quite a few buyers and this also opens at £10,900 and includes height adjustable seats, 15-inch alloys and the lovely IntelliLink audio system. Optional safety systems include Side Blindspot Alert, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, bi-xenon lights and a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.2-litre engine isn't the very last word in efficiency, especially when you consider its modest power output, but it's certainly no fuel hog. It returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 53.3mpg, which is exactly the same as a 240PS all-wheel drive Volkswagen Passat diesel. Around town that will drop to 42.8mpg, which isn't brilliant but it's not going to send you to your bank begging for a second mortgage either. Despite the fact that this is a new car, you ought to be able to negotiate a discount off the list price, which will make the residual figures look even better. Vauxhall's recommended retail prices always used to be a bit of a joke and merely served to make residuals look horrific and added to business users P11D valuation and hence their tax bill. These days Vauxhall seems to have wised up somewhat, but there's still scope to shave quite a bit off if you're not shy of fronting sales staff down.
On a purely objective basis, there's little that's particularly noteworthy about the 1.2-litre engine that powers this latest Corsa. It does a job. It's not very quick and it's only just acceptably economical. The rest of the Corsa package is well worth your time though. So should you pay a little extra to net yourself an engine that does it justice. For some of you, the answer is undoubtedly yes. If you're a keen driver or just want a car that can parry with the cut and thrust of a busy motorway, you're going to want a bit more engine. Many Corsa customers don't need or want more engine though. For them, additional horsepower is just an unnecessary expense and we actually salute those that are pragmatic enough to recognise the scope of their requirements and budget accordingly. The Corsa might get more impressive the more money you spend on it, but it's got enough about it to still make a cheap one worthwhile.