Vauxhall Corsa VXR review

The VXR delivers the attitude we knew was buried in the latest Corsa. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Vauxhall's latest version of the Corsa VXR packs a 205PS punch, a six-speed manual gearbox that'll delight the purists and the option of a Performance Pack with a Drexler differential, Brembo brakes and bigger wheels. Some trick Koni dampers are fitted as standard. Economy and emissions lag behind the class best but otherwise it's a strong showing.

Background

Here in the UK, we do love an underdog and on that basis, we ought to be all over the Vauxhall Corsa VXR. It's never been one of the blue-blood hot hatches. It doesn't have the lineage of a Peugeot 208 GTI, the joie de vivre of a Fiesta ST or the track-bred polish of a Renaultsport Clio. What many people failed to realise about the last Corsa VXR is that as a pure road car, it had the licking of a number of more illustrious names. The combination of a slightly more supple ride quality and an aggressively punchy engine really made sense on British roads. Vauxhall built us a car and we didn't really repay them. Undeterred, they're back with another crack. This time round, the Corsa VXR rides on a different chassis and looks a good deal sharper. Can it beat the best in the class? Even if it does, will you take notice? You're a tough crowd.

Driving Experience

Power comes from an entirely predictable source, namely a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, in this case sending 205PS through the front tyres via a six-speed manual box. That aces the Fiesta ST's 182PS but look a bit more closely and you realise that the performance margin isn't huge. The Corsa manages 245Nm of torque, with overboost lifting that to 280Nm for a few seconds at a time. By contrast the Ford makes 240Nm of torque, overboosting to 290Nm. And so it proves with the raw numbers, the Corsa getting to 62mph in 6.8 seconds with a top speed of 143mph, while the Fiesta manages 6.9 seconds and 137mph. So, a small edge to the Vauxhall then. The Corsa VXR gets Koni dampers with Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) and rides 10mm lower than the standard Corsa. For the first time on a hot Corsa, the ESP and traction control systems are both two-stage and switchable, which is a Vauxhall first. Competition mode disengages traction control and reduces ESP interventions, while for track use the ESP can be entirely switched out. The electrically-assisted power steering has been revised for a more direct feel, with the 17-inch alloys shod with some beefy 215/45 R17 Michelin rubber. Tick the Performance Package option and you get an aggressive Drexler limited-slip differential, big 330mm Brembo brake discs at the front, punchier damper settings and 18-inch rims.

Design and Build

The VXR features an aggressive new front-end design that has divided opinion amongst those who first saw it on the Geneva Show stand. It gets large air intakes and an aluminium-framed opening below the headlights with a scoop below the bonnet and side-sill extensions. At the back, a rear spoiler reduces lift and twin Remus exhaust pipes further distinguish it from regular Corsas. Six exterior paint finishes, including an exclusive Flash Blue launch colour, are on offer. The cabin features the usual sporty styling touches for the pedals, seats, steering wheel and gear lever but what really impresses is the feeling of solidity. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. The VXR also gets the IntelliLink communications system which has already been seen in the ADAM.

Market and Model

This Corsa VXR has been priced against £20,000 supermini-based hot hatches like the Clio Renaultsport 200 Lux, the Peugeot 208 GTi and a top-spec version of Ford's Fiesta ST. For that kind of money, Vauxhall gives you standard Recaro shell-backed seats, a leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports pedals, plus a VXR gear-lever and bespoke instruments. A heated front windscreen and Intellilink connectivity for both Apple iOS and Android smartphones are also standard. There's also cruise control, a trip computer and bi-xenon headlights. 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 and a rear-view camera. You can even specify a panoramic glass roof. The 17-inch wheels that come as standard are a bit of a dull outing, but the 18-inch option rims look the business.

Cost of Ownership

The Corsa VXR makes some fairly unexceptional economy and emissions numbers. Vauxhall reckon it will manage a combined 37.7mpg and emit 174g/km, which is some way off the 44.8mpg and 144g/km of a Clio 200 - and a long way shy of the top Fiesta ST's 47.9mpg and 138g/km. It's a bit baffling as to why this should be so below par. Anything with ten per cent of the class benchmark is about acceptable, but for the emissions to be a whole 26% higher than a Fiesta's for not a whole lot of performance benefit is a bit of a black mark. Some recompense will come in the fact that the Corsa has a better warranty than the Ford and ought to realise better residual values too. It's a good deal more powerful straight out of the crate, is a newer design and will probably be a bit rarer to boot.

Summary

Reservations about the Corsa VXR's fuel economy aside, Vauxhall look to have done a solid job with this car. It's distinctive looking, it packs a punch and the mechanical specification can be nicely tailored depending on how hardcore you want to go. The cabin looks good and the standard IntelliLink system is a very slick multimedia interface. It's rare to find a manufacturer who really listens to customers. Most are arrogant enough to presume that they can lead and make a market, but the VXR shows that Vauxhall has really listened to what its buyers wanted. We'd spring for the Performance Package, combining the two most desirable options, namely the Drexler diff and the 18-inch alloys, but suspect that this will make the Corsa fairly expensive. Still, Vauxhall dealers aren't averse to doing a deal if you're persistent enough. It's early days yet, but keep your eye on this one. Every underdog has its day.