Vauxhall's fourth generation Corsa hasn't lost that streetwise edge. June Neary checks it out
Will It Suit Me?
Out on the road, you can't help but notice the fourth generation version of Vauxhall's little Corsa supermini. In the throngs of city traffic, there is very little else that can cut its way as deftly through the queues and still leave you unruffled at the other end. The first time I met this car, it seemed to beg me to drive it and I did, with great enjoyment. This MK4 model promised to be something special from my first glimpse of it in the car park. First impressions are of 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 also almost identical in length to that car, but all of this improved model'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 smart, including the sculptural 'blade' running across the lower door-sections.
I felt at home straight away. The 1.0-litre ECOTEC petrol model I was driving was beautifully upholstered and the interior was light and airy. The driving position was very comfortable, and the controls clear and easy to read. A centre console housed a logical nest of controls for the heater and stereo, all easy to use. In the five-door model I borrowed, there was room for two adults in the back but I struggled to fit two child seats in, plus a booster in the middle. Legroom was good but the payback for this was the smallish boot space. Still, take out the parcel shelf and you could still fit in some luggage if you needed to. Climb inside and, if you're used to the Astra, you'll feel immediately at home here. The quality of materials used is leagues ahead of older Corsas and like the Astra, there's the bulletproof feeling of build quality that's as good as anything in the sector. Just about my only criticism of the Astra's interior was that, although well built, it didn't offer a whole lot of slick design to catch the eye. The Corsa changes that particular script quite emphatically. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. The fourth-generation model is also the first high-volume Vauxhall to be available with IntelliLink, the communications system which has already been seen in the ADAM.
Behind the Wheel
I tried the star of this MK4 Corsa model's engine range, the 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol ECOTEC unit. A balancer shaft aims to make it quieter than most other three cylinder petrol engines on the market and indeed, refinement is very good - better than I was expecting. There's a choice of either 90 or 115PS power outputs but if you need more, then an improved version of Vauxhall's 1.4 turbo engine is also featured in a range also including two budget naturally-aspirated petrol engines - a 1.2 and a 1.4-litre. Big improvements to the 1.3 CDTi diesel have elevated it to Euro 6 emissions standards. Around town, the Corsa is a joy to drive and while settled on longer trips, you'd still think that something a little larger could come in handy. The suspension is well balanced between sporty handling and comfort, giving a smooth, quiet ride even on the most potholed of country lanes. I also continue to admire this little Vauxhall's image. It manages to avoid looking like a cartoon and, at the same time, it's smart enough for business use. What's more, for short journeys, this little Vauxhall is suitable as a family run-around. I really liked the power steering as it made running around town easy - it is only about three turns from one lock to the other. Where it really came into its own was in my office car park however - the spaces are a little on the narrow side, but the compact Corsa slid in and out without any problems. The accelerator was just about right - enough zip to get me away from the lights but not so much that the front wheels spun on quick getaways. When the car was loaded, the added weight didn't seem to make that much difference, either.
Value For Money
Prices are much as before across the three and five-door range, starting at around £9,000, with trim levels running from 'Life' to 'Sting', 'Sting R', 'Design', 'SRi', 'SRi VX-Line' and 'SE'. Plus there are the inevitable special editions too, so you'll not be short of choice. All models get features like a heated windscreen, remote central locking, powered front windows and mirrors, a decent quality stereo with an aux-in socket and hill start assist to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Safety stuff includes twin front, side and curtain airbags plus ESP stability control.
Could I Live With One?
For day-to-day driving, this fourth generation Corsa is stronger than ever before. I'd certainly recommend the 5-door version if you're regularly going to be carrying passengers, especially children, as loading is much easier. Overall, if you're seeking something fun, frugal and cheap to run, I can think of few better small cars.