The Vauxhall Corsa is very refined, stylish and practical. Engines are not so good

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It is said that time never made a bad car good. Although we never claimed the previous-generation Vauxhall Corsa to be an actively undesirable car, we were aware, even at its in 2000 launch, that it was far from being the pick of the hatchback crowd. To put it mildly, it needed to be replaced long before this model came along in 2006.

So, ‘Small car, big deal’. That’s what we said about this Corsa when it was first launched. And there’s no doubting its significance within General Motors, Vauxhall’s parent.

Our Corsa came with regular suspension, but there are sportier settings on SXi models

“The new Corsa is super-important,” said GM stalwart Bob Lutz at its launch. “It’s the core car; it’s the base of the pyramid.”

In that case, this new car had better be good. Especially given that one of the big problems that GM has faced for long periods – as the company itself admits – has been a weak Corsa. At the risk of spoiling our verdict, ‘weak’ is not an accusation you’d level at this Corsa.

There’s another thing that the new Corsa is not, and that’s compact. At close to four metres long, this latest model joins the burgeoning ranks of burgeoning superminis. That’s something we’ll have to get used to.

Big superminis have rapidly become the rule rather than the exception, as a new segment – populated by the likes of the Volkswagen Up and Peugeot 107 (2005-2014) triplets – matures beneath them.

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Some would say that the demise of the little supermini is something to be mourned, and not without justification. New superminis risk losing as much as they gain. They’re safer and more comfortable than ever, true, but in the process, they can lose the spark and vim that made them so appealing in the first place. So can the Corsa buck the trend?


Vauxhall badge

Certainly, it looks more dynamic than before, particularly in three-door guise. Vauxhall claims the three-door and five-door Vauxhall Corsas are like two separate model lines. It’s nonsense, really, but we know what they mean.

The three-door is meant to look faintly sporting – and does – with its rear wheelarch bulges and a raked rear window in the style of the previous-generation three-door Vauxhall Astra’s. Meanwhile, the five-door has what Vauxhall calls a more “family-friendly” nature, with a more upright tailgate and a larger glass area, to make it more airy inside.

We like ESP but wish it could be switched off. Although it’s rare, driving on snow is easier without traction control.

So it’s more dynamic than before and it’s also more interesting. Options like the Flex-Fix integrated bike rack, which slides out of the rear bumper, is a real attention grabber. There are cheaper ways of carting yout bicycle arounnd, but regardless of the prices, features like this get your car on to buyers’ shortlists.

Mechanically, we’ve seen some of this Corsa before. Under the skin, it shares more than a few parts with the Fiat Punto (2012-2018) (a result of a financial and engineering partnership that has since been scrapped).

The Corsa and Punto have the same their floorpan, chassis pressings, suspension (front MacPherson struts, rear torsion bar) and power steering system. But Vauxhall points out that whereas southern Europeans prefer long-travel, very absorbent suspension, northern Europeans like shorter-travel, more tightly damped settings.

Of course, there’s also the Vauxhall Corsa VXR (2007-2014) model at the top of the range. VXRs are known for being, well, lairy is the most polite way of putting it. Visually, at least, the Corsa VXR isn’t about to change anyone’s preconceptions. With its brash grille, 17-inch alloy wheels, big spoiler, rear diffuser and central exhaust, the Corsa VXR makes the Renault Clio Renaultsport (2006-2012) look understated.


Vauxhall Corsa dashboard

The Vauxhall Corsa is not a three-door supermini that feels particularly claustrophobic. If there’s one good thing to come out of the advancing size and maturity of superminis, it’s that their interiors have become more pleasant places in which to spend long amounts of time.

The new Corsa’s interior is light years ahead of its predecessor’s. In fact, if Vauxhall had stuck these materials and controls in a Vectra before the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport turned up, it would have almost over-delivered.

The storage system for the parcel shelf when you’re carrying tall loads is good, but there's nowhere to store it when the seats are folded

Materials and switchgear all look first rate and, by and large, feel it, too. The seats are large, nicely trimmed and have a good, supportive shape. Fit and finish of plastics is beyond reproach. In terms of overall feel, the Corsa is on a par with a high-spec Renault Clio but lags behind a Volkswagen Polo or Ford Fiesta, which still puts it near the top of the class.

The Corsa also has the ability to out-surprise and out-delight the others, too. On higher-spec cars,the dials are translucently backlit, and the dashboard and centre console look great.

Shame, then, that not all Corsas get translucent-lit window switches or chrome dial surrounds that give those plusher models such an lift. Even more disappointingly, not all versions get a reach-adjustable steering wheel (most have rake only) or a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

But what doesn’t change, depending on spec, is the Corsa’s excellent rear seat accommodation. Like its best new rivals, the Corsa can easily sit two adults in the back seat, behind two normal-sized adults in the front. And although the rear seat doesn’t slide back and forth like a Toyota Yaris’s, it does split and fold, and there’s a decent 285 litres of boot space with the seats up.

If your luggage necessitates the removal of the parcel shelf, the shelf itself can be stored vertically right behind the rear seats. Some models also have a false boot floor, which gives an extra 150 litres beneath it. Below that, there’s a full-sized spare. So it looks special, and it feels special.


Vauxhall Corsa rear quarter

Like all of its rivals, Vauxhall offers the Vauxhall Vauxhall Corsa with an extensive choice of engines. The range starts with a 64bhp 1.0-litre petrol, and goes through an 84bhp 1.2 and 99bhp 1.4 before reaching the potent 189bhp 1.6 of the VXR. Diesel options include a 1.3 with either 74bhp or 94bhp, plus a 128bhp 1.7.

The 1.2-litre engine revs quietly enough for the driver to enjoy using it with relative abandon. It is smooth and reasonably quiet, although performance is average rather than zesty.

Tight engine on our test car was reluctant to rev to redline. May loosen up with miles and, considering performance, needs to

The base 94bhp diesel got a considerable rise in power for 2010 (up from 74bhp) but it is also noisier with it. The more powerful 2010 car has more diesel tap, which is unsurprising given its extra power. It has a bit more 'whoosh' than before, too – it’s less linear, and a bit quicker when you wind it up.

Power delivery in the Vauxhall Corsa VXR (2007-2014) is surprisingly progressive and the throttle mapping is sensible, with none of the sudden, attention-seeking turbo surge that made the previous-gen Astra VXR such a frustratingly blunt tool. Drop the windows an inch and it even does a decent impression of the Astra’s ripping turbo snarl.

We’ve no complaints about the Corsa’s brakes. It stops rather better than it goes, in fact. The 2.63sec it takes to brake from 60mph to rest is excellent, as is a 48m stopping distance from 70mph. In our testing, they proved immune to fade, too.


Vauxhall Corsa front quarter

On the move, the big-car feel that the Vauxhall's interior implies only increases. Around town, the Vauxhall Corsa is very quiet and the ride isolates you from the worst effects of poor urban surfaces. It remains compliant as speeds rise, too. Motorway noise levels are as low as any in the class – only a couple of years ago they would have been as good as anything from the class above.

In general driving, the controls have a consistent (if detached) weight, but for a small car (and one that’s claimed to be fun in three-door guise), it’s disappointing that they’re not actually more positive. The electric power steering is overly light, although it’s direct and accurate, and the brakes are over-servoed at the top of their travel, so it can be difficult to drive this car smoothly.

Brakes are over-servoed at top of travel but progressive from there on, and stopping power is beyond question

It’s hard to criticise because there’s nothing actually wrong with the controls – it’s just that they’re slightly clumsy. As a result, the car is as uninvolving and unrewarding as it is comfortable. That’s a pity. And it makes what happens when you take the Corsa by the scruff of the neck even more remarkable.

Even Corsas that don’t ride on on SXi suspension – which is stiffer and corners more flatly – have a chassis that borders the exceptional in the class. It’s virtually unflappable when driven with gusto, displaying outstanding body control and a decent dose of adjustability. So it is even more frustrating that there’s so little interaction between driver and controls.

Vauxhall says that the standard 17-inch wheels give the best blend of handling and ride on the Vauxhall VXR (2007-2014) model, as opposed to the optional 18s. We agree. That said, even on choppy roads, the bigger-wheeled Corsa flows impressively. Over the same roads, a Mini Cooper S would have heads bashing the headlining.


Vauxhall Corsa

What the Vauxhall Corsa can’t match is the excellent pricing of some its rivals, chiefly the increasingly competitive Korean contingent that includes the new Kia Rio and Chevrolet Aveo (2011-2015), a model that will ironically underpin the next-generation Corsa.

A three-door Corsa can be had in Expression trim for around £9500, which sounds attractive. Standard kit includes, well, not a lot really, and the 64bhp 1.0 engine is pretty weak. So you really need to move up to the S model and the 1.2 petrol engine, at a £2500 premium, to get a more desirable package. This variant gains remote central locking and electric front windows over the poverty-spec Expression.

Peculiar blue plastic on vent surrounds and door trim, is not unpleasant, but odd that it's not repeated anywhere else in cabin

Head right to the top end of the range and the Vauxhall Corsa VXR (2007-2014) model comes fully loaded, but at £19,000, a similarly equipped – and much more involving – Renault Clio Renaultsport (2006-2012) can be had a full £1000 less.

However, the Corsa packs some star performers for economy. Recent improvements to the 1.3 diesel in the Ecoflex model result in combined cycle economy of 76.3mpg and 98g/km of CO2. Put simply, it’s not going to be an expensive car to run, particularly as it sits in insurance group seven. The entry-level model is even cheaper to insure (group two of 50).

The best-selling petrol engine, the 84bhp 1.2 litre, is available with a new start-stop system that brings its CO2 output down to 119g/km. This, in turn, slashes road tax from £95 to £30 and reduces benefit-in-kind for business users from the regular car’s 15 percent, to the 10 per cent band. The penalty for this is an extra £700 for the start-stop system. The regular petrol 1.2 continues in production and this model returns 55mpg on the combined cycle, and close to 50mpg in the real world.


4 star Vauxhall Corsa

Choose your Vauxhall Corsa carefully and you’ll end up with a very fine supermini. 

This Corsa is everything the old one wasn’t: it’s good to look at, good to sit in, good for covering long distances and, underneath some mushy controls, it has a very good chassis. Unusually for the new wave of superminis, it’s also more fun to drive than the car it replaces.

Audio controls aren't very intuitive, particularly if you want to get manual FM tuning rather than seek

The Corsa is less agile than, say, a Ford Fiesta but more mature and comfortable than most cars in the class. Not a bad compromise. This Corsa is a great effort, but the class is too closely fought, and entrants too different in character, to buy with your eyes closed, so choose your supermini carefully.

Taking the popular Ecoflex model as an example, Ford Fiesta Econetic. The Fiesta is still the preferable car to drive, but the Corsa is pleasingly refined and, given that the cost of ownership is likely to score rather higher on customers' priorities than driving dynamics, we can see why you'd pick the Vauxhall.

The Vauxhall Corsa VXR (2007-2014) is still not quite the complete package, but it does make several key advances over its various VXR predecessors. With a fraction more finesse, it would be right up there with the Clio 200. But in terms of performance, value for money and pure showroom appeal, it is easily one of the most impressive megaminis out there.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Vauxhall Corsa 2006-2014 First drives