Rough takes on the smooth
This is not my kind of car. It is noisy, quite uncomfortable, has a poor range and is prone to unruly behaviour when driven as its maker intended.
Which is of course what is so very encouraging about this new high-performance VXR version of the Vauxhall Corsa: if this were a hot hatchback hard-wired into the needs of soft-bottomed middle-aged men, Vauxhall would have missed its target by many miles.
When I was the young man at whom this car is actually aimed, I might have known what ride quality was because even then I was doing this for a living, but I’d not have cared about it other than from a professional point of view. On the contrary, I’d have enjoyed a car that tugged at the steering and thumped into divots as this one does on its optional sport suspension. I’d not have heard the dull drone of its 1.6-litre turbo engine, nor been bothered in the least by the frequency with which the car needed to be filled. This is a car with its eyes on the prize, one that knows who its customer is and is commendably focused on delivering it.
To do it, Vauxhall has provided the Corsa with a 202bhp motor, a new six-speed gearbox, some uncompromising suspension settings and a mission to outperform the class-darling Ford Fiesta ST in every area that matters.
And on paper it manages it with ease, proving more powerful and quicker too. In the flesh the Corsa is nothing like as pretty as the Fiesta, but it looks far more purposeful, which those attracted to such cars may well regard as a better than fair trade. Model for model it’s cheaper too, if only by a few hundred pounds.
Despite being new, its character is that of an old-school pocket rocket. Not for the Corsa the easy chassis sophistication of the Fiesta ST, a car you guide from apex to apex with your wrists, general direction issued by hand, fine tuning of line by foot. The Corsa is a car to be wrestled with, its considerable inherent torque steer to be tamed and the throttle a device to work in conjunction with the Performance Pack’s limited slip differential to throw you out of corners and up the road beyond. Subtle it ain’t.
But it is still fun, not least because the car is well braked and surprisingly effectively damped. Or at least it would be fun were it not for Vauxhall’s on-going inability to produce a front-drive car with steering to offer anything to the enthusiast driver. While the car offers quite good feel through the chassis, through the still more important medium of the steering there is none.
That and its lack of Fiesta-grade chassis balance means the VXR could have 300bhp and still stand no chance of being as enjoyable to drive as a standard Fiesta ST on a decent road. This alone means the Corsa is close to the best but, for those still waiting for a class-leading fast Vauxhall, it’s not nearly close enough.
Engine: 1.6 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected] rpm
Torque: 206lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 143mph
CO2: 178 g/km