If you learnt to drive in the last 20 years then there’s a fair chance you’ve driven a Vauxhall Corsa. The tiny city car, which replaced the much-loved Nova, was a driving school favourite that shoehorned itself into the nation’s automotive psyche.
The original Corsa was well-designed and attractive but was a little ho-hum to drive. Thankfully it’s improved over time. It’s been especially good in recent years, and though the current 2011 model has only mild upgrades over the previous car, it’s an appealing prospect for a wide variety of drivers. Prices start from around £9,495.
The Corsa is one of the oldest cars in the current Vauxhall product range, with the first iteration of the current car appearing in 2007. All credit to the design team then, who’ve upgraded its looks to create a sharp-looking small car, especially in three-door form. It’s edgy and modern without being overly-aggressive, and the most recent facelift has increased the number of paint schemes and alloy wheels. Even if you plump for a bog standard 1.0-litre you can make it look like a junior hot hatch.
Vauxhall also gave the interior some attention, and the use of decent plastics and some splashes of colour help to alleviate the grey mass that’s so common in modern small cars.
Small cars fail spectacularly if they’re not easy to drive, so it’s no surprise that the Corsa majors on delivering a hassle-free experience behind the wheel. Bar the quite thick rear pillars that restrict rear visibility a little, everything is as it should be from the driver’s seat; it has a good driving position, well-weighted major controls and a cabin layout that is easy to understand.
Inside space is on a par with the key rivals, too. Getting in the back in the three-door model isn’t as painful as you might expect, and once there you have enough room for fully-grown adults. The same goes for the front, which offers all occupants decent legroom and good back support.
Performance & handling
The Corsa might not be the last word in performance handling, but to give the little Vauxhall its dues, it can be a fun steer in the right conditions. It feels quite light on its toes, the steering responds accurately to the driver’s inputs and even the standard car will cling on gamely if you decide to press on a bit. More importantly for the majority of the Corsa’s target audience, it rides relatively well and noise levels are kept in check .
There’s stacks of choice in the engine room, with nothing in the way of duffers. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder is eager if not quick and is quite endearing. The 1.2 will be enough for city dwellers while the 1.4 offers a decent turn of speedl. On the diesel front, the 1.3-litre is plenty powerful, while the 1.7-litre is borderline hot hatch material.
Economy & environment
The 1.3-litre CDTi Ecoflex with start/stop promises 80.7mpg and qualifies for zero road tax thanks to CO2 emissions of only 95g/km. All the smaller petrol options can crack the 50mpg mark, and with emissions between 120 and 130g/km they will also be relatively cheap to run. As usual the petrol automatic options are on the thirsty side.
At the top of the diesel tree, the 1.7 CDTi gives you the best of both worlds. It will do 124mph, 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds, yet can crack 60mpg and 119g/km of CO2.
Equipment & value
Entry-level cars are very basic in the Corsa range. The base Expression 1.0-litre 12v model has electric mirrors, power steering, central locking, and that’s about it. S models and higher add electric windows and allow the option of air con for £510. We suggest you plump for an SE mode, as it gets you air conditioning, alloy wheels and cruise control as standard.
There are a couple of option packs, including a low-cost sat nav option, a sight and light pack that adds automatic headlights and wipers and a VXR styling pack for a more sporty look .
The Corsa impresses where safety is concerned. A five-star Euro NCAP score for occupant protection is not to be sniffed at, neither is its three-star rating for child and pedestrian protection. ABS and four airbags are standard, with curtain airbags standard from Exclusiv models and above. ESP isn’t standard on any model however, although it is a modestly priced option at £465.
The Corsa is a hugely popular car, and with good reason — it’s spacious, comfortable, affordable to buy and run and suits just about everyone. There’s also some comfort to be had by choosing a car that is so popular; you’ll always find a buyer for it when it’s time to upgrade.
Driving purists might want to consider the sharper Fiesta, and the Skoda Fabia is better value, but choosing the Corsa over those two is anything but a mistake. Just make sure you choose something other than the base model.
Model tested: Vauxhall Corsa Ecoflex Expression
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol
Acceleration: 0-62 in 18.2 seconds
Top speed: 96mph
Emissions: 120/km CO2