REVIEW DATE: 17 May 2007
Vauxhall's Corsa is a grown-up supermini both in terms of size and quality but can the modest 84bhp 1.2-litre engine do an adequate job of powering it? Steve Walker finds out.
The supermini is growing. The quest for greater interior space and the necessity of complying with ever more stringent safety criteria has seen these once tiny cars expanding in every direction. In fact, probably the only key area where the modern supermini isn't significantly upscale from its predecessors is that of the engine. This should set alarm bells ringing. Can the latest small capacity petrol engines shoulder the burden of propelling the latest crop of not so mini superminis? This is just one of the burning questions as we check out Vauxhall's 1.2-litre Corsa.
First 855kg, then 999kg and now 1,085kg; the Corsa certainly has piled on the pounds since its 1993 launch, managing to supersize itself over the course of three generations. It's by no means unusual either, rather like the nation's telly-addict offspring, our superminis have been growing steadily porkier before our very eyes with today's Peugeot 207, Renault Clio and Fiat Punto all weighing-in far heavier than in earlier iterations.
This isn't simply redundant bulk, the product of two many turkey twislers or after school McDonalds detours. The extra weight is accounted for by increased dimensions that facilitate greater interior space and superior safety measures to meet tightening legislation, not to mention the technology and all-round quality that we now demand in our small cars. Inevitably though, it's weight that puts a greater strain on the engines saddled with shifting it all about.
The Vauxhall Corsa's 1.2-litre engine sits one rung off the bottom of the range, the base level being occupied by a 64bhp 3-cylinder 1.0-litre unit that really looks to have its work cut out. The 4-cylinder 1.2 is certainly stronger, developing 84bhp and 115Nm of torque at 4,000rpm but the Corsa is a big vehicle these days. The performance figures are quite respectable: 0-60mph takes 12.7 seconds and there's a 107mph top speed, but to achieve this kind of progress you'll really have to work the engine. Here lies the problem: the Corsa 1.2 is exceptionally refined at modest cruising speeds and around town but as you let the revs rise, the engine note becomes harsh and a touch overbearing with little appreciable gain in terms of forward progress.
"The 1.2-litre unit uses Vauxhall's Twinport technology to conserve fuel without cutting back too much on performance"
Of course, if you prefer to do your driving in the vicinity of the redline whenever possible, a 1.2-litre Vauxhall Corsa will not be the car for you. Far more important to typical buyers of this model will be issues of refinement, where the Corsa scores well, and economy. The 1.2-litre unit uses Vauxhall's Twinport technology to conserve fuel without cutting back too much on performance. The system uses two fuel intake ports for each cylinder, one of which is closed under limited throttle loads to reduce the quantity of unleaded being burned. Through this, the Corsa can achieve 53mpg on the combined cycle, an identical figure to that to the previous generation model which used the same engine and was nearly 100kg lighter. Co2 emissions are measured at a very commendable 124g/km.
The 1.2-litre engine is available in S, Exclusiv, SE, and SXi trim with all models benefiting from a CD stereo, twin dual-stage front airbags, ABS with Emergency Brake Assist, electric door mirrors, central locking, speed sensitive power steering and body-coloured bumpers. Today's Corsa features a more robust anti-roll bar at the front which improves the car's resistance to lean in corners. This allowed the fitment of softer springs and together with revised damper settings, they are designed to deliver a more compliant ride with greater levels of control.
Both 3 and 5-door bodystyles are available and the difference between the two versions is pronounced. The 3-door offers a coupe-like silhouette with a side window line that falls away from the roof at the rear to maximise the sporty look without minimising rear headroom. As it is, headroom in the back isn't spectacular and the low window will have adults ducking down to see out but legroom is quite adequate. The 5-door is a very different looking car that yields more space for back seat passengers. Both models give generous space to front seat passengers with a very comfortable driving position courtesy of the height and reach adjustable steering wheel and the supportive seating.
The quality of materials used is leagues ahead of the old Corsa and like the Astra there's the bulletproof feeling of quality that's as good as anything in the sector. Just about the only criticism of recent Vauxhall interiors was that, although well built, they didn't offer a whole lot of slick design to catch the eye. The Corsa changes that particular script with translucent ambient lighting on the centre console switchgear, one of those 'surprise and delight' features that adds the all-important showroom wow-factor. The round air vents, the stereo and big satellite navigation screen (available on high spec cars only) give the Corsa's dash a far more modern, integrated look than the somewhat piecemeal integration of technology of the old car. Vauxhall offer a particularly wide array of trim options for buyers to personalise their model range but it's all very tastefully done with quality materials throughout.
Yes, the 1.2-litre Twinport engine does have a big job on when it comes to shifting the substantial mass of the latest Vauxhall Corsa around but it should prove quite adequate for buyers who stick mainly to shorter, urban journeys or who simply aren't interested in performance. The CDTi diesel engines are undoubtedly a better choice but at a £900 premium even for the least powerful 1.3-litre CDTi, you really are paying for that extra firepower. It's best to make a decision based on the kind of driving you do and if you pick a 1.2-litre, the shinning all-round competence of the latest Corsa is unlikely to leave any lingering regrets once you've signed on that dotted line.
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|Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SRi 3dr [AC] hatchback|
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|For CORSA 1.2 TWINPORT|
|OVERALL||7.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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