REVIEW DATE: 16 Jan 2009
With its ecoFLEX Corsa, Vauxhall's aiming to offer economy without the compromises. Steve Walker takes a look.
It's become a must for car manufacturers to have a green brand, a series of models brought together under a convenient banner indicating that they are the greenest, most environmentally friendly cars that the marque produces. Vauxhall's is called ecoFLEX but you'll find BlueMotion Volkswagens, ECOnetic Fords, Greenline Skodas and many others if you look hard enough. It's a handy way for a motoring public that's been turned on in a big way to economising, to find the most fuel and cost effective models on the market. But can we just rush out and buy any of these environmental specials assuming they're all broadly the same? That could be a mistake as different manufacturers approach the problem of saving fuel in different ways. A look at Vauxhall's Corsa ecoFLEX will reveal more.
As saving fuel and cutting costs became increasingly important to motorists over the last few years, the leading car manufacturers had to react. Locking a team of their top boffins into a lab with orders to invent a car that runs on sea water or pineapples wasn't an option in the short or medium term, so they needed to work with what they already had. That's why models like the Corsa ecoFLEX tend to be standard cars with some clever modifications designed to improve fuel economy. Which modifications each manufacturer makes has a lot to do with how good their product ultimately is.
The original ecoFLEX Corsa was essentially a standard model with alterations to the engine management system. This is essentially a second generation of the car on which Vauxhall has taken more time and made more telling alterations. Power comes from a 74bhp 1.3-litre CDTi diesel which can accelerate from standstill to 60mph in 13.5s: that's 1.6s slower than the 89bhp unmodified version of this engine in the standard Corsa. To aid efficiency, the gearing has been revised improving flexibility around town and ensuring that the engine works less hard when cruising.
"You might think that choosing a greener car would necessitate a string of compromises that you'd rather not make"
Because the ecoFLEX hasn't been modified in too intrusive away, the excellent ride and refinement of the Corsa should remain intact. Superminis didn't used to display this level of composure over tricky surfaces and undulations but the Corsa manages to feel like a far larger car than it is in this respect. Engine noise is also well controlled, even from this diesel engine.
No longer just a shopping trolley, today's Corsa has real visual impact and the ecoFLEX versions are no different. If anything, they look better thanks to a ride height that is reduced by 20mm giving a sportier look and better aerodynamics. Low rolling resistance tyres are also fitted and Vauxhall has made 45kg worth of weight savings in the name of efficiency. Like all Corsas, the front end features a deep Vauxhall V-grille with aggressive air intakes under the bumper and a pair of headlamps that smear back along the wings. The Corsa shares a platform with Fiat's Grande Punto, the benefit of a rather complicated relationship between Fiat and General Motors that's too convoluted to go into here. Suffice to say, you may be reminded of the pretty Fiat when you spot the window by the A-pillar and the rather unconventional door outlines.
Climb inside and, if you're used to Vauxhall's larger Astra, you'll feel immediately at home here. The quality of materials used is leagues ahead of the old Corsa and like the Astra, there's the bulletproof feeling of build quality that's as good as anything in the sector. Just about the 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 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 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.
There are Life and Club trims to choose from as well as the three and five-door bodystyles. In Club spec, you certainly won't be constantly reminded that you're in an enhanced fuel economy model by equipment that's been stripped away to save weight.
Like its progenitor, this Corsa is built in the Zaragoza factory in Spain but breaks from tradition in offering a resolutely high tech approach. Optional Halogen Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL) alters the beam of the headlamp according to speed and steering input, allowing the Corsa to see further round dark corners. There's also an innovative Enhanced Understeer Control (EUC) function and convenience features such as MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Variable progressive sports power steering aims to offer finger light steering at parking speeds with a properly meaty feel when you're really in the groove.
The crux of any economy special model is its economy and the Corsa ecoFLEX shouldn't disappoint. Without the modifications, the standard 89bhp 1.3 CDTi Corsa manages 58.9mpg on the combined cycle but you'll get 70.6mpg from the 74bhp ecoFLEX. More salient are the CO2 emissions which are lowered from 127g/km to 105g/km dipping well under the important 120g/km tax barrier. Rest assured that this Corsa will be one of the most affordable superminis to run.
In general, low prices and low insurance costs make the Corsa an attractive proposition for supermini buyers on a tight budget but Vauxhall's aggressive pricing and use of promotional special edition models means that residual values will be a little bit below the best in the class.
You might think that choosing a greener car would necessitate a string of compromises that you'd rather not make but while some environmental special superminis do serve up inferior handling and refinement, the Corsa ecoFLEX is refreshingly similar to the standard models. A slight reduction in performance is the only significant trade-off for the improved economy and emissions.
Vauxhall's Corsa remains one of the top superminis on the market, particularly with regards to ride quality and refinement. In ecoFLEX form, it adds the further strings of 70mpg economy and 105g/km emissions to its bow making it a seriously cost effective choice.
The results below show the top CORSA deals on buyacar
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi  ecoFLEX Exclusiv 5dr [Start Stop] diesel hatchback|
|Price £11,083||Save £4,247|
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.0 ecoFLEX Expression 3dr hatchback|
|Price £7,395||Save £2,100|
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SXi 5dr [AC] hatchback|
|Price £7,026||Save £7,969|
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX Limited Edition 3dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £9,855||Save £6,310|
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SE 5dr hatchback|
|Price £7,360||Save £7,041|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT CORSA DEALS|
|For CORSA ecoFLEX|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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