REVIEW DATE: 15 Feb 2008
With sharper steering and firmer suspension, the SXi Corsas are sporty superminis without the prohibitive costs of a performance hatch. Steve Walker reports.
The hot hatchback arms race of the past few years has resulted in the fastest models now routinely nudging and surpassing the 200bhp barrier. It's a sign of the times that nothing with much less than 150bhp will gain any sort of respect from the gaggle of Burberry-clad youths loitering outside your local McDonalds Drive-Thru. Given this current state of affairs, one could easily forget that cars with the potential to launch you from idle to illegal in the blink of an eye aren't the sole purveyors of driving enjoyment. This is a fact of which Vauxhall hope the Corsa SXi models can remind us.
The reason fast small cars have become so much more powerful is that they aren't all that small anymore. The extra weight of all the safety measures and electronic gadgetry that today's market demands means that shifting a modern supermini around is no longer a job for engines of a fragile disposition. Doing so at the substantial rate of knots normally associated with a proper hot hatchback really does take some gumption on an engine's part. Anyone insisting on this brand of genuinely serious performance will be disappointed by the Corsa SXi models we look at here and they should probably save up for the step up to one of the quicker SRi models or a barnstorming Corsa VXR derivative. What the SXi trim level aims to do is replicate some of the fun of a hot hatchback without the less enjoyable expense.
Let's get the power struggle out of the way first and in the case of some of the powerplants on offer, 'struggle' is the operative word. The SXi trim is offered with a choice of two petrol engines and a diesel with prices starting at around £13,000. The entry level unit is a 1.2-litre 16v that generates its 85PS maximum power output at a lofty 5,600rpm. This engine is fine for shopping duties and dropping the kids off at school but buyers seeking a sporty drive are likely to find it a little underwhelming. The 1.4-litre petrol option is £500 more and a little bit better with 100PS to call upon. The 0-60mph sprint takes 11.8s here rather than 13s in the 1.2 and fuel economy is just 1mpg inferior to the smaller petrol at 47.9mpg.
There's a £1,100 price jump from the 1.4 to the 1.3-litre CDTi diesel but if you're attracted to the SXi by its sporty dynamics rather than by its sporty looks, it's a jump worth making. With 75PS, this common-rail diesel unit obvious has less power than the 1.4 but that power is available 1,600rpm lower in the rev range at 4,000rpm and there's more torque. This makes the 1.3 CDTi a far more enjoyable car to drive, despite a 0-60mph performance figure that is very similar to the 1.4. It also gives the added benefit of 67mpg combined fuel economy.
"The differences between these SXi Corsas and the less sporty models in the range extend well beyond mere cosmetic add-ons"
The diesels are definitely the more satisfying units but you do pay for the privilege and if you're only interested in the Corsa SXi for its looks, the petrol alternatives shouldn't be disregarded. The Corsa SXi models are differentiated from their less athletic brethren by 16" alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust pipe and front fog lights, while the interior benefits from sports seats with figure-hugging side bolsters and a leather steering wheel. It's a nice package that tallies well with the dynamic styling of the latest Corsa, particularly the 3-door versions with their coupe-like sloping roofline.
The differences between these SXi cars and the less sporty models in the range extend well beyond mere cosmetic add-ons. The SXi models feature modified suspension and steering to help them live up to their sporty billing. The standard Corsa is a fine handling supermini with well-weighted and accurate steering thanks to the speed-dependent electronic power steering system (EPS). The SXi models, however, feature the more advanced VPPS (Variable Progressive Power Steering). As well as giving the steering a heavier feel at higher speeds to enhance driver confidence, this set-up also adjusts the steering ratio in response to the way the wheel is turned. As the steering angle increases, the steering gets quicker so that there's more scope for small directional adjustments around the straight ahead and a sharper feel on the turn-in. In situations were tight, low speed manoeuvres are called for, the steering adjusts again, reducing the effort required and making lighter work of the whole process.
This clever steering set-up on the Corsa SXi is matched to uprated springs and dampers for a firmer ride and improved body control when cornering, as well as a ride height that's lowered by 20mm to give the car a more purposeful stance on the road. The package gels together very impressively, making the most of the Corsa's already impressive dynamic attributes. The ride may be a little too firm for some tastes and buyers in doubt should sample one of the smoother, less sporting derivatives before taking the plunge but it definitely adds to the experience from the point of view of the keen driver.
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 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.
The Vauxhall Corsa SXi successfully sportifies the standard Corsa package, sharpening up the driving experience in a manner that will appeal to those who enjoy spending time behind the wheel. The petrol engines will occasionally have you longing for more power to fully exploit the lithe chassis but the diesels are almost punchy enough to make you question whether those 200bhp hyper-hatchbacks are absolutely necessary. More importantly, none of the SXi engine options will break the bank in terms of upfront, insurance or running costs and that's the key to the Corsa SXi - affordable fun.
The results below show the top CORSA deals on buyacar
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SXi 5dr [AC] hatchback|
|Price £7,855||Save £7,140|
|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 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX Limited Edition 3dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £10,855||Save £3,815|
|Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SE 5dr Auto hatchback|
|Price £8,040||Save £7,572|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT CORSA DEALS|
|OVERALL||7.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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