Used car road test: Vauxhall Corsa 1.2
The Corsa has always been a worthy and practical small family hatch. Now it's desirable too. Here, Andy Enright explains why the 1.2 is a smart used buy.
OVER the last few years, we've had to change our perceptions of exactly what a small hatchback – a supermini – actually is. After all, the little urban runabout role models are smaller city cars, leaving today's supermini as a much more grown-up thing – safer, more spacious and able to cover longer distances. But as any teenager will tell you, being grown-up can also mean being boring.
At its launch in 2007, this third-generation Vauxhall Corsa wasn't alone in offering a larger-car feel but without the kind of spark and vitality that once made small cars so much fun.
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And that wasn't something Vauxhall could afford to ignore in the face of competition from an arch-rival as dynamically adept as Ford's Fiesta. Hence this improved version with its sharper responses, introduced at the same time as engine tweaks that have made the Corsa line-up one of the most fuel-efficient and eco-conscious choices in its class.
There's never been too much wrong with the way a Corsa responds; it just wasn't anything out of the ordinary. So things had to change. Enhancements themselves didn't seem to add up to much – tweaked power steering for more driving feel, plus revisions to springs, dampers and anti-roll bars – but they added up to quite a lot. Not quite enough to make this as sharp as a Fiesta but very close, while at the same time providing a more relaxed, family-friendly drive.
The improvements to the driving experience are significant. The previously over-light electric power steering now decently communicate what the front wheels are doing. As for the spring and damper tweaks, the chassis feels slightly more supple than before, though the ride remains on the firm side.
Vauxhall has re-fettled virtually all the engines on offer. Which is perhaps just as well in the case of the1.2-litre petrol unit under the bonnet of the model driven here, which previously would have sometimes struggled a little faced with the task of hauling up to 1,244kg of fully-laden Corsa. A small but useful 5PS improvement now gives an output of 85PS, which makes progress a little more relaxed.
DESIGN & BUILD
The third-generation Corsa has real visual impact. Though it shares its platform, suspension and steering with Fiat's Grande Punto, there's a very different look and feel, the front end featuring a deep Vauxhall V-grille with aggressive air intakes under the bumper and a pair of headlamps that smear back along the wings.
Though both three- and five-door bodystyles occupy pretty much the same footprint, Vauxhall has tried to give them each their own separate appeal, and the three-door does look a little sleeker thanks to its rear wheelarch bulges and raked rear window.
Inside there's a solid Germanic build quality and a slick design that catches the eye. Classy touches include the translucent ambient lighting on the window switches and centre console buttons, though it's a pity you only get this (plus height adjustment for the seat and reach adjustment for the steering wheel) on plusher versions.
There's plenty of room for two adults in the back, though in three-door form it is a touch more claustrophobic. There's a reasonable 285 litres of bootspace with all the seats in place. If that isn't enough, there's the usual option of folding the rear bench forward (it's split-folding unless you're in a really basic version), which frees up 1,100 litres of luggage space.
MARKET & MODEL
UK used car buyers quite like Vauxhall superminis, most notably because of their affordability. For example, Derby dealership Pentagon has more than 40 used 1.2 Corsas – and many others from the line-up – on its site, with prices ranging from £4,495 for a 56-plate 16V Life five-door with 60,000 on the clock and upwards, including a 58-plate 16V Active three-door (37,000 miles) at £5,095 and a 12-plate 16V SXI three-door (5,500 miles) for £7,995.
Under the bonnet of both three- and five-door models, petrol people will mainly be choosing between a 65PS 1.0-litre, 85PS 1.2 and a 100PS 1.4, though there is still a frantic 192PS VXR model for hot hatch fans. Diesel drivers, meanwhile, who are agonising between 75PS and 90PS versions of Vauxhall's familiar 1.3 CDTi unit should instead, in my view, be directed towards the greener and more powerful 95PS ecoFLEX variant. There's also a 1.7-litre CDTi 130PS diesel.
You'll need a reasonable level of spec for a reasonable level of equipment, but all models do come with a CD stereo, remote central locking and electric mirrors. On plusher trim levels or on the options list, there's a whole rosta of big car-style equipment. Safety-wise, there's a minimum of two airbags – and six on most models – and higher up the range you get ESP stability control.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
Across the range, Corsas are more than 13% more frugal than they used to be – and greener, too, with most of the engines emitting less than 125g/km of CO2. The economy star is the 95PS 1.3-litre CDTi ecoFLEX diesel model. It manages up to 76.3mpg on the combined cycle and puts out just 98g/km of CO2, plus it's much cheaper than a comparable Ford Fiesta ECOnetic.
If you'd prefer a petrol, you'll be pleased to find the 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre variants are now in more affordable VED tax bands, the 1.2-litre emitting 124g/km of CO2 and returning 53.3mpg on the combined cycle. Even the 1.4 petrol model is capable of more than the 50mpg, managing 51.4mpg on the combined cycle. And, like most of the other models in the range, it comes with an eco gearshift indicator built into the instrument cluster to prompt you when to change gear for the best economy returns. Insurance groups are between 2 and 8.
It's clear that it was crucial for Vauxhall to move the Corsa forward with a well-judged package of improvements. Cleaner, greener and better to drive, it now either matches or beats most more recently launched rivals.
The things we liked about this car at its original launch are still in place: the sharp looks, the classy cabin, the big-car feel. Get a good deal and you've a supermini that, more than ever, remains high on any family's wish list.
Call Pentagon in Derby on 01332 644213 or visit its site next to Pentagon Island (DE21 6HB).