17 March 2012

DRIVEN: Vauxhall Corsa

The popular supermini that bears the Griffon emblem is taken out for a spin...

THE Vauxhall Corsa has always been one of Britain's best selling small cars. You'll see a wide range of people driving them. Ranging from young drivers (like myself), senior citizens, and those who have one as a second car for trips to Tesco. But does its popularity mean the Corsa is any good?

As looks goes, the Corsa is inoffensive on the eye. A supermini with a neat and clean design on the outside. It does look rather plain though, especially when you compare it to the similarly aged: Clio, Fiesta, Punto and Peugeot 206.

Inside the Corsa, where do we start? It's drab with the interior made up of dull grey plastics. Though on this SXi model, the white dials and lashings of silver painted on: the centre console, the dashboard, the gearknob, the handbrake and on the door handles. It does liven up the inside a bit.

From behind the wheel, you get good visability all round, with a large glass area and slender A-pillars. The driving position is good, which is also easy for most drivers to get comfortable. Furthermore, most of the switches are located where they should be and within reach. The odd thing I noticed that the headlight switches offset on the right hand corner of the dashboard. This could also be down to the fact I'm used to them on indicator stalks.

So what's the Corsa like to drive? Firstly, the steering is very light, which makes parking and manoeuvring in urban areas an absolute doddle. However, it's not all great because the vague steering is lifeless, and devoids of any feel whatsoever. Altogether, it lacks communication and feedback that and doesn't give much of an idea of what the front wheels are doing.

If I thought the lifeless steering was bad on the Corsa. It wasn't, because the worst thing about driving the Corsa was the gearbox. On the whole, it felt genuinely unpleasant going through the gears. The changes were slack, with long and notchy throws that felt rubbery.

To add insult to injury, was the mad position of reverse gear placed next to first. To operate reverse, you have to lift up the collar underneath the gearknob for the box to slot into the gear. You'll hear a crunch sound, to let you know reverse has been selected and slotted in. It would take getting used to, but it's so much better (and easier) having reverse placed under fifth which I prefer.

It wasn't all bad, as the Corsa has its plus points. The 1.2 litre, 16 valve engine under the bonnet, was one of its strengths. It's a lively and nippy unit; a willing performer that has a good set of lungs. On the move, it also rides well and changes direction with some composure. However, the Corsa is not an enjoyable car to drive, because the numb steering and stodgy gearbox spoils the fun.

Practicality is where the Corsa does well, because it has a low load lip on the tailgate. That makes it easier for loading heavy or bulky items. The boot itself is pretty big for a small car, which will be good for a fortnight's worth of shopping. It also helps with it being well shaped, and the split folding rear seats further enhance its practicality.

When stacked up against its contemporaries, the Corsa is mediocre in comparison. At best, it's a bread and butter motor. Rivals (e.g. Fiesta, 206, Punto, Clio, Yaris, Polo, etc) have more panache or redeeming qualities than just being a cheap, small car.

Maybe I'm being a tad harsh to the little Corsa. What it has going for it is that it's unpretentious, cheap to buy, cheap to run, cheap to maintain and cheap insure. The things on what a small car should be. But a small car should also be fun and cheerful. The Corsa is a good supermini, but there are more exciting or talented ones out there.


Model tested: 2001 Vauxhall Corsa SXi
Bodystyle: 3 door hatchback
Engine: 1.2 litre, DOHC 16V engine
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
Power: 73bhp
Torque: 81 lb ft
0-60mph: 12.0 seconds
Top Speed: 106mph
Economy: 46mpg
Co2: 146g/km
Equipment: Alloy wheels, central locking, electric windows, ABS, PAS, Airbag, Alarm, Front fog lights

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