Vauxhall’s new-look supermini offers comfort and quality

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To the uninitiated, the Vauxhall Corsa might seem a very ordinary car. Drive one and you’ll realise it’s anything but.

The Vauxhall Corsa offers a feeling of quality and solidity that’s unparalleled in the supermini class at any price. Couple that with refreshed styling, a range of economical engines and a much improved ride and handling setup and you have a very convincing proposition. Small wonder sales remain strong.

Small Vauxhalls have traditionally been loved by the British public almost as much as they’ve been disdained by the motoring press. Much of that changed with the arrival of the 2006 Corsa. Here was a car that not only sold to the undemanding customers who just wanted the latest inexpensive Vauxhall, but which could go toe to toe with the best that Renault, Ford and Toyota could offer.

That car has been with us of four years now but still no other rival has eclipsed the Corsa in terms of perceived solidity. Even a Volkswagen Polo can feel a little lightweight in comparison. Where rivals have forged ahead is in developing more economical engines and in offering a little more glitz. The latest changes to the Corsa have certainly helped address these shortcomings.

The Corsa has always been a safe and steady handler, instead drawing on its other attributes to impress customers. Yes, there is the ripsnorting VXR model that has long attempted to put one over on the Renaultsport Clio, but by and large the Corsa never forged much of a reputation as an entertaining steer. Vauxhall aims to change that with a raft of chassis upgrades on this latest car. Revised front suspension means less roll when entering corners and better suppression of bumps. The steering has been fettled as well and the ESP stability control system has been re-tuned to make it smarter and less intrusive.

There’s a huge array of engine choice. First up on the petrol menu are the 1.0-litre, 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre units which now produce 64bhp, 84bhp and 99bhp respectively. The smaller petrol units can feel a little overwhelmed by the Corsa’s bulk but one that doesn’t is the 189bhp 1.6-litre VXR variant. Able to hit 60mph in less than 7 seconds and with a 140mph top speed, it doesn’t lack muscle. No modern supermini can get by without decent diesel engines and Vauxhall fortunately have two at their disposal. The 128bhp 1.7-litre diesel spearheads the line up, with a budget 1.3-litre CDTi acting as the entry level option in 74, 89 and 94bhp guises.

The big change that most will notice is that the Corsa has, in true celeb style, received a new face. The old ‘V-grille’ has been replaced by a signature chrome bar that stretches across the entire front grille, carrying the Griffin badge, while a re-styled front bumper gives the Corsa a friendlier look. Meriva-style ‘Eagle-Eye’ headlamps with chrome finish and daytime running lights are fitted and the chrome detailing also extends to the fog lights. A new set of exterior colours is offered and the wheels have also come in for a redesign with the 18-inch VXR alloys looking particularly purposeful.

The car’s basic proportions haven’t changed significantly. There’s still the same choice of three and five-door versions that offer plenty of space up front and less in the back, in typical supermini style. All Corsa model feature a relatively elevated driving position, but a wheel that’s adjustable for reach and rake helps all but the very tallest drivers get comfortable. Quality remains very strong and a refreshing of some of the materials in the cabin only underscores that impression. A 285-litre boot is adequate for the weekly shop or a weekend away, although this can be extended to 1100 litres by folding the rear seats.

The Corsa comes in an abundance of different trim levels and special edition packages. The range gets underway with the budget Expression and S models and then steps up to the well-equipped Exclusiv and the positively overstuffed SE grade as well as the sporty flavour of the SXi, SRi and VXR models. The cleanest and most fuel efficient models also get the ecoFLEX badge. Unsurprisingly prices are competitive. The premium for the more practical 5-door bodystyle is £750 but it’s the 3-door that best displays the Corsa’s neat styling.

Equipment levels are strong with this latest model getting features such as Vauxhall’s optional Touch & Connect multi-media system, which uses a five-inch touch screen display featuring both 2D and 3D maps for the navigation system, as well as a CD/tuner, AUX-in, USB and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity. 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. The SE model features a heated steering wheel as standard while all the SE, SXi and SRi variants have cruise control and an advanced trip computer. The SRi has sharper suspension and a VXR-style sports bodykit to offer younger drivers all the attitude but without the sharp insurance premiums.

How does the prospect of 91mpg on a motorway grab you? As you motor along, sipping fuel at this inconceivably modest rate, you could think of all the things you could be spending the money on instead of swelling OPEC’s coffers. A family holiday? Perhaps a new television? Economy can be quite liberating in that regard. This sort of frugality is on offer from the 94bhp ecoFLEX model. It’ll average 78.5mpg and with its Start/Stop technology it’ll also emit just 94g/km of CO2, which means the Chancellor can’t even sting you for road tax.

Low prices, strong economy 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. That’s a price that most will be willing to pay for the modest expense associated with owning a Corsa.

Since its introduction, Vauxhall has continuously fettled and polished the Corsa, turning it from a good car into an outstanding one. Those not acquainted with its talents may well not recognise quite how far Vauxhall has come in developing it and unwittingly choose something inferior instead, but the sales figures suggest that, in this case at least, the British public know a good thing when they see one.

With solid build quality, sharpened driving manners, a fresher face and some of the most economical engines on offer anywhere, the Corsa more than stacks up. Factor in prices which usually undercut far less sturdy opposition and it’s a small car that needs no excuses. Some will baulk at buying a car that’s quite so ubiquitous but, on occasion, it’s best to shelve the badge snobbery and just reward a very good product.