Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Hot-hatch combines power with new-found finesse

 

£17,995 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

38 MPG

8.0
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 5 reviews
  • Lots of power
  • Sharp looks
  • Sharper handling…
  • … but Fiesta ST still more fun
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Rear headroom tight

Fast Vauxhalls have divided opinion in the past. They usually offer the performance to match (if not beat) their direct rivals, but often struggle to deliver that power to the road, feeling like a half-finished package as a result.

With 202hp, the new Corsa VXR fulfils the first prophecy – it has 5hp more than the Renaultsport Clio 200, steals a 13hp march on the Volkswagen Polo GTI and has a 22hp advantage over the beloved Ford Fiesta ST.

What’s new is that this now combines with a mature chassis that can handle the power. Things get off to a great start with an engine that delivers linear power, rather than a heap of torque that the chassis doesn’t know what to do with.

Vauxhall’s engineers have given the VXR different rear suspension to the rest of the Corsa range, and a competition setting for the electronic stability control means you can push the boundaries of handling, while keeping a safety net in place should you need it.

Vauxhall’s known for giving its VXR models plenty of visual bite and the new Corsa gets a boisterous body kit, which pumps it up puffer-fish style to look much meaner than the regular car. The front bumper is pretty aggressive and there’s now a vent that runs along the lip of the bonnet. At the back, rival boy racers will notice the twin exhaust pipes and a boot-mounted spoiler, while buyers can choose from distinctive 17 or 18-inch alloy wheel designs.

Inside, you’ll find Recaro sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and VXR dials, but surprisingly little else to differentiate the VXR from your bog-standard Corsa. The interior itself, which was labelled as a huge step up for Vauxhall, is already looking a little bland next to superminis such as the all new Mazda 2.

That’s the general bits out of the way – let’s delve deeper to see what the latest Corsa VXR is really like.

A vast improvement has been made over the interior of the outgoing Corsa. Buyers now get a cabin that’s in keeping with the Vauxhall Adam, with a simple layout that’s dominated by a crystal-clear infotainment screen. Plastic quality is good (though it won’t worry the VW Polo), but there’s a lack of imagination that the go-faster additions of the VXR models do little to mask.

Passenger space

Like most of its rivals, the Corsa VXR comes in three-door form only. In the Corsa that means having to put up with a sloping roofline eating into rear headroom. The back seats are fine for children, but full-grown adults are going to feel much happier sitting in the front. They’ll also struggle getting into the back because the VXR’s big sports seats restrict access.

Scan the cabin and you’ll find a decent amount of storage spaces including a cubby ahead of the gearstick and there are large door pockets, but the glovebox is disappointingly small.

Boot space

With a 285-litre boot, the Vauxhall Corsa has more luggage-lugging capacity than the Ford Fiesta (276 litres) and the Volkswagen Polo (280 litres). Lift the Corsa’s wide-opening boot, fold away the rear seats, and maximum capacity climbs to 952 litres.

Vauxhall didn’t want to make the new VXR drive like the old model. It was an extremely effective tool when it came to dismantling your favourite back road, but the rest of the time its stiff suspension could prove wearing and the Corsa lacked the finesse of rivals such as the Fiesta ST.

That particular issue seems to have been dealt with thanks to dampers from Koni, an expert in the field. They have been designed to cut out body lean, while still being compliant over large bumps and testers seem to agree they work. They combine with the new rear suspension and standard 17-inch wheels to make sure the VXR has plenty of grip to exploit its quick-acting steering setup.

A manual gearbox means the driver feels more involved than in an automatic (the only gearbox choice in the rival Clio 200) and changes to the engine (a revised version of the one fitted to the old VXR) mean it offers more go, more often.

Hardcore fans will treat the £2,400 Performance Pack as a must-have accessory. It makes the Corsa’s responses razor sharp – tick that box and you get bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential (LSD) that makes the Corsa significantly quicker around corners. Testers seem divided about whether the kit is really worth it, though, marking down the LSD for causing the steering to tug and pull mid-corner. It’s worth noting that the bigger 18-inch wheels and stiffer suspension of the Performance Pack also add a layer of harshness to the ride that you may not want.

Car bragging rights down the pub usually boil down to Top-Trumps-style cold hard figures, so let’s see how the Corsa VXR compares to the competition in terms of speed and power.

The benchmark 0-62mph sprint seems like as good a place as any to start and the Corsa completes it in just 6.5 seconds – faster than the Peugeot 208 GTI, Fiesta ST and the Renaultsport Clio 200. Top speed is the next big number and, although there’s no clear winner here, the Corsa’s part of a three-way tie between the 208 and the Clio – all cars max out at 143mph. More than double the national speed limit should do it for most!

Forget the figures, though: what’s more impressive is how the Corsa delivers its power. Its engine, testers report, starts with a throaty induction roar and pulls strongly from 2,000rpm (barely past tick over), not stopping until it reaches the red line at 6,500rpm.

But it isn’t all good news. Corsa VXR owners might not like to admit it, but fuel economy does matter and the Vauxhall’s 37.7mpg figure falls far behind the Renaultsport Clio 200 (44.8mpg), Ford Fiesta ST (47.9mpg) and the Peugeot 208 GTI (47.9mpg). CO2 emissions of 175g/km mean it also sits three VED bands higher than its rivals, so tax costs £205 per year rather than £130.

The Vauxhall undercuts Ford’s Fiesta ST by £400, making it one of the fastest cars it is possible to buy at the price.

Your money gets you a decent amount of kit, too, including a VXR body kit, a Remus sports exhaust, LED daytime running lights, a heated windscreen, bi-xenon headlights,  air-conditioning, cruise control and an infotainment screen that’s compatible with the apps on your smartphone.

While the £2,400 Performance Pack helps shave seconds off your track-day lap times, it does make the Corsa slightly unruly on the road and critics generally think it’s a box best left un-ticked for most.

Conclusion

If you are looking for the ultimate hot hatch then Ford’s Fiesta ST is still the model to have – its nimble handling has yet to be beaten, although this new Corsa gets closer than the old model ever could.

But for some people nimble handling plays second fiddle to raw power and if you’re one of those folk then the Corsa VXR could well be for you it can comfortably out-slug any of its rivals at the price, but its power is balanced by an element of finesse that was, until now, missing.