Vauxhall has released the latest version of the Corsa VXR hot hatch. It’s designed to take on the likes of the RenaultSport Clio 200 and Peugeot 208 GTI, but it has one car above all others set firmly in its sights.
The Ford Fiesta ST is highly regarded among testers, and overall is widely considered the best small hot hatch money can buy. Vauxhall believes it has produced something that’s more than a match for it, so how does the Corsa VXR compare?
From an aesthetic point of view, the Corsa VXR has traditionally been towards the attention-seeking end of the hot hatch scale, and the latest model is no different. It’s most easily distinguished from lesser Corsas by the wide air vent slashed into the bonnet and a low front splitter sitting beneath large intakes at either side of the bumper.
At the back, a rear wing juts out above the window, and two large diameter exhaust pipes poke out from within a rear diffuser set into the bumper. The standard alloy wheels measure 17 inches, with 18-inch designs optionally available.
By contrast, the Ford is (just) a little more subtle. It makes use of the same classy-looking grille from the rest of the Fiesta range, but the front bumper design is lower and more aggressive. Thanks to a combination of large alloy wheels and a ride height lowered by 15mm, the ST looks very purposeful on the road.
Styling is a very subjective thing, so which you prefer is down to whether you’d rather be totally outlandish (the Vauxhall) or only moderately so (the Ford).
The Fiesta’s interior has come in for some criticism, because some find the design to be a little messy. Improvements have been made since its launch, and it certainly looks unique, but some features such as the fiddly Sony Audio System are still too fiddly to use. Beyond the lesser Fiestas, the ST gains a sporty gear knob, body-hugging Recaro sports seats and colourful trim inserts to liven the place up.
The Corsa also benefits from a lovely pair of Recaros up front, but not much else has been done to lift the cabin. This might come as a disappointment to those who hoped the shoutiness of the exterior would continue inside but, generally, the standard Corsa’s cabin is better screwed together and more conventional than the Fiesta’s. Passenger space is fairly similar in both, though the Corsa’s boot is bigger.
Both the Corsa and the Fiesta are powered by turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol units. The Corsa’s is an evolution of the one found in the previous model, gaining new air intake and exhaust systems to liberate more power, torque and fuel efficiency. The headline power figure now stands at 205hp, with 207lb-ft of torque available as an overboost function in five second bursts. That results in a 6.5-second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 143mph.
The Fiesta’s figures are just a little behind in comparison. With 182hp on tap, the 0-62mph sprint takes 6.9 seconds while the top speed is 4mph down on the Vauxhall’s. Like the Corsa, it has an overboost function pumping out an impressive 214lb-ft, so it never feels slow on the road. Ford offers standard fit tuning packages for the Fiesta from British tuning firm, Mountune, to further appeal to petrolheads.
To the joy of driving enthusiasts everywhere, both cars feature a six-speed manual gearbox. Vauxhall has worked hard to improve the stodgy feel of the old car’s setup and, to an extent, it’s succeeded. The throw is short and snappy, if still not quite the slickest to use. The ratios could be better spaced – testers say the gap between third and fourth is very large, so sometimes you have to rely on the torque of that engine more than you’d ideally want to. The Fiesta has the nicer gearbox – it’s very precise and satisfying to fire through each shift.
Compared to the outgoing Corsa VXR, the suspension setup is heavily revised. Testers are impressed with the improvements, noting the latest model offers “plenty of traction“, “lateral grip” and “agile steering response, mid-corner balance and adjustability.” It’s all the more impressive considering how the previous version generally felt like something of a blunt, uninvolving instrument.
Despite this, critics still believe the ST feels more poised during enthusiastic cornering. The steering has more feel and it’s more agile, too, thanks in part to weighing a whopping 205 kilos less than the portly Vauxhall. The Corsa does ride slightly better than the Fiesta though, even if it is still too bumpy on the 18 inch alloy wheels.
Those wheels are also detrimental to refinement – on a long motorway cruise they transmit a large amount of road noise into the cabin. In terms of refinement then, there is little to choose between them – the Corsa is a little more comfortable, but the Fiesta is a little quieter. In terms of fun, however, the Fiesta wins this round.
Value for money
The VXR is priced from £17,995, which undercuts the equivalent Fiesta by £400. For an extra £2,400, Vauxhall offers a Performance Pack which gets bigger brakes, stiffer suspension, a limited slip differential to aid traction out of corners, and stickier Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres for more cornering grip. Testers can’t seem to agree whether it’s worth the outlay – some argue the standard car doesn’t need the extra traction, and the differential feels just a little ham-fisted. Others appreciated the increased grip, ground-covering ability and more responsive brakes.
The Fiesta offers a much cheaper upgrade, and arguably a better one. For an additional £599, the Mountune kit lifts power to 215hp and is still backed by a full Ford warranty – testers agree it’s well worth the extra money.
The Fiesta is likely to be cheaper to run, too. Another compromise of all the Corsa’s extra weight is fuel efficiency – the Corsa is only able to return 37.7mpg, while the Ford is claimed to achieve 47.9mpg.
Overall, most critics would agree the Ford Fiesta has the Corsa VXR covered in terms of ability – it’s more fun to drive, more precise, almost as fast in a straight line, and cheaper to run.
However, it isn’t necessarily as simple as that. Many buyers prefer their hot hatches to be just a little bit crazy, which is why Vauxhall has shifted 9,000 Corsa VXRs since the original’s launch in 2007. For those people, it’s likely the Vauxhall will be the default choice, and they’re now getting a car which offers genuine talent to go with its outlandish looks.