Vauxhall Corsa review - Vauxhall's back on course

Despite a difficult gestation, the latest version of Vauxhall’s best seller brings major improvements

2020 Vauxhall Corsa

The Vauxhall Corsa you see in these pictures isn’t exactly the fifth-generation car Vauxhall chiefs expected to launch.

They had been planning a new Corsa, yes, but it wasn’t this one.

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Designers and engineers had been beavering away under GM’s ownership when suddenly Vauxhall was sold to Groupe PSA and the plans for the new supermini changed.

2020 Vauxhall Corsa

With sale, access to the GM platform and parts went out the window and the development team was told to start from scratch using PSA’s CMP platform as a base. Oh, and they had two years to do it.

That they managed it at all is impressive. That the car isn’t a complete disaster is even more so.

Despite its difficult gestation, this all-new Corsa is far, far better than the model it replaces. Starting from the ground up everything is new, from the basic chassis to the engines, transmission, looks and technology.

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2020 Vauxhall Corsa

The new model is significantly lower than the fourth-generation car and despite being fractionally narrower looks wider and squatter thanks to that lower roofline, a longer body and some design elements intended to trick the eye. It’s quite a departure from the old model and overall looks chunky and assertive but it’s definitely colour-sensitive and from certain angles it looks a touch ungainly.

Inside, a coloured stripe across the dashboard is intended to enhance the feeling of width. In SRi-spec car this is a vivid red, in higher trims it’s a dull silver. It’s an effective trick and while it’s still not as roomy as a Renault Clio the Corsa feels more spacious and comfortable than the fourth-gen car, with better ergonomics and materials. Most of the switches are familiar elements from the Vauxhall parts bin - fine to touch but dull to look at - but the media system is new. Ranging from seven to 10 inches, it dominates the dash but is far better integrated than systems in its rivals. Boot space is 309l and rear room is on a par with the Ford Fiesta but lags behind the Clio.

Being built on a new platform with a totally new body, the latest Corsa is lighter but stronger than before and Vauxhall says it has been set up to combine comfort with dynamism.

The steering - via a leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel - is light and quick but not over-endowed with feel. The sport mode in the SRi adds some extra weight but it feels obviously artificial and doesn’t add much to the drive. The SRi also gets additional strut bracing to improve stability but while it’s a chuckable little thing the Corsa can’t compete dynamically with the Fiesta, which remains the benchmark for driver engagement in this segment.

2020 Vauxhall Corsa

The ride falls somewhere between the slightly harsh Fiesta and the significantly more comfortable Clio. It’s largely pretty absorbent but can still be jarring over very bad surfaces.

At launch the Corsa comes with a choice of two petrol and one diesel engine. A 136bhp all-electric version with 209 miles of range is also available to order now, giving it a significant advantage over most rivals.

For now the big seller is likely to be the 99bhp turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol. The three-cylinder engine has an obvious thrum that can get quite loud if you’re working it hard but it’s an otherwise strong unit. It feels revvy and lively and helps give the Corsa a hint of the “sportiness” that Vauxhall is making so much noise about.

That’s likely to be the most popular choice but there’s also a non-turbo version with a paltry 74bhp and a lone diesel. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder puts out 100bhp and 185lb ft but feels horribly weedy in use. Our test car’s shift light was constantly demanding shifts up and then almost immediately back down as the engine battled to offer enough grunt to make progress.

Basic 74bhp cars get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the more powerful petrol and the diesel gets a six-speed. The 99bhp petrol also gets the £1,730 option of a smooth-shifting eight-speed auto.

The Corsa is priced from £16,415 for the entry-level 74bhp SE up to an eye-watering £27,000 for the Ultimate Nav, which goes head-to-head with the equally unnecessary Ford Fiesta Vignale.

All cars are pretty well specified, with LED headlights, alloys, colour touchscreen with smartphone mirroring, air conditioning, lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking as standard. Vauxhall is also making a lot of noise about the “big car” tech making its way onto the new Corsa, including brilliant adaptive matrix LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, and flank guard that warns against low-level obstacles like car park bollards in low-speed manoeuvres.

The ludicrously priced Ultimate Nav gets pretty much all of these goodies as standard but the SRi feels like the sweet spot of the range, especially given the young market the Corsa usually appeals to. The bright stripes of colour on the sports seats and dash lift it above the subdued looks of the higher-spec models and it still comes with an eight-inch media system with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, cruise, air con and the two-tone exterior finish. If you fancy some luxury touches, options packs make items like heated seats, a 10-inch screen and bigger wheels available.

The new Corsa is a vastly better car than the one it replaces but that’s not to say it leaps to the head of the class. In terms of space, performance and comfort it can now compete with its key rivals but doesn’t stand clearly above any of them. Its strongest suit is the availability of some advanced technology but these will push the price towards cars in the class above.

Vauxhall Corsa SRi Nav

Price: £19,200 (£19,850 as tested); Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 99bhp; Torque: 151lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 121mph; 0-60mph: 9.3 seconds; Economy: 47.1-47.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 134-135g/km