Since the Opel Corsa’s birth in 1982, about 12.4 million models have found homes worldwide. South Africa received the nameplate from the second generation onwards and 152 000 were sold locally. Initially, the Corsa was geared towards trendy upstarts and newly licensed drivers. But along with its peers in the B-segment, it’s evolved into a decidedly more grown-up machine with a slightly premium air.
The latest iteration of the model was launched in the Western Cape last week. Let’s be honest. Its predecessor never really set the bar high. My recent memory of that model was at an Opel engine derivative launch in 2013. The turbocharged mill under the hood was up to the job, but the rest of the car felt incredibly outdated from behind the wheel. This latest-generation model is a massive improvement in terms of refinement, quality and performance, although I think they might have taken a small step back in the styling department. I hear you protesting: “But that front end is great!” I agree. Like its smaller sibling, the Adam, it has a cheeky and dynamic face. From the side profile it seems waning interest overcame the design team. Apart from a single character line, you’d struggle to distinguish it from the old one.
Anyway, the advancement in other aspects might be enough to outweigh the underwhelming exterior elements. The biggest enhancement you’ll spot is the new fascia. It finally looks contemporary and it feels plush, with classy finishing that is pleasing to the touch. Gone are those coarse and nasty plastics. Higher-grade models get niceties such as a leather steering wheel. But urethane covers on the lesser versions don’t feel as icky as they tend to on other cars. Buyers have a choice of two petrol engines: a 1.4-litre and 1.0-litre. For now, only the latter is available and you’ll have to wait about two months for the normally-aspirated choice — which is also only available in automatic guise. But unless you really want the convenience of two-pedals, we recommend you opt for the more modern 1.0-litre instead.
Pay attention, rival manufacturers with three-cylinder turbocharged engines. This is a sweet example of how it should be done. This power source is full of fizz and keeps up the momentum in all conditions. And the levels of smoothness defy belief. On the deserted back roads of the province, we had opportunities to explore a little further than the precipice of the national limit. And the little engine maintained comfortable cruising speeds and never felt strained. Another revelation is that gearbox. Snap changes in most manual Opel models often resulted in a sound not unlike a bag of bolts being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. This is no longer the case. Shifts are snappy and direct, with no unnerving reluctance. A new chassis does duty underneath. And this word “new” isn’t used lightly. It’s not an evolution of the old architecture — not a single component is shared with the outgoing model. Those are Opel’s words. And if you’ve ever driven the old Corsa — OPC aside — you’ll know why they’re so keen to distance themselves from it.
These changes result in an experience that is assuring, composed and sure-footed. It feels very much like the venerable Volkswagen Polo. The new Corsa calmly shrugs off heavy-handed antics and abrupt directional changes. At higher speeds it seemed unfazed by Cape crosswinds and varying road surfaces. Almost all the players in this segment have adopted digital interface technologies, because greater emphasis on gadgetry is what we want. The Corsa comes to the party with Opel’s IntelliLink touchscreen, which works rather well. You can specify assistance features that are usually the preserve of pricier cars. Blindspot monitoring and Opel’s advanced park assist are part of various option packages. Prices start at R185500 for the Essentia. That’s nearly R10 000 cheaper than what the outgoing one started at. But note that this entry-level offering has no air-conditioning. The Enjoy (R216 200) is more generously equipped with Bluetooth, steering-mounted audio controls and IntelliLink. The top-tier Cosmo (R236 300) has niceties such as cruise control, climate control and smarter interior appointments.
As we’ve mentioned, the new Corsa is a vast improvement on its predecessor. But it’s also a sign of things to come. Parent company General Motors plans to plough as much as 4-billion Euros into the Opel brand by 2016. If the Corsa is proof of the progress Opel is capable of, then it’s very easy to believe its mandate to become the new Germans — as extolled by the ad campaigns.
Power: 85kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 170Nm at 1800rpm
0 -100 km/h: 10. 3 seconds
Top Speed: 195km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5l/100km (claimed)
Price: From R185 500