Vauxhall puts a smile on Corsa’s face

A little nip and tuck has given the Vauxhall Corsa a fresh look and appeal, says Andy Russell.

It's always been nip and tuck between the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta as to which is the most popular supermini each month as they vie for top honours.

Make no mistake – they may be small cars but they're big business, each with annual sales alone bigger than some car-makers' annual totals across the range.

With such close competition it's important to keep the models as fresh and appealing as possible. Both have been around in their current guises a good couple of years now so the Corsa has had a little nip and tuck of its own with a mild mid-life makeover to freshen up its looks.

The most obvious change is to the car's face bringing it more in line with Vauxhall's latest styling, as seen on Insignia, Astra and Meriva, and giving it a more dynamic design. Along with the new Griffin badge on a chrome bar stretching across the grille, there's a restyled front bumper with a more prominent, wider lower grille – putting something of a smile on the Corsa's face – and 'eagle-eye' headlamps, as seen on the new Meriva, with standard daytime running lights.


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The refresh also includes bright new exterior colours and interior trims designed to give the Corsa a more youthful appearance.

Small cars don't need big engines and the Corsa has it spot-on with a range of economical, low-emission motors. The 1.0, 1.2 and1.4-litre petrol units give good service but if you clock up more miles and want serious economy go for one of the 1.3-litre ecoFLEX turbo diesels. Rated at 75 and 95PS, they are now available with automatic start/stop to cut the engine in stationary traffic to boost fuel economy and cut emissions.

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The more powerful version I drove has really cleaned up its act with start/stop, CO2 emissions are down to 94g/km so there's no annual duty to pay while the official combined economy is more than 80mpg – just the job with inflated fuel prices.

Being a bit of a green goodie-goodie, you could be excused for thinking this Corsa is going to be dull to drive but you'll be pleasantly surprised. With a healthy 95PS and a strong dose of mid-range pulling power, it gives the Corsa punchy performance between 2,000 and 3,000rpm and when overtaking it will happily rev harder although the engine note gets a little gruff. Compared to bigger diesel engines the 1.3-litre unit can feel flat at very low revs so you need to stir it into life with the slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox.

Early last year Vauxhall engineers fine-tuned the Corsa's suspension to improve comfort and gave the electric power steering better precision and feel and this was my first drive since then. You can notice the changes – the softer dampers give a smooth, composed ride, dealing effectively with big bumps and rough road surfaces without making the handling roly-poly. The Ford Fiesta is still more fun to drive but the Corsa's tweaks make it more nimble than it used to be.

The three-door Corsa I drove could seat four adults, provided those in front aren't greedy with their legroom, and despite the sloping roofline there's decent headroom. Getting in and out of the back is relatively easy with the wide doors and front seats and tilt and slide forward.

The 285-litre boot makes the Corsa one of the larger load-carrying superminis. From mid-range Exclusiv there's 60/40 split rear seat backs which fold flat and a two-level boot floor which, in the highest position, creates a usefully deep storage compartment below.

I really liked the funky feel to the cabin on my Corsa – the Exclusiv model is offered with classic charcoal fabric and steel blue or tabasco orange finishes for the seats and top of the dashboard, set off nicely by the pearl white centre console and matching highlights on the door handles, steering wheel and around the air-vents (you can also have matt chrome).

The fascia is clear and efficient with straightforward dials and chunky user-friendly controls, buttons and knobs. A new option is a �750 state-of-the-art Touch & Connect infotainment system with seven speakers, 5in colour touchscreen, satellite navigation for 28 European countries (which even allows you to choose the most ecological route), Bluetooth and MP3 and USB connections.

The 1.3 CDTi diesels are available in S, Exclusiv, SE and SXi models. Exclusiv trim includes air-conditioning where specified, six airbags, radio/CD, electric front windows and mirrors, tilt/reach steering wheel adjustment and driver's seat height adjustment, remote locking, anti-lock brakes. Stability and traction control is a �465 option. An interesting option on my test car, along with heated front seats, was a heated steering wheel – unique in this class – and one of the big-car options including adaptive forward lighting and hill-start assist.

With the diesel engine the Corsa is not cheap but it will reward with low running costs and big-car driving qualities while that new 'smiling' face will put a grin on yours.

VAUXHALL CORSA 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX 95PS EXCLUSIV

Price: three-door �15,150; five-door �15,580 – includes auto engine start/stop and air-conditioning (range starts from �9,995)

Engine: 1,248cc, 95PS, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-60mph 11.5 seconds; top speed 110mph

MPG: Urban 67.3; extra urban 91.1; combined 80.7

Emissions: 94g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 13pc

Insurance group: 8 (out of 50)

Warranty: Lifetime for first owner or 100,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 3,999mm; width (including door mirrors) 1,944mm; height 1,488mm

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