It didn’t win our most recent group test, but now Vauxhall’s new supermini tries to win our hearts with petrol and electric versions
Why we’re running it: To get to know Vauxhall’s new supermini better, first in petrol and then in electric form
Life with a Corsa-E: Month 5
Where’s the juice going? – 18 November 2020
One day soon the novelty of electric driving will wear off, but for now we can still enjoy a powerflow diagram. The Corsa-e’s is particularly slick and has become my preferred view, and not just because it’s much more crisply rendered than the music interface. The blue arrows that run from the wheels are helpful, letting me know if the regen is on.
The difference between indicated and actual range is fast becoming a problem – 28 October 2020
We’ve covered the Corsa-e’s range and susceptibility to inclement weather in previous reports, so I won’t dwell on the matter, but it’s worth prefacing this instalment with the caveat that the EV’s most recent excursion left a sour taste.
I left home with 99 miles of range showing, but my cul-de-sac must be longer than I thought, as 87 miles were showing by the time I’d left the neighbourhood. Just 25 miles later, I was standing in the pouring rain at Cobham services, desperately trying to coax life out of the sole unoccupied Ecotricity charger on site.
Even with Eco mode on, the cruise control set to 62mph and all unnecessary systems switched off, the Corsa-e lost 10 miles of range for every five I covered on the M25, making it impossible to gauge with any certainty whether I’d arrive at my parents’ house for Sunday dinner – a real emergency. That night, I nursed it home through London at 20mph, rather than risk exhausting my 40 remaining miles on the motorway and being left stranded.
I know that all electric cars are less energetic in the cold and that extended motorway driving guzzles volts far quicker than nipping around town, but such discrepancies between indicated and actual range aren’t easily forgiven. Having been left on charge for a week following this incident, the Corsa-e has an indicated 149 miles – rather less than its official maximum of 209 miles. Suffice to say, my time in Sport mode – and increasingly even Normal mode – has been restricted to brief slip-road bursts and final-mile shenanigans.
Oh dear, I seem to have dwelled after all. Happily, there are plenty of positives to highlight, too, not least how vastly preferable this electric version of Luton’s supermini is to pilot through urban areas compared with its combustion-engined counterpart.
Our orange petrol-powered Corsa was a satisfying steer and scored highly in the refinement rankings, but I found its eight-speed automatic gearbox to be rather oddly geared and its 99bhp 1.2-litre motor to err on the wrong side of adequate, both of which prevented a clean start in green-light getaways.
Obviously, neither is an issue with the EV, but I’m also enjoying its tight turning circle, quiet cabin and surprisingly well-damped suspension. I keep having to remind myself that there’s 200kg of added bulk under the floor, such is its unflappability over speed bumps, level crossings and the like.
Gear selector The PSA Group’s revolver-style auto shifter is more intuitive than a rotary dial.
Regenerative brakes Essentially on or off. It would be nice to have more variation.
Life with a Corsa-E: Month 4
We take it to the limit and borrow a Leaf-driving friend’s charger – 9 September 2020
The one-way journey was 164 miles, the round trip 328 miles. The Corsa-e’s range is 209 miles. I could set off with a full charge and recharge overnight ahead of the return journey. Sounds easy and doable? Yes and yes. Which, in the types of journeys I do and mileages I cover, feels like a bit of a milestone in the world of affordable electric cars.
I’ve written a few times in the past couple of years about how we need to look beyond the pure range of electric cars, and instead turn it back on the buyer: once you’ve decided an electric car is for you and you have the means to charge it at home or at work (they remain a non-starter if you can’t), how much range do you actually need?
For me, it probably is that 200- mile mark. The 164-mile journey from Berkshire to Norwich with an overnight stay is about as far as I regularly make – or at least made, back in the halcyon days of being allowed in football grounds to watch the action live… That would do about 95% of my year’s motoring and I’d take the family Ford Fiesta for the balance rather than dipping into the scattergun public charging network.
That last point was key in my journey in the Corsa-e. A conversation earlier this year with a friend in Norwich whose company car was coming up for renewal led me to tell him about the imminent 0% benefit-in-kind rate for electric cars, and his mainly local mileage working in construction was ideal for an electric car.
Craig has about as much interest in cars as I do a night out in Ipswich so he was sold on the DIY pay rise to be made. His Volkswagen Golf was costing him about £100 per month, which was reduced to zero on delivery of a new Nissan Leaf.
It gets better: as his company considered the Leaf a ‘trade down’ in prestige, he actually gets £80 in his pocket each month along with cutting fuel costs by twothirds. Start-up costs were £500 for a BP Chargemaster charger to be installed, plus a £90 Eon meter upgrade. Having taken delivery in July, he will have broken even by October and then will be in profit for the remainder of the four years with the Leaf. If the government is going to get people into electric cars, it has found a good way to do so.
All of this meant I handily had somewhere to charge, and so I set off early Sunday morning to Norwich with 187 miles of indicated range showing on the Corsa-e. Steve Cropley, the car’s keeper, had told me to cruise at 60mph rather than 70mph when I could, to arrive 10 minutes later but actually arrive. This meant keeping the indicated economy above about 3.7 miles per kWh to tie in with the Corsa-e’s usable battery capacity of 46kWh.
What I hadn’t counted on was the weather. Steve had dropped the car off in the heatwave, but a fortnight later it was 11deg C. So the efficiency of around 4.3mpkWh I was getting fell straight down to the 3.7mpkWh I couldn’t drop below. It didn’t, though, and once I’d settled into a rhythm, I found I could cruise at 65mph and know I’d make it. The range display was just four miles on arrival at Craig’s, but I’d done the maths, knew it’d make it and knew how to drive it to make it. And I did, the journey taking just under three hours instead of the usual 2hr 45min.
To charge up at Craig’s cost £7.50, rather than the £20-£25 or so in fuel it’d normally cost one way.
The journey home brought 19deg C sunshine, which made a big difference to efficiency. So I could drive as I normally would, at 70mph, and made it with 37 miles of range left. With savings like these, this is one new normal I could get used to.
Uneventfulness The Corsa-e feels like a car that just happens to be electric, which is key to winning over the masses.
Loose trim The exterior decal is falling off after only 2000 miles. That’s not good enough in 2020.
Well equipped out of the box – 2 September 2020
The more I drive the Corsa-e, the more I’m impressed with its kit: stuff like automatic wipers and lights and electric mirrors, when it isn’t even the range-topper. On Porsche-level Ritzmobiles, you’d probably be paying big dough for such things. I’m less impressed with the car’s ride, though; it’s better than the petrol Corsa’s but still not good enough.
Is this EV better than our old petrol Corsa? We aim to find out – 29 July 2020
It’s for this moment that we’ve been driving a 99bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol Vauxhall Corsa for the past 5000 miles. You might have noticed that the car pictured above is its electric sibling, the new Corsa-e Elite Nav, priciest of the electric Vauxhall models. It has been with us precisely one day as this is written.
We figure the petrol versus electric Corsa comparison we’re about to make is one very many people are going to make when choosing the top-selling Vauxhall: should I boldly opt for the new battery model? If you drop one trim level and can be content with what is still a well-equipped car, you can buy our new electric Corsa for £30,310, just £3670 more than our former Ultimate petrol edition.
It’s a smaller jump to electric than in other car ranges and affordable when you start toting up the fuel savings, the lack of VED and especially the fact that the Corsa-e is zero-rated for benefit-in-kind tax purposes.
For two cars so similar in size, shape and origin, the differences are instantly stark. Compared with the petrol car, the Corsa-e has a clean, foolproof step-off and impressively strong initial acceleration, as befits a car with a 7.6sec 0-60mph time, most of whose urge is available towards the bottom end of the scale. Road noise seems a bit more prominent, mostly because there’s no engine to drown it out. And, of course, the electric motor is practically vibration-free.
Another big difference exists between the ride qualities of the two cars. Whereas the 1100kg petrol triple’s ride was firm everywhere and downright rough at the lowest speeds, the 1400kg Corsa-e is much softer, perhaps to the point of bounciness; we’re still finding out.
It’s not quite fair to make a firm comment yet, but in the electric car, it’s a bit of a relief not to crash into ruts any more and to feel that the generously sized tyres (205/45 R17 on both cars) are more appropriate to the weight of this new battery model. The steering feels very similar and the car still turns with most of the alacrity of the four-metre-long petrol model – a good thing to discover.
There’s a bit more nosedive under brakes but precious little more body roll in bends, presumably because all that extra weight is carried at floor height.
Best of all, we’ve discovered on first charge that the promised range is 210 miles (the WLTP figure is 209 miles). One becomes rather resigned when stepping into rival electric cars to find they never even promise, let alone reach, the official figure.
Pleasingly for new EV drivers, there’s nothing threatening or complex about the Corsa. The ‘fuel filler’ is in the conventional place and the controls will be familiar to anyone who drives petrol or diesel cars: there’s practically nothing to learn except how to access some new displays in the instrument pack. It’s simple.
It’s going to be interesting discovering whether 209 miles is enough range. I live in a rural area of Gloucestershire with 7kW home charging available, so journeys within a 90- to 100-mile radius will be easy. But I often drive farther afield, which means I’ll need to dip into public charging. At present, I find that prospect quite exciting, but will things stay that way?
Power delivery Corsa-e has strong performance off the mark, like nearly all EVs. It’s smooth and practically silent but for the daintiest of gear whines.
Rear knee room This isn’t the smallest car in the supermini class, but its rear leg room is nothing to shout out about. Front seat room is generous, though.
Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 3
Lockdown benefits to fuel consumption – 22 July 2020
If our lockdown experience with the Corsa is being repeated across the country, fuel consumption must be falling everywhere. Our figure for the past 750 miles has risen to 47.7mpg, reflecting the fact the car spends less time at 60mph-plus, so it’s not battling aero drag as much as usual. Given the excellence of the engine, its frugality comes as a huge bonus.
Could this be an ideal car to have during a lockdown? – 17 June 2020
The other day, as I pulled out from the kerb after one of my sporadic visits to the local Marks & Sparks food store, it occurred to me that you could hardly want a better lockdown car than this 1.2-litre Corsa Ultimate. It has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
What you need is docility, ease of driving, enough space, a decent boot, a sensible touring range (to forestall unnecessary disease-laden trips to filling stations) plus enough enjoyment built into your meagre bits of driving – for me, M&S is an eight-mile round trip – to make it something better than a chore.
I’ve really come to like the smooth thrum of the 99bhp three-cylinder engine and I’m as convinced as ever that no human could wield a stick shift and friction clutch to match the smoothness of the eight-speed automatic gearbox. On efficiency, the score’s on the board: for all our short-hauling, the Corsa’s overall fuel consumption sits steady at 45mpg.
What doesn’t the Corsa have? Number one is bulk. The one place in my town where parking can be problematic is outside M&S. But the four-metre-long Corsa slips into confined slots neatly, aided by the rear parking sensors that no modern car should be without. It doesn’t have a lot of performance, so it doesn’t have a big thirst. Or a big price, compared with most cars. I see people in whale-like Audis, BMWs and Jaguars wondering quite why they’re wearing the automotive equivalent of a fat suit at a time like this.
When the Corsa came my way, I was pleased if not overcome with delight. Now, I’m downright keen on the four-metre-long Corsa, and starting to worry, as I always do with good cars, about giving it back. So lockdown’s good for one thing, at least.
Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 2
We’re still singing the praises of the engine, but has that knobbly ride got any better? – 20 May 2020
Funny how your attitude to a car can change quite a bit during lockdown. The Vauxhall Corsa lives at present with half a dozen others in our Gloucestershire bunker, but it has become the car of choice for our two or three weekly runs to the supermarket, because of its sheer convenience. The compactness and ease of driving are the main points of appeal, although I have a powerful feeling we also choose it because it has such a cheery paint job.
I must say I felt a frisson of pride when I saw the car sales figures for the tortured month of April just past. The Corsa came in third, best of the normally dominant superminis, even if the identity of the two leaders (the Tesla Model 3 and the Jaguar I-Pace) went to prove what an extraordinary year we’re having. Vauxhall bosses set up a ‘talk to a real person’ system of remote car selling early on in the difficulties, and it seems to have worked for them.
Two things always strike me about the Corsa when I drive it, one good and one debatable. First is the sophistication of the powertrain, a 99bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Given that this is a big-bodied supermini and that’s only a small engine, I can never quite get over the effortlessness of it.
The throttle response could do with some work, mind. When people unfamiliar with the Corsa drive it for the first time, it rather explodes away from standstill in an uncontrolled way, not through an excess of torque (although its pull is impressive) but because it’s not very intuitive. It gives more than you expect.
There’s so much about a car that needs subtle tuning nowadays; I find myself wondering whether the engine’s over-eagerness means it’s suited for a five- or six-speed manual gearbox rather than this auto with its torque converter and ultra-low first gear. You soon learn about it, though, and the problem departs forever.
Second is the ride, which seemed too knobbly at low speeds when the car arrived and, although I’m more used to it now, still doesn’t feel properly composed. Given that the Corsa is closely related under the skin to the new Peugeot 208, which people praise for suppleness, I can hardly wait to try the Pug to see how big the difference is between the two. No point in asking anyone to tell me: these things are personal.
Our plan would have had this car swapped by now for an electric Corsa-e, a car of many fascinations, but of course it has been delayed. An important impression for me will be its contribution to the ride comfort debate, given the presence of a 200kg battery pack. Enlightenment is still a couple of months away, it seems.
In the meantime, I bet we’ll go on preferring the Corsa for our shopping run, because it does an essential job very well – always its design purpose.
Eight-speed auto I’m still getting used to its excellent blend of high-geared cruising and sparkling step-off – while delivering manual ’box-like fuel economy.
rear seat room As a six-footer, I can just about sit ‘behind myself’, but that requires a big compromise in driving position.
Liking the automatic option – 6 May 2020
Hooray for the Corsa. I’m using it for the bulk of my lockdown motoring, a succession of short trips during which the engine barely gets warm, yet the fuel consumption stays well up around 45mpg and the fuel gauge never moves. The economy allowed by this car’s new-age eight-speed auto is totally at odds with the ‘slushmatics’ of old. Now, if we could just trim the option costs of automatics (this one’s standard on our fully loaded Corsa Ultimate but a £1570 extra on most), I reckon we’d have a good solution. Our Corsa has paddles: I don’t miss a stick-shift at all.
Orange isn’t the only colour – but it might be the best – 15 April 2020
Light duties for the Corsa lately, like most cars in the UK, but because it’s easy to use, smallish and automatic, it’s what we choose for life-sustaining errands. However, these local trips have shown it to be somewhat snug in terms of rear room. It’s really for two adults and two kids, but we’ve been asking it to house four large adults. We all fit, but everyone is pretty snug. It’s fascinating, meanwhile, to clock the effect the Corsa’s jaunty colour has on people. Young male drivers want to pass it at any opportunity, older men (the horde who choose silver or grey) think it’s OTT. Women of all ages find it ‘cheerful’, though, making it ideal for lifting the prevailing mood.
The new Corsa is 95% great, but we’re starting to learn about the other 5% – 8 April 2020
The Corsa seems to have accumulated a lot of miles this past month or so without trying. You just jump in and go.
I’m still getting used to how well the eight-speed automatic gearbox works with the refined but none-too-powerful (99bhp) petrol turbo triple. That’s probably because it produces a much more respectable 151lb ft at just 1750rpm, which in turn is why it can easily sustain high gears and low revs when cruising on a motorway. In the Normal driving mode, it usually stays in seventh; you’ve got to be doing 80-plus before it’ll select and stay in its top ratio.
Two things are especially pleasing. One is the economy: the 44.7mpg overall we’ve returned so far sounds good, yet it doesn’t quite do the car justice. If you decide at the outset that you’re going on a 50mpg trip, you can do it without really trying. The other is the way the Sport mode sharpens the Corsa’s throttle responses, hangs onto gears (handy when it comes to engine braking downhill) and makes good use of the engine’s urge around 4000-5000rpm. Revving is never a trial: the PSA Group’s 1.2-litre triple is one of the best small engines going, and it works especially well in this application.
When the mood strikes, you’ll also enjoy driving in Manual – response to the paddles is close to instant – and my frequent preference for this mode is probably why our overall fuel consumption isn’t closer to the 46-47mpg that calmer owners would get. I’ve seen 50-plus on journeys plenty of times. I’m not a fan of the Economy setting, though. It just dulls everything – never an efficient way of delivering, well, efficiency.
I’ve more or less got used to the knobbly low-speed ride, although it still sometimes grates. And my passengers often notice it. It’s no disaster but rather out of kilter during these days of subtle suspension tuning even for cheaper-end cars. It seems to be generated by unnecessarily stiff spring rates, at odds with the more supple Peugeot 208 that’s its blood brother. Still, the Corsa has very decent steering (best in Sport, because it’s then a shade heavier) and the brakes are powerful.
There’s only one thing I truly hate. It’s the lane-keeping assistance system, which attempts to turn the wheel quite strongly in your hands when it decides, often wrongly, that you’re off line. It’s infuriating.
Whoever decided these godawful systems should be mandatory has surely caused accidents as drivers (who have invariably forgotten to turn the damned thing off before departure) sense the first unwanted tug at the steering and scrabble distractedly around the front of the centre console to kill the system fast. The distraction must be as great as talking on a mobile phone: why didn’t they think of that?
Don’t get the idea I’m not enjoying the Corsa; I really am. Its compactness means it easily fits the frequently torrid UK motoring scene, and I never stop being impressed with how much it does with a 1.2 three-pot engine. It’s the rougher edges I regret, unlikely to be found in a Volkswagen or a Toyota. When PSA brought this car to market so quickly, I did wonder whether there would be enough time for the refinement phase. They did 95% of a brilliant job and produced a nice car, but my experience with the Corsa is showing it wasn’t perfect.
Performance feel Having eight automatic ratios in a lightish supermini (only 1100kg) makes the best of its modest but smooth three-pot power.
Low-speed lumpiness Sensitive throttle plus unrefined stop-start often makes step-off untidy, especially for those new to the car. It can’t help on test drives.
Life with a Vauxhall Corsa: Month 1
Can’t miss it, really – 25 March 2020
The Corsa has £650 worth of Power Orange paint and I swear you get treated differently by your fellows in the traffic. People seem more obstructive. If, say, you beat them away from a traffic light, they remember you and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve also started noticing how dowdy other cars seem. Bright colours rule.
Welcoming the Corsa to the fleet – 11 March 2020
Every home needs a small car. That’s a very simple conclusion to reach when you’ve been going about in big cars for months, as I have, and you get offered something that slips into every parking bay, fits down every street, turns lightly into every corner, looks great in a bright colour and makes a virtue of cuteness, all because of its size.
All of which goes to explain why I’m happy to be running a Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto, a car that’s just 4.06 metres long and weighs 1090kg at the kerb. That’s less than half the weight of the full-size Volkswagen SUV that’s been my main transport these past few months, and you feel the benefit (plus one or two drawbacks) with every mile.
I’m also glad to be driving a car by Vauxhall, a marque I believe deserves more respect than it gets from people who think they know about cars. It’s traditional for a large proportion of our car-nut community to look past Vauxhalls almost without seeing them, despite the history of the brand being peppered with great and iconic models, many British-designed.
Now owned by progressive and profitable PSA, Vauxhall has already put a succession of modern-design cars on the road (MD Stephen Norman is bidding for a double-figure market share with a range of six cars and three vans), and the biggest seller is likely to be the Corsa.
True, it hasn’t topped a group test so far, but what we’ve recently learned is that the modern crop of superminis sets such a high standard that it’s fine to come fourth if your dealer is helpful and conveniently located and your financial deal is the right one.
My Corsa has arrived with around 2900 miles on the odometer, having already played a cameo role in press launch activities. It’s the best-equipped model you can get, with the Navi Pro package, leather seats, a driver’s seat massage function, automatic lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control and LED matrix headlights. There are only two options – £650 worth of Power Orange two-coat premium paint and a £110 15in steel spare wheel. The all-in cost of £26,640 looks high, until you remember this model comes with every option including a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox that would otherwise add £1500.
So far the styling and colour have both come in for praise by onlookers and passengers. Slightly lairy paintjobs play well on superminis (although this car’s black pillars and top give it a certain gravitas). It’s a reasonably roomy parents-and-kids five-door with decent-sized doors, and its boot is spacious enough for holiday luggage while leaving room for a 44-litre fuel tank that (with the 1.2-litre, 99bhp three-pot turbo and that eight-speed auto) gives an easy 400-mile range. The claimed best combined official fuel rating is 48.7mpg but you can beat 50mpg without trying too hard.
It has taken time to find my ideal driving position: the Corsa Ultimate has a power-adjust driver’s seat but it’s one of those designs that changes the cushion angle fairly radically as it rises, and most of those angles don’t suit my backside. I’ve found a position not far off the floor that doesn’t quite give the view over the bonnet I’d have liked, but at least it is long-distance comfortable.
Talking of long distances, the motorway performance is a nice surprise. The engine’s torque means it’ll sustain high cruising speeds at low revs – 70mph and 2000rpm in eighth is a common combination – and wind noise is fairly low. Road noise isn’t too intrusive, although other rivals set better standards. I’d like to try this car on 16in wheels if they were available; how many times have you heard that before?
One fascination for me, going in, was to investigate how a small three-pot turbo engine would work with an eight-speed auto: I’m delighted to find it’s one of the car’s best features. The step-off is brisk (in the hunt for smoothness you have to be a bit delicate with power applications) and the progression through the gears is smooth and refined. There are three driving modes and you can intrude with the well-sited paddles if that’s your fancy. The Eco setting is a bit dismal, dulling throttle response as you’d expect, but Sport delivers extra alertness even if it can be annoyingly reluctant to pick up eighth gear. Most of the time, Normal does the job.
My one disappointment is this car’s secondary ride. It rides flat and with good control but rumbles and bucks on poor surfaces, as if the tyres were hideously over-inflated (they’re not) or radically low in profile (they’re pretty sensible 45-section hoops on 17in wheels). My memory says there are better-riding Corsas down the range. Still, the combination of alert steering and a sweet-sounding, flexible engine – with a generous 151lb ft – still makes zipping about town fundamentally pleasurable.
So far it’s the convenience that I’m enjoying most. And the economy. Surprises are the decent open-road performance and the sweet engine. This Corsa is not a car whose unique qualities make a quick and powerful impression, but I suspect its subtle character traits will grow on me.
I’ve spent time in auto and manual Corsas and prefer the latter. I like simple superminis, but also the eight-speed ’box didn’t greatly impress me when we road tested it. On our recent supermini giant test, the Corsa’s just-ordinary ride and handling, undistinguished practicality and slightly plain cabin failed to stand out against some really accomplished competition. Maybe living with one will make us better appreciate it.
Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo Ultimate Nav Auto specification
Specs: Price New £25,990 Price as tested £26,640 Options Power Orange paint £650, 15in steel spare wheel £110
Test Data: Engine 3-cyls, 1199cc, turbocharged petrol Power 99bhp Torque 151lb ft Kerb weight 1165kg Top speed 119mph 0-62mph 11.2sec Fuel economy 41.6mpg CO2 99g/km Faults None Expenses None