Vauxhall Corsa GSi review - too little too late?

It’s an eager performer, but lifeless steering and overservoed brakes relegate expensive Corsa to also-ran status

A quarter of a century after it first appeared, the Vauxhall Corsa GSi is back. Slotting in under the recently discontinued VXR, the newcomer is aimed at warmed over superminis, such as the Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta ST-Line. It’s a car that’s aimed at those looking for thrills without the bills. We’ll just have to ignore the chunky £18,995 price tag for now....

By marrying a number of carry over parts from the 202bhp VXR, including the suspension and numerous bodywork additions, with a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo the GSi is a car that promises good, clean and cost effective fun. In fact, at a glance you’d struggle to tell it apart from the more powerful machine, which is surely all part of the plan. At the front there’s the same deep front bumper, while also included are the side skirts and prominent rear spoiler. Also familiar are the 17-inch alloy wheels, which can be upgraded to the 18-inch rims fitted to our car. Get a little closer, however, and you’ll spot the differences (badges aside), such as the single exit exhaust in place of the VXR’s trapezoidal centre exit item.

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Inside it’s business as usual, with the Corsa’s tightly built and decently finished cabin enhanced by the addition of a chunky three-spoke steering wheel and some natty metal-trimmed pedals. Oh, and there’s also a squared-edged, roughly stitched knob for the gearlever, which is an uncomfortable to hold as it looks. Still, you can’t fault the kit count, with heated seats and wheel, touchscreen infotainment and climate control to name just a few luxuries. If you fancy pushing the price of you Corsa beyond the £20,000 mark, then the £1900 GSi Plus Pack rewards you with leather trimmed high-back Recaro seats, the larger wheels and bi-xenon lights.

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On the move the Corsa is brisk and grippy, which combines with its small size to make it a quick point-to-point machine. But despite its growly engine and impressive poise there’s not much in the way of genuine driver interaction to be had. Factor in a price tag that’s only a few hundred quid less than an entry-level Ford Fiesta ST and it becomes difficult to recommend the Corsa

Technical highlights

Underpinning the Corsa GSi is the venerable SCCS platform that the Vauxhall has shared with the Fiat Grande Punto since 2006. It’s not the most sophisticated architecture, but then its combination of strut front suspension and torsion beam rear axle is still the supermini industry standard. As the VXR, the GSi gets a 10mm lower ride height and stiffened springs and dampers. Also carried over the brakes, with decent sized 308mm discs at the front and 264mm at the rear. However, not making and appearance is the old car’s two-stage ESP system – in the GSi the electronic safety net is permanently armed.

The standard wheels are 17-inches, while larger 18-inch rims are an extra cost option. Regardless of diameter you’ll get 205 section Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, which is a good thing.

Engine, transmission and 0-62mph

Obviously the big change over the VXR is the use of a smaller capacity 1.4-litre engine. The turbocharged four-cylinder unit will be familiar to owners of Astras and Insignias, and in this application it delivers 148bhp at 5000rpm, which is way behind the similarly priced 197bhp Ford Fiesta ST, but 10bhp up on the Suzuki Swift Sport. On the plus side, there’s a healthy 162lb ft of torque in a plateau from 2750rpm to 4000rpm.

Mated to this lightly tuned motor is a six-speed manual gearbox, which Vauxhall claims is packed with closely stacked ratios. That’s as maybe, but a sixth gear that’s turning around 28mph per thousand rpm suggests ratios that are tuned for efficiency and emissions rather than performance.

Speaking of which, the GSi is claimed to crack the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in 8.9 seconds, which is brisk rather than quick. On the road the road this figure feels about right, although you have to work the unit surprisingly hard to get it to give its best. Despite the promising torque output, the GSi feels a little flaccid at low revs, a feeling no doubt exaggerated by the 1278kg kerbweight and gearing. It’s only beyond 4000rpm or so that the 1.4-litre starts to feel like it belongs in a warm hatch, pulling with greater gusto and accompanied by a pleasingly growly exhaust note.

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To get the most out of the Corsa you need to make plenty of use of the six-speed manual, which is a bit of a mixed bag. The shift action is light and precise enough, but the awkwardly shaped lever and springy clutch action can be a pain, particularly when mooching around town. Still, the relatively tall top gear makes the Corse an unfussed cruiser, the calm of the cabin only shattered by deafening tyre roar on coarse surfaces.

What’s it like to drive?

Within yards of moving off the first word that’s springs to mind is ‘firm’. At low speed the GSi hops and jiggles down the road, the springs and dampers barely bothering to register surface imperfections. Up the pace at little and get some load through the suspension and matters improve, the Corsa attempting to absorb bumps rather than be deflected by them. It’s still far from perfect mind, with potholes and expansion joints being dealt with so violently that you wince, and even occasionally shout out in shock.

The upshot of the rigid suspension is that the GSi corners fast and flat, particularly when the road is smooth. There’s bags of grip too, and the Corsa takes a satisfying four-square stance through bends as the front and rear axles take up their share of the effort. Factor in the quick steering and strong turn-in bite and the Vauxhall is a surprisingly agile and quick-witted device through a series of corners. So it’s a shame that the electrically assisted steering is so light and devoid of feel, making it near impossible to judge just how much grip you’ve got to play with. Another frustration is the brakes, which suffer from an overservoed pedal action, making it difficult to slow smoothly and progressively.

Price and rivals

At £18,995 the Corsa is, erm, not exactly cheap. As an example, the 197bhp Ford Fiesta ST, which is the Vauxhall’s superior in every single area is £19,245 in entry-level trim. Closer in performance to the Corsa is the 138bhp Fiesta ST-Line 1.0-litre EcoBoost that weighs in at £17,965. It’s not as quite as quick as the GSi away from the lights, but its nimble handling is more engaging and entertaining. There’s also the Suzuki Swift Sport, which undercuts the Corsa by £1000. Again it’s not quite as powerful at 138bhp, but it’s lower kerbweight means it feels quicker, while its more supple ride makes it easier to live with day-to-day, even if this comes at the expense of driving fun.

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