Vauxhall’s VXR squad gains another player in March this year when the 189bhp Corsa VXR arrives in British showrooms. Its chief targets are the Renaultsport Clio 197 and the excellent new Mini Cooper S. Both are tough rivals.
Along with the Astra VXR, Vauxhall views this Corsa as key to promoting its sporting credentials, in contrast to mainland Europe where versions of the Meriva and Vectra wearing the OPC badge (Opel Performance Centre, the Euro equivalent of VXR) are seen as more important. This explains the healthy dose of British input into the development of the sportiest Corsa, which was tested not only at the Nürburgring and on the mountain roads of Spain, but also at the Millbrook Proving Ground facility in Bedfordshire.
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According to Stuart Harris, Vauxhall's VXR brand manager, the Corsa VXR’s dynamics should be something special. ‘We wanted a stiff chassis set-up,’ he explains, ‘while our German colleagues wanted something softer. In the end the compromise has worked out really well.
‘The best example I can think of,’ he continues, ‘is a sort of modern Peugeot 205 GTI. The ride is firm yet compliant and when you lift off there’s a contribution to your cornering line from the back end. It’s not tail-happy, but you can certainly feel the rear wheels helping to steer the car. As for the steering itself, it has a sort of kart-like feel. The whole dynamic package, I think, is the best that we’ve yet come up with.’
The engine is basically the same 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that propels the curious Meriva VXR, but with the power bumped up from 178bhp to 189bhp. Peak torque jumps to 192lb ft. That power increase, says Harris, is as much to do with getting the sound of the Corsa VXR right as it is to do with trying to match the output of the rival Clio.
Thanks to a special dispensation first used by Ferrari, if a car’s power-per-litre meets a certain standard then at a particular part of the rev-range it can legally exceed the normal drive-by noise level restrictions. So Vauxhall pushed the power higher and worked in conjunction with exhaust manufacturer Remus to attain the aggressive exhaust note it wanted.
Harris also explains that the Corsa’s engine is slightly different in character to that in other VXR products. ‘It’s definitely a punchy little motor and we’ve dialled in some over-boost to the mid-range to help with overtaking. But to get the best out of this engine you really have to rev it.’ Promisingly old-school, then. As for performance, expect 0-60mph in around 7.0sec and a top speed of 138mph.
The Corsa VXR’s styling, reckons Harris, combines some of the basic Corsa’s sophistication with the aggression required for graduation to hot hatch status. A deeper front bumper unit does some of the job, but the back end is where most of the work has taken place. There’s a prominent roof spoiler, a fat centre-exit exhaust, and a very bold diffuser arrangement. ‘The car has obviously been wind tunnel tested,’ explains Harris, ‘and it generated a surprising amount of downforce. You can really feel its effects on the faster parts of the Nürburgring.’
The desire to make the Corsa VXR seem suitably hardcore has also worked its way through to the interior. ‘We opted for full shell Recaros but that initially proved a bloody nightmare because we needed to provide side airbags as standard,' says Harris. 'In the end we sourced a compact airbag unit from a Lamborghini.’
And if proof were needed of how seriously Vauxhall is taking aim at the Corsa VXR’s intended target, it’s priced at £15,595, neatly undercutting the Clio 197 by £400.
With the Honda Civic Type-R also entering the fray in the first quarter of the year, 2007 is shaping up to be a good year for the hot hatch.