Vauxhall Corsa (2020-2021) Expert Review
The latest Vauxhall Corsa is a much better supermini than the one it replaces, but it’s still short of the class best. It’s certainly moved upmarket, and it comes with great engines, but it also feels rather small inside, and with a firm ride, it isn’t all that comfortable around town. Some of its rivals will also cost you less to run and own.
- Five-door hatchback
Do you love or hate the Vauxhall Corsa? Chances are you probably won’t have too strong a feeling on it either way. It’s a car that’s been with us for almost three decades, and one of Britain’s most popular – yet its ubiquity means it fades into the background; a car that does nothing badly but doesn’t really stand out, either.
Vauxhall hopes this new Corsa is the one to change that. It’s packed with upmarket styling cues, slathered in distinctive paint colours, and replete with a range of punchy new engines, pilfered from the car with which it shares its underpinnings – the Peugeot 208. Vauxhall and Peugeot share a parent company in the PSA Group, which also owns Citroen.
That the 208 is one of the best new small cars on the market today bodes well for the latest Corsa. And indeed, when you climb aboard, it’s instantly a more classy place to be than before. The big spear of silver (or bright red, in the SRi version) trim that sweeps across the dashboard is distinctive, while the overall design is mature and upmarket.
There are one or two glitches, though. For example, the air conditioning panel, which has two temperature knobs that both adjust the same temperature, feels a little bit of a swizz, and as though someone grabbed it hastily from Vauxhall’s parts bin. It’s also very far away, meaning you have to stretch to reach it, and the same goes for the rest of the dashboard. You often find yourself leaning forward in your seat when you want to adjust the air vents, for example.
The central touchscreen display is hidden behind a darkened screen, which makes it look as though it looms seamlessly out of a glossy black panel – a neat touch, undoubtedly. But the software running the infotainment system has also been purloined from Peugeot, in whose cars it doesn’t work entirely well, and the same goes here. It can be fiddly, laggy, and occasionally counter-intuitive to use.
Up front there’s plenty of space in the Corsa, though storage for your odds and ends isn’t quite as generous as it could be. Space for passengers in the back is even less impressive, with head and leg room both tight, and a narrow door opening making it difficult to strap a child into a car seat. The boot space is decent at least, and with its useful, square shape and low loading lip, it improves's the car's overall practicality.
You can get a diesel engine in the Corsa, and there’s even an electric version available too in the Corsa-e, but the two petrol engines will likely make up the vast majority of sales. Happily, they’re both great to drive, with lots of low-down grunt that makes them really useful around town.
It is a shame that the ride isn’t a little smoother, though. The Corsa’s suspension has been set up to feel sporty, and as a result it’s quite firm, which causes it to jiggle ceaselessly even on roads that look quite smooth to the naked eye.
The good news is that the Corsa feels well controlled in corners as a result. There’s lots of grip, and the steering’s linearity means the Corsa always feels predictable and confidence-inspiring. It’s just a shame you don’t get the same feedback or sense of involvement as you do in, say, a Ford Fiesta.
Three Things To Know
- The electric version of the Corsa, known as the Corsa-e, is one of the best small electric cars out there. With a different suspension setup to the standard car, it’s slightly smoother riding and more fun to drive, and the instant get-up-and-go of its electric motor is really useful around town. It’ll travel 209 miles on a single charge, according to the official figures, and can recharge from empty to full on a home charging point in 7.5 hours. It doesn’t come cheap, though, so it’ll pay you to sit down and do some sums to work out whether it might actually cost you less to buy the standard petrol version instead.
- You can opt for an eight-speed automatic gearbox as an optional extra on the Corsa. It’s only available on the most powerful petrol version, though that’s no bad thing as that’s our favourite engine, and you can have it on every model except the sporty-looking SRi. It’s a good gearbox, with smooth changes and swift responses – most of the time – though a new one will set you back almost £1,800 more than the manual gearbox version.
- While a new Vauxhall Corsa isn’t all that cheap to buy, Vauxhall dealers are known for their propensity to offer promotional deals and good discounts. With that in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on your local showroom for offers or sales – and if you decide you do want to take the plunge, make sure you haggle.
Which One to Buy
- If it were our choice: The Corsa’s one of those cars that’s best served by keeping the spec simple and the price low, so we’d opt for the SE Nav, one up from the entry-level model, which gives you all the important toys without any of the fripperies. It’s available with our favourite engine, too, which is the 1.2 100 petrol.
- If you need the efficiency of a diesel: There’s only one diesel engine to choose – the 1.5 Turbo D 102. It’s quite a bit more expensive than the petrol equivalent, though, so we’d advise doing some sums to work out whether the improved fuel economy will actually make up for the extra purchase cost.
- If you fancy a bit of extra luxury: The Elite Nav model sits towards the top of the trim levels, and gets you automatic headlights, ambient lighting inside, a reversing camera, and parking sensors at both the front and the rear, all as standard.
- And if you want to go electric: Go for the Corsa-e SE Nav. The electric Corsa-e is quite expensive to buy anyway, and the top-spec Elite will cost you more than £30,000; given the already reasonably generous spec of the SE, its near-£3,000-lower price tag seems just a little more reasonable.
The most efficient Corsa of all is the 1.5-litre diesel, which can achieve as much as 70.6mpg – a fairly impressive feature. However, as we’ve mentioned, you will need to weigh this improved mpg up against the diesel model’s extra cost, as well as the high probability it won’t hold its value as well as its petrol equivalents.
Our favourite Corsa, the 99bhp 1.2 Turbo 100, should see close to 50mpg in the real world, which is decent enough, and more efficient than some rivals. However, equivalent versions of the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta will do even better.
The other thing you’ll have to keep in mind with all Corsas is their below-average predicted resale values. This means you might not get as much cash back when the time comes to sell your Corsa on than you will with some other rivals – notably the Clio and Volkswagen Polo.
The Corsa should at least be cheap to maintain. Vauxhall servicing is relatively affordable, and the company offers a good service plan that includes the first three years’ servicing and roadside assistance and the car’s first MOT, all for £19 a month for petrol models. It’s even cheaper on the Corsa-e – just £10 a month.
All Corsa petrol and diesel engines are fitted with a timing belt, and this will need changing every 10 years or 112,000 miles, whichever crops up first. The cost of replacement varies from engine to engine, but it will probably set you back a little over £400 when the time comes.
This generation of Corsa is so new that it’s impossible to gauge accurately how reliable it’ll be. However, we can get a rough idea by looking both at its predecessor and at that of the Peugeot 208 on which it’s based.
Unfortunately, the news is not entirely promising. The old Corsa came 22nd out of 25 small hatchbacks in the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey, and the 208 – which used similar engines – came a lowly 24th. Both cars scored 89.7% and 87% respectively, which doesn’t sound too bad, but when you consider the Honda Jazz achieved a near-perfect score of 98.3%, it’s somewhat disappointing by comparison.
Nevertheless, there are promising signs that Vauxhall is upping its game in the reliability stakes. The manufacturer came 6th out of the 24 included in the 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, with a respectable 95 problems per 100 vehicles, and this was an improvement over its score in 2018, when it came 10th with a score of 113.
Parent manufacturer Peugeot is upping its game, too – in the same survey, it came 1st in 2019, up from 8th in 2018. In other words, the signs are that quality is improving on newer cars, so hopefully the Corsa will be more dependable than its predecessor.
The CarGurus Verdict
This Corsa is different from those which came before – on the surface, at least. Its slick new appearance is matched to an interior that looks stylish, and the whole car feels more mature and more like a quality product than it used to.
The trouble is, there are areas in which the Corsa doesn’t feel entirely sorted, especially inside where the far-away dashboard grates and the cramped back seats and small door apertures make loading a small child less easy than it should be.
That said, keep the specification simple, and you keep the alloy wheels small (and, consequently, the ride as soft as it can be). And if you haggle a discount to take account of the lower resale values, and the Corsa starts to look like good value. It’s undoubtedly worth a look, then – but as was ever the case with Corsas of old, there are better small cars out there.