Jaco van der Merwe
Boardroom battles and Covid-19 did not do hatchback any favours.
“Almost four hundred grand for an Opel Corsa! Are you kidding me?” the dumbstruck admirer fumed as the colour drained from his face. Shame, and he was so excited to finally see the latest reincarnation of his beloved badge.
An effort to convince him that the R386 900 96 kW 1.2-litre turbo Elegance model I had on test was the line-up’s top-of-the-range model and that there are more affordable options fell on deaf ears. The fact that the R274 900 entry-level model is “only” powered by a 55 kW 1.2-litre naturally aspirated engine did my plea no favours.
“Only 55 kW? No way! I bet you my current Corsa Lite with 200 000 km on the clock will fry that thing when the light turns green,” he scoffed.
His reaction kind of sums up the position Opel finds themselves in with the recent long overdue introduction of the sixth generation Corsa. If its current offerings can’t appeal to a long-time badge loyalist, who proudly proclaims to have owned four models over the years and still prefers him trusty Lite as an economical commuter, then something is not quite right.
1.2T Elegance rear view
The new Corsa has its work cut out at both ends of the sphere. The naturally aspirated powered derivatives have a lower power output than its direct competitors, while the flagship turbo model doesn’t bring enough to the table to be a significant rival to the market leaders despite having the upper hand in terms of power.
The landscape has changed since the Corsa last was a major role player in the local hatch back game and judging by one loyalist’s reaction, clearly can’t count too heavily on badge power to re-establish itself. The long delay of the new Corsa’s local arrival caused by PSA Group’s acquisition of Opel, followed by the global impact of Covid-19 didn’t help the car at all.
The sixth generation Corsa, initially developed on a General Motors (GM) platform, was set to be launched as far back as 2017 already. But in the same year the project was cancelled after PSA bought Opel and UK sister brand Vauxhall, with Corsa then being redeveloped on a PSA platform. The all-new design was only rolled out two years later in 2019.
With Covid-19 throwing a spanner in the works, the Corsa then had to skip the entire 2020 and wait for 2021 to make its local debut. And in the meantime, there was even more happenings in the boardroom as PSA and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles this year merged into Stellantis, the world’s fourth largest automotive group.
Elegance spec means the standard fitting of 16-inch alloy wheels.
As the new Corsa’s platform was swapped from GM to PSA, so did the engine too of course. The 1.0-litre, three-cylinder Ecotec powerplants from the fifth generation Corsas are replaced with PSA’s award-winning 1.2-litre, three-cylinder PureTech engine. The powerplant also does duty on the recently-launched Peugeot 2008.
The turbocharged derivative on the flagship Corsa 1.2T Elegance sends 96kW/230Nm to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Opel claims it will reach 100 km/h from a standstill in a very decent 8.7 sec, a time that would have been very respectable in the world of hot hatches a decade ago.
While its power is more than enough for everyday city traffic, it does seem to come at a compromise: fuel consumption. After a total of 505 km we travelled in our test car, we could only manage 8.9L/100 km. We felt this was definitely too high for a hatchback weighing just over a ton, especially in the light of Opel’s effort to reduce the weight of the new generation Corsa.
We did not make any attempt to try and drive it economically, but our mileage did include two very civilised open road trips between Randburg and OR Tambo International Airport. As these trips made up more than 200 km of out total mileage, we were disappointed at not achieving a number closer to Opel’s claimed figure of 6.3L/100 km.
The new Corsa handles as well as you’d expect from a hatchback, with its steering being quite responsive. It’s small-car agility is always welcome in parking areas where the spaces seem to shrink everytime they build a new one.
Boots gulps 1 081 litres of luggage with the rear seats down.
The exterior styling of the new Corsa is based on what Opel refers to as “bold and pure German design”. At the front signature Opel “Wing” LED daytime running lights blend into chrome logo bar, there are dynamic front fog lamp apertures and a pronounces bonnet crease.
In Elegance guise, the rear roof and B-pillar are finished in gloss black, with the option of a black two-tone roof. It also features electronic folding side mirrors, while the exterior look is complemented by 16-inch alloy wheels.
You’ll also find very decent levels of specification, comfort and safety on the inside. Entertainment comes in the form of a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, has one front USB port and features six speakers.
Comfort and convenience features include front and rear park assist, 180-degree rear view panoramic reverse camera, electronic climate control, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, tyre pressure monitoring, high-beam assist, leather covered steering wheel, cloth and leatherette seat trim, heated front seats a seven-inch instrument cluster.
Apart from the range’s standard safety specifications that include driver and passenger front and seat side airbags, front and rear curtain airbags, ABS with EBD and EBA, ESP and hill start assist, it features some serious additional safety spec in Elegance trim. This includes lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, driver drowsiness alert, front pedestrian detection, front collision alert and low speed automatic emergency braking.
Cabin space has been increased from the outgoing model with the boot now featuring 309-litres of space, rear occupants having 20 mm more legroom and am additional 48 mm more headroom.
On the whole the new Corsa is a well-appointed offering. Features like a digital instrument cluster and heated shows you that it has grown up from its early days of a budget hatchback. But so has its traditional rivals, with the addition of some serious other ball players in a cutthroat segment.
Corsa has a rich local heritage with over 180 000 units sold since 1994. Only time will tell if the new Corsa can make up for lost time, but don’t bet your house it. The new Opel Corsa comes with a three year/45 000 km service plan and three year/120 000 km warranty.
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