Jaco van der Merwe
Hatchback’s latest reincarnation faces stiff test in tough segment.
There was a time when the Opel Corsa was a true heavyweight on the South African motoring scene.
After making its local debut in 1994 with its familiar “tortoise” contours, the feisty little hatchback became a popular and fun choice among South African motorists. In fact, the nameplate was even expanded to include a small sedan called the Corsa Classic and a half-tonner bakkie, the Corsa Utility.
But somewhere in between the Corsa’s dizzy heights at the turn of the century and 2021, quite a lot has happened. The Classic ceased to exist and the Utility was moved under the Chevrolet banner by General Motors (GM) before eventually being discontinued. The Corsa remained in hatch guise even after GM’s local exit in 2017, but it’s been a long and steady decline for a vehicle with such a rich heritage.
However, even after spending most of its recent years on the backfoot, Corsa still boasts an astonishing average of selling roughly 300 units a month since making its local debut. By November last year, 186 253 of the 516 546 Opels that have been sold in South Africa wore a Corsa badge, making it by far the carmaker’s best local product. The Utility is incidentally in second place with 155 549, meaning that almost half of the Opels ever sold in South Africa has the word Corsa its name.
It’s been a painful overall local decline for Opel since 2015 when they sold over 6 000 vehicles. Last year, the carmaker could barely manage four digits.
Opel has high hopes of turning its local fortunes around with the latest reincarnation of the Corsa key to its ambitions. The sixth generation of the hatchback, which made its international in 2019 already, was the first Opel product after the PSA Group acquired the brand from GM.
Rather late than never
The new Corsa finally made its local debut after a year-long delay this week, with the PSA Group since merging with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to form the Stellantis Group, the world’s fourth largest automotive group in terms of volume.
But unlike a quarter of century ago when the Corsa made such a hugely impressive local entrance, the hatchback segment – or more specific the so-called B-hatch space – is a different kettle of fish these days. Volkswagen’s Polo rules the roost in terms of market share ahead of the likes of the Kia Rio, Hyundai i20, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta.
New Opel Corsa rear
Competitively priced and generously specced, Opel firmly believes that the new Corsa can make an impact. In fact, the carmaker is so ambitious that it believes it can reach the highs of 2015 within the next four years, with the Corsa earmarked to play a significant role in its revival.
What Opel refers to as the “future proof German small car”, the new Corsa is shares its underpinnings with the Peugeot 208 and the line-up consists of three models. The base model is priced at R274 900, the mid-range Edition costs R294 900 and the flagship Elegance R386 900.
New Opel Corsa interior
The base and Edition are both powered by the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre engine sending 55kW/118Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. The Elegance is powered by the PureTech 1.2-litre turbo petrol producing 96kW/230Nm which is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Standard on all models is a three year/120 000 km warranty and three year/45 000 km service plan.
The new Corsa’s exterior is a big visual improvement on its predecessor highlighted by a pronounced bonnet crease, signature Opel “wing” daytime running lights blending into the front chrome logo bar and dynamic fog lamp apertures. At the sides it features athletic body lines and muscular wheel arches, a more sculpted design at the rear and also a tone-two roof.
New Opel Corsa badge
Standard specifications include Electronic Stability Control, cruise control and speed limiter, tyre pressure monitoring and one-touch electronic front windows.
In Elegance trim, additional features include rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, folding side mirrors, heated front seats, digital driver’s display, leather flat bottom steering wheel, seven-inch touchscreen and two-tone roof.
The Elegance also includes a very comprehensive list of safety features which includes 180-degree reverse view camera, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, forward collision alert, front pedestrian detection and collision mitigation braking. Boot space has been increased to 309 litres, while legroom in the rear has increased by 20mm and headroom by 48 mm.
We only got to experience the Elegance derivative during the launch. The turbo engine is punchy, the car handles well, the ride is solid and the interior very comfortable aided by the digital instrument display.
Overall, it is well-appointed and as solid as you would expect from a car with such a rich heritage. But it’s almost like the Corsa has outgrown the fun factor it once possessed in abundance. There is nothing that makes it stands out from the crowd and that, sadly, will not help its revival.
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