The Corsa is the most popular and profitable car in Vauxhall’s line-up.
Despite last year being its swansong, Vauxhall still sold more than 80,000 of them, so the pressure is on for this new version to take the fight to its bitterest sales rivals: the agile Ford Fiesta and more luxurious Volkswagen Polo.
It has the same silhouette as before, but the styling and interior have been given a thorough overhaul, and there’s a number of new petrol engines, including a three-cylinder 1.0-litre with either 89 or 113bhp, and a 99bhp 1.4 turbo.
The non-turbocharged 1.2- and 1.4-litre motors from the previous Corsa are still available, too, along with a revised version of the 1.3-litre diesel, and Vauxhall expects the 1.4 will be the most popular.
What's the 2014 Vauxhall Corsa like to drive?
Purely in terms of how it drives, the new 1.0-litre is the best engine in the range; it’s smooth-revving and happy to putter around at low speed in gear and – in the 113bhp version, particularly – feels zingy and even entertaining when you rev it harder, with an even spread of power across the rev range.
Despite the slightly more enthusiastic acceleration on offer in the 113bhp engine, the lower-powered 89bhp 1.0 is still enjoyable to use and delivers more than adequate performance for most drivers.
Confusingly, the new 1.4 turbo is cheaper than the less powerful and smaller 1.0 three-cylinder; the bigger engine suits the Corsa rather well, pulling eagerly from around 1800rpm, and without the delayed surge in power that sometimes characterises small turbocharged engines.
It’s not as willing to rev as the 1.0-litre, so there’s little point in pushing it much beyond 4500rpm, but there’s strong performance in the mid-range, so it still feels relatively quick on country roads, although it does emit slightly more CO2 than the pricier 1.0 models.
The new six-speed manual gearbox – fitted to the 1.0 and 1.4 turbo models - is another big improvement over the old Corsa, being lighter and more accurate in its action, and making the Corsa easier to drive around town. The clutch pedal is a bit springy, but once you adjust to its high biting point it’s not too much of an issue.
Two distinct chassis set-ups will be available at launch. Sportier versions including the VX Line and Limited Edition versions feature a stiffer set-up and lowered ride height, or you can add this as a pack along with 17-inch alloys to various other models, including the SRi we tested.
Cars on the softer standard suspension will still send a thud up into the cabin over bigger bumps in the road, but most of the time the Corsa rides well, cushioning those inside from bumpy roads, and fidgeting less at low speed, than, say, a VW Polo.
The firmer set-up is worth considering, because it doesn’t affect the ride comfort too badly, except for the odd extra shudder from mid-corner bumps, and it gives the Corsa a slightly keener turn-in and reduces the body float that the standard models suffer over high-speed undulations.
Regardless of which suspension setup you choose, and despite its new steering rack and front suspension, the Corsa still doesn’t change direction with the verve of a Ford Fiesta, and the front tyres surrender their grip quicker than in many rivals.
As for the steering, it's preferable to the old car’s, which was vague and slow to respond to driver inputs. It’s just a pity there’s such a strong self-centring action, because it feels very unnatural, and makes it difficult to place the Corsa accurately on the road, particularly when exiting corners.
Engine refinement is great in the 1.0, regardless of power output. It’s impressively quiet most of the time, and even when revved fairly hard it emits an inoffensive and smooth thrum, sending very little mechanical vibration through the steering wheel or pedals.
The 1.4 turbo is less refined, and is a coarser-sounding engine in general, particularly when pushed, but its refinement is still reasonable by class standards. Wind and road noise are acceptable rather than class-leading, although models on 17-inch wheels suffer a more wearisome level of background rumble.
What's the 2014 Vauxhall Corsa like inside?
None of the key dimensions have changed – and at 4m long the Corsa has always been fairly large for a small car, so it feels as roomy as ever inside.
What has changed is the cabin quality. The dashboard is now covered in a swathe of glossy plastic, which is finished in a variety of colours, depending on trim.
At its centre is the same 7.0in touch-screen infotainment system from the Adam city car. Fitted as standard on Excite models and above, it features a DAB radio, Bluetooth connection (with music streaming) and you can add several apps, including BringGo sat-nav (for about £50) or internet radio.
The touch-screen itself is a mixed bag. It’s well placed and easy to read even in bright sunlight, and it keeps the dash free from buttons, but it’s neither as quick nor as intuitive as other systems we’ve tried, especially the VW Polo’s.
The new steering wheel and gearknob feel robust, and a smarter set of dials and clearer driver’s information display help modernise the cabin, which feels a cut-above the cluttered, fussy dash in the Fiesta.
Getting comfortable is easy, because the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, the seats are fairly supportive and the backrest uses a handy scroll wheel, so there's no need to shift your weight about to find a comfortable driving position.
Despite costing more than £1000 less than the equivalent Polo, Fiesta and Clio, the 1.4 Turbo SRi model we tried comes very well equipped, with LED running lights, auto lights and wipers, tyre pressure monitors, 16-inch alloys, air-con, cruise control and front foglights, plus sportier seats and pedals, and is likely to be the most recommendable trim for private buyers - the 1.0-litre-engined car costs significantly more though.
Vauxhall expects company car drivers to opt for Design trim, which comes with much the same kit, but does without alloys, a 60/40 split rear seat and automatic lights and wipers, and is usefully cheaper than the SRi.
Even more basic versions do without the big central touch-screen and (in some cases) air-con, but are still very good value when compared with the rest of the competition.
Should I buy one?
The new Corsa majors on comfort and practicality as before, but the revised interior is a big step forward, with more standard kit and better build quality, which transforms its desirability.
Nippy performance from the new turbocharged engines, plus the tweaked suspension mean it drives better too, but still falls well short of challenging the Ford Fiesta when it comes to ride comfort or handling.
Even so, it’s easy to drive in town, and comfortable where it counts. The keen pricing will make it attractive to private and company buyers alike, and most Corsa models are great value, but choosing which one suits your needs could be tricky.
The 113bhp 1.0 is available in only a few trims – either very basic inside but with Style and Attitude, or in limited edition trims that are too expensive to recommend, so it’s best avoided.
The lower-powered 1.0-litre version is just as refined and easy-going, and while also limited to certain trims, they all offer a good balance of price versus equipment, so this engine looks set to be the pick of the line-up.
While nippy performance from the 1.4-litre turbo and its lower price will appeal, the refinement and high CO2 emissions let it down, so be sure you can live with these things if you’re considering it.
We’ll have to get it up against its key rivals in the UK before making a final verdict, but on initial impression it looks to be a seriously strong contender in this hard-fought class.
What Car? says...
Vauxhall Corsa 1.0 Turbo 5dr
Engine size 1.0-litre petrol
Price from £13,330
Torque 122lb ft
0-62mph 11.9 seconds
Top speed 112mph
Fuel economy 64.2mpg
Vauxhall Corsa 1.0i Turbo 5dr
Engine size 1.0-litre petrol
Price from £11,425
Torque 122lb ft
0-62mph 10.3 seconds
Top speed 121mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4i VVT Turbo 5dr
Engine size 1.4-litre petrol turbo
Price from £13,195
Torque 148lb ft
0-62mph 11.0 seconds
Top speed 115mph
Fuel economy 55.4mpg