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Vauxhall Corsa VXR vs Ford Fiesta ST

Vauxhall's new Corsa needs to pile on the fun if it's to conquer the superb Ford Fiesta ST

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Fun is the essential ingredient of any hot hatch, but what exactly is it that makes a car fun to drive? Nippy acceleration and plenty of grip certainly help, but the most telling factor is how involved you feel in the action. This is down to a number of factors, such as the feedback you get through the steering wheel, how satisfying the gearbox is to use and what the engine sounds like when you rev it hard.

All these reasons are precisely why, for the past couple of years, the Fiesta ST has been top of the hot hatch pile. Itโ€™s never been quite the quickest or the grippiest of its breed, but no other rival puts such a big smile on your face.

The Fiestaโ€™s reign at the top could be about to end, though, because Vauxhallโ€™s new Corsa VXR doesnโ€™t just look the part, but it also packs more power than its rival and is similarly well equipped, and all while costing less to buy. If itโ€™s as much fun to drive, the Ford could be in trouble.

The contenders

Ford Fiesta 1.6T 180 Ecoboost ST-2

Great to drive and cheap to run, the ST-2 is our current Hot Hatch of the Year

Vauxhall Corsa 1.6i 205 Turbo VXR

Cheaper and more powerful than the ST-2, but is the VXR as much fun?

What are they like to drive?

Both cars have 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines and deliver their power in broadly similar ways. The Fiesta is slightly more eager at low revs, but the Corsa claws back that advantage by having more power on hand when you really thrash its engine.

That extra power no doubt explains why the VXR is slightly faster according to the official figures. However, in our tests, it was actually the Ford that sprinted off the line quickest, hitting 60mph from a standstill in 7.0sec and beating the Vauxhall to that yardstick by a tenth of a second.

The Fiesta sounds so much more enticing, too. Both cars have sports exhausts, but the STโ€™s silky smooth motor and rorty exhaust warble goad you into revving the engine at every available opportunity. Meanwhile, the VXRโ€™s engine sounds coarse at high revs and its uninteresting exhaust note leaves you rather underwhelmed.

Itโ€™s not just the way the ST sounds, either; itโ€™s the way it drives. The Fordโ€™s steering, for example, is super-precise and streams information to your fingertips whether youโ€™re pootling around town or carving your way along a twisty B-road. This allows you to place the Fiesta exactly where you want it on the road, while thoroughly enjoying every moment at the wheel.

By comparison, the Corsaโ€™s steering feels light and vague around dead-centre and never quite builds enough resistance as you turn the wheel to attack corners. This means you can never be as precise, and you wonโ€™t attack corners in the VXR with the confidence you can in the Ford. In the same vein, the Fiestaโ€™s gearbox and pedals feel positive and fulfilling to use; the Corsaโ€™s less so. The VXRโ€™s gearchange is notchy, its clutch has an overly high and vague biting point and thereโ€™s too much travel in the brake pedal before the car starts to slow its progress. All of this blunts the driving experience.

Throw the VXR in to a bend and thereโ€™s also a surprising amount of body lean. If you strike a bump mid-corner the rear axle of the car is also prone to hopping sideways in a rather disconcerting fashion. Thankfully, these arenโ€™t issues youโ€™ll experience in the ST. It stays flatter as you turn in to bends and always feels more stable and composed no matter what the road surface.

As you might expect from two hot hatchbacks, both cars have a firm ride, which some will find wearing โ€“ particularly over long distances. Thereโ€™s not a great deal to choose between the two in this respect; the Corsa is slightly more compliant at high speeds, but does generate more a bit wind and road noise on the motorway.

What are they like inside?

Whatever your size, the Fiesta has a driving position to suit. The range of adjustment from the steering wheel and seat, plus the amount of headroom on offer, is excellent for such a small car.

You sit slightly higher in the Corsa and the seat doesnโ€™t slide as far back, which can prevent very tall drivers getting comfortable. Itโ€™s also disappointing that there isnโ€™t a footrest next to the clutch pedal.

Both cars have Recaro sports seats that impress in different ways. The Fiestaโ€™s fit more snugly around your sides and as such offer better lateral support โ€“ particularly around the shoulders โ€“ but the Corsaโ€™s are more comfortable over long distances.

The Fiestaโ€™s main bugbears are still its dashboard ergonomics and cabin quality. Its small infotainment screen looks old-fashioned compared with the Corsaโ€™s 7.0in touchscreen and isnโ€™t as easy to use. Most of the switches and buttons feel a bit low-rent, too, although the STโ€™s dashboard is soft to the touch.

By comparison, the VXRโ€™s interior looks smart and modern. Chrome highlights and gloss black surfaces help differentiate it from lesser models in the Corsa line-up, and the materials throughout the cabin โ€“ with the exception of the cheap-feeling air-con controls โ€“ feel that bit more premium.

However, itโ€™s a pity that, apart from the seats and aluminium pedals, neither car looks overtly sporty inside.

Head room is similarly generous in both carsโ€™ rear seats, although the Corsa has marginally more rear leg room. However, the VXRโ€™s front seats donโ€™t tilt forward as freely, which makes it trickier to get in to the back to start with.

Annoyingly, too, after letting someone in or out of the rear in either car, the front seats donโ€™t return to their original position; you have to reposition them manually each time.

The two cars have similarly sized boots that will easily swallow a couple of weekend bags and 60/40 split-folding rear seats for those occasions when you need to carry bulkier items.

What will they cost?

In mid-spec ST-2 form, the Fiesta costs a few hundred pounds more than the Corsa. However, haggling with your Ford dealer should snag you a deal for ยฃ17,238, whereas discounts on the Vauxhall will be much smaller for the first few months. In fact, our Target Price team werenโ€™t able to find any savings at the time of writing.

Our real-world fuel economy tests show that the VXR will cost you an extra ยฃ400 in fill-ups every 12,000 miles, and because of its higher CO2 emissions youโ€™ll pay an extra ยฃ75 a year in road tax. Factor in all the costs youโ€™re likely to face during the first three years and the VXR works out nearly ยฃ3000 more expensive to own.

The Fiesta is also far cheaper to run as a company car, courtesy of that lower CO2 output, and for those taking out a PCP finance deal the ST offers lower monthly repayments.

Both cars are reasonably well equipped, with a heated windscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth and air conditioning fitted as standard. On top of that, the Corsa adds xenon headlights and cruise control, while the Fiesta counters with heated front seats and rear privacy glass. Youโ€™ll need to pay extra for sat-nav in either car; itโ€™s cheaper in the Corsa but uses an app on your smartphone.

Our verdict

The VXR is quick enough but feels more like an overpowered Corsa than a cohesive hot hatchback. It just isnโ€™t enough fun to drive, not only compared with the Fiesta ST but also other similarly priced rivals.

The vague steering is the VXRโ€™s biggest dynamic flaw, but its gearchange and poor body control also disappoint. The Vauxhall doesnโ€™t sound particularly tuneful, either, and works out a lot more expensive than the Fiesta to own โ€“ no matter how youโ€™re buying.

1st

Ford Fiesta 1.6T 180 Ecoboost ST-2

ForBrilliant fun to drive; superb engine; driving position; cheaper to own

Against Ordinary interior; poor dash ergonomics; firm ride

Verdict Still our favourite hot hatchback by a country mile

2nd

Vauxhall Corsa 1.6i 205 Turbo VXR

For Gutsy engine; lots of grip; decent interior quality

Against Vague steering; too much body roll; dull-sounding engine

Verdict We're fans of the regular Corsa, but not this hot VXR model

Ford Fiesta ST

Engine size

1.6-litre petrol

Price from

ยฃ18,395 (list)

Power

180bhp

Torque

177lb ft

0-60mph

7.0 seconds

Top speed

139mph

Fuel economy

36.9mpg

CO2

138g/km

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Engine size

1.6-litre petrol

Price from

ยฃ17,995 (list)

Power

202bhp

Torque

207lb ft

0-62mph

7.1 seconds

Top speed

143mph

Fuel economy

29.9mpg

CO2

174g/km