Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Hmm, well, if great driving dynamics are the key to a great hot hatch, we’re afraid someone must have dropped the key down a drain with the Corsa VXR. Pace is fine; it’s reasonably quick and delivers similar outright performance to chief rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS, even if the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol up front is a little flatter low down. It makes up for that by building strongly and delivering a good burst of acceleration at mid to high revs, though.
But it sounds so coarse and unexciting. Hot hatches should have a rorty bark to their exhaust note and sound sweet to rev, because that’s part of what makes them fun. The Fiesta ST does and the Clio RS, too, whereas the VXR is at best dull, and at worst, coarse and irritating.
This isn’t the only thing that doesn’t gel. Take the control weights for example. The gearbox is notchy, the clutch biting point is too high and rather woolly, and the brake pedal a little too soft – although the brakes are still jolly effective. Meanwhile, the steering’s lightness at town speeds is good for parking, but when you pick up the pace and want more feedback it doesn’t weight up like the Fiesta ST’s, so where the ST communicates exactly what the front wheels are up to, the vague helm in the VXR leaves you constantly making little corrections through bends to keep to your line.
It’s no surprise that the stiffened-up suspension of a hot hatch affects the ride, so you need to accept being bounced around more over lumpy roads; this is the case in the VXR, and is certainly true also of the Fiesta ST and Clio RS. But whereas those cars, in particular the Fiesta, compensate with pin-sharp handling responses that make you grin like you’ve won the lottery, the Corsa VXR doesn’t. There’s way too much body lean for a sports model, and it shimmies and bucks over mid-bend bumps that the Fiesta sails over without you noticing. On the way out of tight corners it also struggles to put down its power cleanly, too, generating a lot more wheel spin as a result.
Road and wind noise are a little worse than in the Fiesta, too, but to be fair, none of the VXR’s rivals are especially relaxing motorway cruisers.
It’s worth mentioning the VXR Performance Pack, but only to advise ignoring it. It costs a small fortune and although you get bigger brakes, a limited-slip differential, bigger 18in wheels and revised suspension dampers, none of it improves the VXR significantly.