The Opel Corsa supermini has had a storied history, dating all the back to 1982 when the car was first sold to the masses. Build on a General Motors front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform, the early Corsa models were one of the few supermini hatchbacks available on the market until Peugeot and Renault came along. And the battle of the superminis has raged on ever since. And for 2020, this is Opel’s offering: The all-new Opel Corsa 1.2 Turbo Elegance.
Now I may be harsh, but in recent years, the design of the older Corsa models seemed heavily influenced by the French hatchbacks. The Corsa C that was produced back in 2000 looked like a cross between a driver’s ed car and a Peugeot 107. The 2006 Corsa D resembled a shrunken Peugeot 207, even after a facelift in 2010. And the 2014 Corsa just looked like a heavily facelifted version of its predecessor. So it wasn’t really a surprise that Opel was acquired by the French PSA Group (Peugeot Société Anonyme) back in 2017. Which wasn’t such a good thing for Opel, because they were in the midst of designing the new Corsa on a GM sourced platform.
As a result of the merger, the existing designs were scrapped and the new Corsa was completely redesigned and rebuilt on the PSA Common Modular Platform, which is shared by numerous other French cars such as the DS3 Crossback and Peugeot 208. Say what you will about the French influences, but the new Corsa is a huge step up in terms of refinement and poshness compared to the old one. Based on the exterior alone, the Corsa looks a lot more well balanced and poised than its predecessor, with wider bumpers that exemplify the car’s width. About 30mm wider in fact. The car sits on 16-inch alloys with 195/55 section tyres all round and the bodyshell itself looks rather handsome. It is also longer and taller than before, but it is now only available as a 5-door hatchback.
In the cabin, the attention to detail is apparent as well. The interior of the new Corsa ditches the dated look of the older models for a more minimalist layout. You get a 7-inch gauge cluster (which is rather small) but the displays are clear, and customisable via a knob on the indicator stalk. Unfortunately, the displays do not show any fancy graphics or change colours while you’re toggling between driving modes. Feels, utilitarian almost. Most buyers of this car probably won’t be too concerned with that.
The infotainment screen is a 10-inch unit lifted from the Peugeot 208, albeit with a slightly altered interface. There are physical buttons under the screen itself, but I actually found myself using the touchscreen more frequently. The matte surface of the screen also cuts the glare and reflections, making it easier to operate in the day.
Other nice touches in the cabin include the wireless charging pad beneath the infotainment screen itself, the buttons for the auto stop/start and safety monitoring systems (Lane Departure Warning/Active Lane Keep Assist and parking sensors), and the gear lever. A funny little thing, the gear lever. While perfectly functional, the shape of it is a little disconcerting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually shifted into reverse instead of putting it in park more than once. And as with the infotainment screen, you’ll find an identical gear lever in the 208.
As the whole, the cabin is a mixed bag. Literally. With plenty of switchgear sourced from PSA. But as disjointed as the cabin feels, I’ll say this: it works well. And if it works, why bother changing it?
Round the back, the passenger seats are firm but quite supportive. Two adults would have no trouble in the back, but fitting three adults is no mean feat. The transmission tunnel isn’t very wide, but the overall size of makes it hard to fit three pairs of legs in the footwells. Short distance drives are fine, but I wouldn’t want to be caught in a jam if I wear a rear passenger. The split 60:40 seats can be folded down to expand the Corsa’s 309 litre boot. (one of the best in its class)
On the road, the chassis feels rather stable, with marginal body roll when turning. The cabin is also incredibly well insulated and quiet, with the engine hum barely audible over the sound of the air conditioning. Under the hood, surprise surprise, the 1.2-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine is also sourced from PSA. But the perky little unit produces 128 horsepower and 230Nm of torque, which is plenty for a car that weighs just over a ton. On paper, the car completes the century sprint in 8.7 seconds. But I have a nagging suspicion that it is actually faster. Especially if you chuck it into sports and manual shifting mode.
The 8-Speed Aisin gearbox is an absolute treat, rivalling that of ZF units from BMW or Mercedes. The steering wheel mounted paddles are quick and responsive, changing gears with a sub-second delay from the moment you pull a pedal. Now, this is where the gauge cluster becomes a handicap.
Because the engine is so small and quiet even at speed, it is incredibly difficult to discern when I should shift into a higher gear. The rev counter is basically just a think bar that runs across the bottom of the screen. But there are shift indicators on the screen telling you when the best time to shift up. Though the car’s computers do the shifting when you’re approaching peak RPMs, so honestly there is little to no risk of over-revving the motor. Still, a larger rev dial would’ve been a welcome comfort. And given that the Corsa has a digital display, it’s a huge oversight on Opel’s/PSA’s part. The electric steering rack is rather numb and lacklustre, with minimal feedback at slower speeds. But it is incredibly light, just like in the Opel Astra. And unlike the Astra, it is much easier to place this car on the road.
But it’s quick, perky little car. And given its weight (or lack of it) and power figures, you could really take this car up a twisting back road and thoroughly enjoy yourself.
It may be a stretch to say this, but the Opel Corsa has actually become a very desirable car. For me at least. Maybe the French acquisition really did pay off.