Overall rating: 3/5
Excellent cabin and a terrific new 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine can't disguise the new Opel Corsa's averageness.
In the Metal:
Opel's styling has really come along in the past while, and the whole range is starting to look a lot classier these days. Sadly though, the new Corsa is where the styling kind of falls a bit flat. While the new Corsa is indeed new from the windscreen forward, and features quite pleasant, chiselled looks borrowed in large part from the smaller Opel Adam, the rest is basically the same as the old Corsa. The metalwork under the styling is pretty much identical, so Opel's stylists have been able to do precious little to make it look any different. A tiny last swoosh at the trailing edge of the rear glass on the three-door, and some new, wider tail lamps are about your lot. While it's certainly not a bad looking car, it's impossible to avoid the age of its styling, aft of the front pillar.
Inside, things are much, much better. The rather hard-edged, cheap-looking interior of the old Corsa is gone, replaced by something much more welcoming and with impressive levels of quality. Opel claims to have brought quality and features from larger, more expensive cars to the Corsa and in the cabin that starts to look and feel true. The good stuff starts with the clear, expensive-looking dials (rivals take note) and continues with the wide sweep of the fascia, which keeps some visual interest by being divided into three distinct layers. Up-spec models get the neat Intellilink touch-screen in the middle, but even basic versions still have a reasonably high-end-looking radio infotainment controller.
Space is generally quite good (the outgoing Corsa was always one of the most spacious in its class, so by keeping the same hard points, the new one follows suit) and aside from some odd firm patches in the seat base, the new seats are also very comfy - another aspect that feels as if from a bigger car.
Opel has kept the same basic layout as on the old Corsa for the suspension, albeit the parts have been changed and tweaked from new dampers to a new steering rack and front sub-frame. The overall effect is pretty minimally different when you drive it. While the steering is nicely weighted (although Irish and UK cars will get a heavier-feeling rack) and the Corsa feels well balanced in handling terms, there's not a lot of driver engagement to be had. In fact, it feels rather inert, with little sense that you're driving anything distinctive. The ride can be a touch over-firm at times too, jittering over rapid-fire urban lumps.
The new 1.0-litre turbo engine is an utter gem though. Obviously a direct rival to Ford's EcoBoost range, this new Ecotec direct injection engine gets, uniquely in its class, a balancer shaft that all but eliminates engine vibrations, making for a powertrain that resounds with utter smoothness. A maximum of 170Nm of torque doesn't sound like much compared to a modern diesel engine, but it's a figure that holds constant over a broad rev range and so the smooth little unit never feels underpowered. Quite the opposite in fact; it feels like an engine of twice its swept capacity, and when noise does enter the cabin as you accelerate hard, it's a sweet, throaty roar. What a cracking engine.
It's mated to a new six-speed manual transmission that is generally excellent and there are automatic and semi-auto 'Easytronic' options too.
We only got to sample one other engine on this international launch event - a 1.4 four-cylinder turbo petrol that has been tuned to produce prodigious torque rather than top end power. That it certainly does but the result is a wheezy breathlessness at anything over 4,000rpm and a general sense of uncouthness. It's not a great engine, and won't find many buyers in Ireland anyway. If it's torque you want, better by far to go for one of the heavily revised 1.3-litre CDTi diesel units.
What you get for your Money:
The news is rather mixed here. The Corsa, as any car hoping to make an impact in the small car segment must be, is well priced with stickers starting from €14,895 for the S, although you'll have to trade up to a more expensive Excite model if you want such things as Bluetooth phone connection, LED daytime running lights and a USB connection. That's fine; circa €15k seems good value for a car with that sort of equipment, but the bad news is that if you want to keep the price down that far, you're going to be stuck with the older 1.2- and 1.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engines. The lovely new three-cylinder motor is an expensive thing to design, and its minimum €19k price tag reflects this. As rival Ford has done with the Fiesta, eventually a non-turbo version of the three-pot will phase out the 1.2 and 1.4, but for now, you're stuck with the oldies.
Opel is still clearly trying to boost its image into premium brand territory and the Corsa's optional equipment list would seem to reinforce that. You can, if your pockets are deep enough, spec your Corsa up with all sorts of high-end toys from a reversing camera and self-parking system to a heated steering wheel and a forward collision alert. If you've got the Intellilink system then you can also introduce new apps to it via your smartphone, including satnav and internet radio.
While Opel is trying to portray the Corsa as an all-new car, instead, like its rivals from Ford and Volkswagen, it's really just a very thorough update of the outgoing model. While the new styling is neat, it's anodyne to drive, but the revised cabin and new three-cylinder engine are major high points.