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Car reviews - Opel - Corsa - Enjoy 5-door hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Solidity, classy instruments, roomy interior, handling/roadholding, five-star safety
Room for improvement
Pricey, under-powered, long-throw gearshift, high engine revs when cruising, firm ride, infuriating air-con system, no audio streaming, ageing design

Opel logo25 Oct 2012

NEW brand, new model, new face. Along with a name that sounds like ‘rough gem’ in Latin, freshness is the coolest thing the little Opel Corsa has going right now.

But even a short stint behind the wheel of the $18,990 Corsa Enjoy reveals something else entirely. It’s all in the little Opel’s history.

Unveiled in May 2006, the fourth-generation B-car/supermini by Opel directly replaced the Corsa C, which was imported to Australia as the XC Barina from 2001 to 2005.

However, Holden then looked to Korea for its latter-day light-car combatant, and we all threw our arms up in dismay as a result. Now the ‘Barina’ from Germany is back, just 6.5 years late.

Old brand. Old car. New audience. That’s the Corsa story so far.

The problem is, every single one of its competitors – and we’re talking about some formidable opponents here – is now newer, including the TM Barina that is a (very distant) relative.

That would be OK if the Corsa five-door was priced in the mid-teens, but at $19K the Enjoy is $1200 more expensive than the fine Fiesta LX and right up against the leading Polo 77TSI Comfortline.

And, while the Opel might have the five-star safety and (most of) the equipment to take them on, its ageing 1.4-litre engine belongs to another era entirely, let alone the price bracket.

Let’s not beat around the bush – this engine in some form or another has powered the Barina since the horrible old SB-series (Corsa B) days of the mid-1990s.

Producing a reasonable 74kW of power and 130Nm of torque, it has sufficient off-the-step acceleration to feel fairly lively in everyday traffic conditions, and is pretty smooth most of the time.

But add an adult or two, switch on the air-conditioning, or fill the (surprisingly large) boot, and the Corsa starts to feel under-powered, lacking the sparkle of its fruitier competitors.

There just isn’t enough oomph for quick overtaking, joining freeway traffic requires forward planning, and you’re flooring the accelerator so often that fuel consumption – on 95 RON premium unleaded, no less – suffers.

And the five-speed manual gearshift – with long throws and a slightly rubbery feel that’s not much fun – is hampered by ratios that have the engine falling into a torque hole if you fail to change up at precisely the right point. And why are the revs so high – nearly 3000rpm – in top gear?

Basically, you have to cane the Corsa when most of its competitors have modern direct injection and/or downsized turbo powerplants that the Opel can’t hope to compete against.

The high pricing and meagre power delivery scenario is actually a big shame, because the Corsa punches above its weight in some areas.

For instance, the steering is nicely weighted and responsive enough to provide some level of satisfying interactivity. Even keen drivers can appreciate the safe and secure cornering and roadholding characteristics on offer. And the Enjoy’s brakes are right up to the task as well.

Mind you, the ride quality on its 195/65R16 rubber and handsome alloys errs on the overly firm side, resulting in an unpleasant jiggly action for the hapless people perched in the rear seat.

And, like every German car on our coarse bitumen, you have to contend with a fair amount of droning road noise. Coupled with the hard-working 1.4, it does not make for the refined European supermini experience Opel would have us believe.

But the Corsa doesn’t go down without a fight.

We were impressed with the sheer solidity of the body when you shut the door, along with the amount of space available for occupants in both the front and rear. There’s nothing tinny or tiny about the way this five-door hatch accommodates a quartet of adults.

The interior has a sober, Teutonic look and feel, with what we think is an agreeable mix of soft-touch surfaces and hard-wearing plastic trim in the appropriate areas. But, of course, Volkswagen does this stuff much better.

With its effectively big central vent eyelets, the dash looks like an extra from 2008’s WALL-E (they are from a similar era, after all), and scores with easy-reach controls that are rubberised for tactile pleasure, and a good-to-grasp steering wheel (that adjusts for reach and height), ensuring that most will find a happy driving position.

A big thumbs-up also goes to the classy and ultra-clear instrumentation graphics, which infuse a quality German ambience to the driving experience.

The seats are typically firm for a German car and a bit flat for our tastes – and comfort is made worse by the fidgety suspension – but they’re really no worse than most at this price point.

What we did find infuriating is the over-complexity of the climate control system fitted standard in the up-spec Enjoy, which suffers for having too many sub menus coupled with complicated and confusing graphics and instructions.

After a week with the Corsa – and a further extended period in an identically equipped Vauxhall version in Scotland – we struggled to master the layout, when all we needed was an airflow redirection. It drove us spare with frustration at one point.

Apparently a revised Bluetooth/USB connection interface is coming for 2013, but the lack of audio streaming in a high-line model is a fail with the more tech-savvy among us.

Which neatly sums up the not-so-new Corsa. We know Australia is late to the party, but the hardy and sensible little Opel is looking dated and a tad frumpy in a class that is pulsating with style, modernity and pizzazz.

At $18,990 – or a heady $20,990 with the Technology Pack that brings adaptive front lighting, parking radar, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights among other little luxuries – the competent and accommodating Enjoy is nevertheless desperately crying out for a newer and more advanced powertrain.

We can’t imagine how dreary the 1.4/four-speed auto combination would be in an era of six and seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmissions.

Our advice is to shop elsewhere or spend just a bit more on the ace new Astra that shares the dealer forecourt with Corsa. At least that’s a much fresher Opel proposition for Australia’s newest old brand.

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