Sunday, July 20, 2008

A fortnight with a Corsa 1.2 Club

The fastest type of car, so they say, is a hire car. Well, I’m here to tell you that ‘they’ are wrong. At least when it’s a 1.2-litre Vauxhall Corsa like my current hack.

Initial impressions aren’t actually too bad. The Corsa bears the clean lines of a contemporary small car, with hints of the Fiat Punto and the new Ford Fiesta - nothing revolutionary, but a pleasant enough exterior. Inside, it’s much the same situation. The basic layout is fairly conventional, although there are some nicer-than-average materials and neon backlighting system for the dash that just about manages to avoid looking too ‘Fast and Furious’. For an entry-level car, the kit is fairly good too, with a decent stereo and air conditioning as standard.

It’s not all good news though, the front seat belts are positioned so far back that even tall drivers require a degree of contortion to reach them. The stereo volume control requires a million turns to produce any audible difference and the boot is one of the smallest I’ve ever seen. This car also has a distinct tendency to steam up in the wet, which only a good blast from the air con is able to cure.

Yet by far the most annoying thing has to be the indicators. The spring loaded stalks don’t actually stay in position, making it quite difficult to tell whether you’re in the short or prolonged flash modes and the self-cancelling seems to be a little hit and miss too. As a result, a typical manoeuvre begins as you indicate out, continues with you indicating for longer than you intend and ends with an unwanted flash from the opposite indicator as you try and cancel the original one. It’s a small matter, but a source of constant annoyance.

Once on the move, another issue presents itself... The Corsa’s rear windows allow for reasonable visibility to your left, but look over your right shoulder and the view is dominated by the rear pillar. This asymmetry of vision blocks off your view just where you need it in the blind spot, making the Corsa noticeably harder to manoeuvre than some of its competitors.

These gripes aside, it remains a car of contrasts. It cruises reasonably quietly on light throttle loads, but put your foot down and the noise can become harsh and intrusive. It’s not as if this is a rare occurrence either – the 16v engine needs to be revved to extract any power and yet it still never satisfactorily overcomes the Corsa’s mass. On several occasions I’ve ended up not in fifth or even fourth gear, but down to third on motorway inclines. The other downside is that fuel economy suffers when you have to drive it like that – fuel stops are more frequent (and indeed expensive) than expected. Not surprisingly I find myself longing to have the Saxo back – at 805kgs it was nearly a third of a ton lighter, despite having roughly the same power output.

Corners are a similar situation. The Corsa comes with rather lifeless power-assisted steering and rolly-poly suspension, yet somehow it still possesses a rather firm ride over small bumps and ridges. This isn’t bad enough to be a problem, but it seems at odds with the amount of body roll. It’s not a driver’s car then, but push the baby Vauxhall a little harder and you’ll discover it actually grips tenaciously. Perhaps there’s some hope for the VXR version after all.

But what of this 1.2 Club model? Well, despite having few areas where it truly excels, there’s not a lot which would disappoint you as a no-thrills run-around. The driving experience may leave somewhat to be desired on the open road, but there’s nothing that would cause alarm in its natural habitat of suburbia. As cars of this class go, the cabin aesthetics are pretty reasonable and, as long as you’re not going up hill, it’s a relatively soothing place to be on the motorway. There’s certainly more of a quality feel than the Vauxhalls of old, but it doesn’t really go far enough to single the Corsa out in this very competitive market.

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