REVIEW | The 2019 Corsa GSi brings the 'sport' without the sizzle

Hard suspension plus a lukewarm engine add up to a car with a serious identity crisis, writes Denis Droppa

05 September 2019 - 10:34 By Denis Droppa
The sporty body pack suggests more vigour than a 1.4 turbo engine. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
 The sporty body pack suggests more vigour than a 1.4 turbo engine. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Admittedly, Opel doesn’t claim that the new Corsa GSi is some kind of GTI beater.

So intent is the company on not pitching this car as a hot hatch, that it doesn’t even quote its top speed or 0-100km/h acceleration figures.

It refers to this Corsa as a “sport luxury car with a powertrain which focuses on everyday driving needs”.

“Opel is pioneering this new trend by gently distancing the new GSi badge from its historical pure performance roots,” says the press release.

Hmm, that might be a tough nut to crack given how GSi has become a synonym for speed ever since the glory days of the Opel Kadett GSi that raced in Group N in the 1980s and 1990s.

I reckon it would have been easier to give this Corsa a different moniker, and reserve GSi for an Opel with more passion in its pants than a 1.4l turbo engine with outputs of 110kW and 220Nm.

This is the same engine that powered the now-discontinued Corsa 1.4T Sport model, and that was a car I liked because it didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t and offered good bang for the buck with its R290,000 pricetag.

Tail spoiler and 18” mags are cool, but the GSi badge doesn’t belong. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Tail spoiler and 18” mags are cool, but the GSi badge doesn’t belong. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The new Corsa GSi has the same engine, is dressed up with a sporty body kit, fancy Recaro seats and rock-hard suspension, and sells for R365,900. There’s the rub.

In fairness there is a feel-good factor to driving the Corsa GSi as the engine revs sweetly and has decent midrange torque, while the short-shift six-speed manual gearbox makes this an enjoyable visceral driving experience in an age of auto cars. It shifts gears smoothly enough, and there’s enough power here to elicit slight torque steer at the front wheels, but ultimately it’s no hot hatch and the more powerful Polo GTI will run circles around it.

The experience of driving the Corsa GSi is generally overwhelmed by the brutally hard suspension, which feels like it’s been tuned to suit a car with a snarlingly powerful engine.

The suspension and brakes (with red calipers to raise the visual adrenaline) were set up on the Nurburgring Nordschleife and the package is topped off by 18-inch light alloy wheels and high-grip tyres. This makes the Corsa GSi predictably sharp and well-mannered in fast curves, as long as they’re not too bumpy. 

But pairing such an exceedingly sporty chassis with lukewarm power is jarring, like a heavyweight boxer with tiny arms.

The car certainly looks the part, with its large air intakes, honeycomb grille and moulded side sills. The external mirrors are in racing-look carbon colour and there’s a prominent spoiler on the derriere.

Inside, the GSi continues the sporty show-and-tell with nappa leather-clad Recaro seats, a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel and alloy pedals.

Body-hugging Recaro seats are perhaps overkill for 110kW of power. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Body-hugging Recaro seats are perhaps overkill for 110kW of power. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

As for the rest, the Corsa has aged pretty well for a four-year-old car. The interior fabrics and surfaces look smart and the infotainment and connectivity is all right up to date.  

One annoyance is that you have to hold down the button to engage the electric window’s auto up or down function, instead of just pushing it further to elicit an extra click.

This top-of-the-range Corsa is well stocked with features including some you wouldn’t expect in a small car including heated front seats, heated steering (Opel caters well for winters) and a Driver Assistance Pack that includes lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and forward collision alert.

One curious omission is that the onboard computer lacks an average fuel consumption reading, meaning we couldn’t verify the 5.8l /100km figure claimed by the factory.

With its hard ride and three doors the Corsa GSi doesn’t offer much family practicality, but the rear seats flip down to create a large cargo hold that’s big enough for bicycles and other bulky toys. There’s no spare wheel, just a puncture repair kit.

In summary, the Corsa Gsi is fairly entertaining to drive (apart from that teeth-rattling suspension) and it does have a certain youthful charm. It also costs 30 grand less than the considerably more powerful Polo GTI.

But I still think it doesn’t do justice to a badge that was forged on racetracks by drivers such as Mike Briggs and Grant McCleery. One can’t just hand out GSi badges like finisher medals at a 5km fun run. 

A car has to earn the tag and this Corsa just doesn’t quite make the grade. Call it a Sport if you have to, but don’t mess with a moniker that’s got so much high-performance history riding on it.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1,364cc

Power: 110kW

Torque: 220Nm

Transmission

Type: Six-speed manual

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

Performance

Top speed: N/A 

0-100km/h: N/A

Fuel Consumption: 5.8l/100 km/100km (claimed)

Emissions: 133g/km

Standard features

Nappa leather Recaro sports front seats with heating, aluminium pedals, OPC Line exterior sport pack, Bi-Xenon headlamps with cornering lights, LED daytime running lights, remote central locking, electric front windows, electric mirrors, climate control, heated steering wheel, cruise control, infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, ABS brakes, electronic stability programme (ESP), six airbags, hill-start assist, Driver Assistance Pack (lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, forward collision alert, following distance sensor and auto-dimming rear view mirror), 215/40 R18 tyres.

Warranty: Three years/120,000km

Maintenance plan: Three-year/60,000km service plan

Price: R365,900

Lease*: R7,869 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Opel Corsa GSi

We like: Styling, handling, sporty image

We dislike: Price, harsh ride, doesn’t do justice to GSi moniker

Verdict: Too much badge for the car

Motor News star rating

Design * * * * *

Performance * *

Economy * * *

Safety * * * *

Value For Money * * * 

Overall * * * 

Competition

Opel Corsa GSi, 110kW/220Nm — R365,900

Suzuki Swift 1.4T Sport, 103kW/230Nm — R315,900

VW Polo GTI, 147kW/320Nm — R398,400

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