REVIEW | The new 2021 Opel Corsa is a little charmer
The Corsa was once a staple for the Opel brand, in its former heydays under General Motors.
From the bubble-shaped second-generation (B) which inaugurated its local presence, to the attitude-packed OPC of the D-generation, this is a nameplate with a strong affinity among the local car-buying public.
Lest we forget, SA even had light pickup variants of the beloved Corsa, before the Chevrolet Utility took over proceedings.
By now you know that General Motors no longer owns Opel. The brand was acquired by the PSA Group (Peugeot, Citroën) in 2017 and earlier this year came the announcement that PSA would merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to form super-conglomerate, Stellantis.
But back to the Corsa. The latest, sixth-generation car arrived in SA this month. Units had been seen floating around in dealerships last year already, but the official introduction had been delayed ostensibly due to Covid-19 and other administrative issues.
Colleague Ziphorah Masethe from Ignition TV wrote the launch report for us and came away impressed overall, hailing the effort as a worthy rival to the vaunted Volkswagen Polo.
So expectations were high when the burgundy test unit arrived last week, in top-tier 1.2T Elegance specification. The other two versions in the range are powered by the same 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine, sans turbocharger. Power and torque in the case of the boosted Elegance is 96kW and 230Nm, transmitted to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The stylistic persona of the Corsa has certainly matured from the dinky and rounded Lite we all knew. Generation six has squared edges, a determined expression on its face and thoughtfully-placed character lines down the side.
It shares a platform with the second-generation Peugeot 208, which can be expected on local shores later this year. Eagle-eyed observers will spot the French connection: there are parts from the Peugeot catalogue. The side mirrors, for example. Compare the profiles of each car and the relationship is undeniable.
Front occupants will delight in the wide and sufficiently-bolstered seats of the Corsa. At first glance, quality seems a touch above that of the earlier-mentioned Polo in certain areas — the door panels, for example, are not as coarse as they are in the Volkswagen. But the Corsa lacks a squishy, soft-touch dashboard. The driving position is wonderfully snug, with a contoured steering wheel that feels satisfyingly thick in the palms.
Performance is sprightly, while the three-cylinder soundtrack becomes endearing as the tachometer needle winds out. It produces a hearty thrum. A hard right foot obviously means your consumption figures will be north of the quoted 6.3l/100km, but not dramatically. Keeping up with the cut-and-thrust of traffic and merging safely onto the freeway was never problematic for the zesty Corsa.
There was one gripe, however: the gearbox seemed to lag, with a noticeable delay before the next cog was abruptly engaged. It was pronounced at slower, around-town speeds. A definite demerit when considering the slickness of the dual-clutch automatic that can be had with its direct rival.
The level of equipment in the Elegance is good, with LED headlamps, heated seats, front and rear park assist, traffic sign recognition, automatic wipers, autonomous emergency braking at low speeds and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, to name a few.
But it does not seem like a veritable bargain at R386,900. The non-turbocharged 1.2N Edition model costs R92,000 less and while it omits certain niceties, it still has all the essentials, including cruise control and the same number of airbags (six) as the Elegance.
Locally, Opel is in a phase of rebuilding. Its new custodians have plans to cultivate the equity that the brand enjoyed before. Competent products are obviously essential to such an undertaking. The new Corsa is a step in the right direction.