REVIEW | Opel returns to form with the 2021 Corsa Elegance 1.2T
It took awhile but the sixth-generation PSA-engineered Opel Corsa is finally on sale in SA. Thomas Falkiner took one for a test drive so he could answer all your burning questions.
What are we looking at here?
The sixth-generation Corsa is the first Opel product to hit the streets since the marque was snapped up by the PSA Group (now part of Stellantis) in 2017. Originally it was going to built on the GM G2XX platform but after the French took charge this idea was scrapped and a brand new Corsa — based on the Peugeot 208 — was brought into production after just two years. An impressive feat in this day and age if you sit down and think about it.
Already available overseas since 2019 the Corsa Mk6 only launched in SA at the beginning of the year thanks to the veritable dog-and-pony show that was 2020. Was it worth the wait then? Well from an aesthetic point of view, yes, certainly. The PSA Group design team did a cracking job penning this latest Corsa and it's definitely more interesting to look at than its rivals from Ford and Volkswagen — particularly in range-topping Elegance spec.
Interesting. Any good to drive?
It is, actually. While the Corsa of old was lukewarm at best this new model definitely ups the ante so far as driving dynamics go. Riding on a taught and eager chassis, the Elegance model I had on test showed a hearty appetite for corners and threaded through them with an enthusiasm that's long been absent from everyday Opel products. It feels light, agile and genuinely chuckable — that nose quick to turn in towards your chosen apex point.
Now while the ride is firm and can get a bit choppy at slower speeds across poor surfaces, the Corsa on the whole does manage to strike a pleasing balance between sportiness and comfort. The steering, meanwhile, is electronically power-assisted and suffers from a disappointing lack of feel around the centre position and on initial turn in. Sure, it gets a bit better once things start loading up but it's certainly not the most communicative set-up you're ever likely to encounter. Although in 2021 I guess this rings true of most cars.
What's hiding beneath the bonnet?
Pop the hood and your eyes will be met by a teeny 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol motor that manages to churn out 96kW and a useful 230Nm worth of torque. It's a relatively characterful unit that sounds good (three-pots are one of few engines that still sound like engines these days) and delivers nippy performance. Opel says the Corsa will hit 0-100km/h in 8.7 seconds and out in the real world this claim seems bang on target.
I also found it surprisingly tractable: a strong midrange means that the six-speed automatic transmission (there's no option of a manual) seldom has to go on the hunt for gears. Sticking with the business of swapping cogs I've got to say that this auto gearbox isn't the best of the breed. It's adequate in the daily commute or cruising on down the highway but when you feel like exploiting the Corsa's sorted chassis it quickly starts to feel flustered and hesitant, especially on downshifts. Also, you don't get gear paddles on the steering wheel so if you want to do things the old fashioned manual way you're limited to using the gear lever. Yep, one gets the feeling that Opel could have tried harder here.
Fuel consumption? Opel claims 6.3l/100km but over a week of driving I got 7.7l/100km.
How's life behind the wheel?
From a pure ergonomics perspective, excellent. In fact I would say the Corsa is probably the new class benchmark so far as this is concerned. The driver's seat is comfortable and supportive and offers plenty of adjustment to help you find your ideal driving position. The small diameter multifunction steering wheel also has plenty of rake and reach adjustment, which is a real boon if you're blessed with abnormally long legs like I am.
With that out the way I've got to report that everything else is, well, a little bland. You would think that Peugeot, the king of extrovert interiors, would have injected the Corsa's interior with some visual pizazz, some flair but unfortunately they've done no such thing. From the featureless plastics and dated looking switchgear to the dull digital instrument cluster display that looks like it was designed using an old CGA computer plucked from the late 1980s, the cabin of the sixth-generation Corsa really is a disappointing low.
It does come with a fair amount of features though, including a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system (yes, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported), heated front seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror plus LED headlamps with high-beam assist. Having said this, however, I do think it's pretty damn mean that you don't get a reversing camera on a car that costs nearly R400k. Instead you have to rely on parking sensors. The 309l boot is reasonable but smaller than the one in the Polo (350l). Rear legroom is also tight: with the driver's seat set to my frame there's hardly any space back there.
So, worth looking at? I'm in the market ...
The Corsa — in turbocharged Elegance specification — is worthy of your attention if you're looking at garaging something other than a VW Polo, Ford Fiesta or Nissan Micra. It's great to look at, good to drive and comes with enough tech and safety features to keep most modern buyers happy. I just wish Opel hadn't suddenly lost interest at the interior.
Another slight caveat to consider here is the Corsa's price tag. As it stands, it will set you back more than the equivalent Polo and Fiesta models but slightly less than the left-field Micra. Will customers cough up extra to steer away from the traditionally more popular VW and Ford? Only time will tell I guess. Regardless, it's encouraging to see Opel back in the game with a properly decent product offering. Hopefully lots more will soon follow.
Fast Facts: 2021 Opel Corsa Elegance 1.2T
ENGINE: 1,199cc three-cylinder turbo
POWER: 96kW at 5,500rpm
TORQUE: 230Nm at 1,750rpm
TRANSMISSION: six-speed auto
0-100KM/H: 8.7-seconds (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 208km/h (claimed)
FUEL: 7.7l/100km (achieved)