Opel Corsa GSi: the go doesn't quite match the show
Opel's latest lukewarm hatch offering is rather curious. We answer your pressing questions about it
GSi? Is that like the Opel equivalent of Volkswagen's GTi nomenclature?
Right on. Flip back through the Opel history book and you'll see that those three chrome letters were reserved for hot-hatch icons such as the Kadett GSi that rocked the performance establishment back in the 1980s. Known as the "Boss" or "Superboss" depending on what tune of engine happened to be fitted, these glorious machines spent years wrestling for supremacy with the Golf GTi, not just on the road but on the racetrack too. Heck, they even gave the more powerful BMW 325is a hard time.
Anyway, as the 1980s came to an end and the happy glow of synth-pop made way for the angst of grunge, the GSi badge kind of faded into obscurity; every now and then popping up out of nowhere to adorn a few decidedly lukewarm Opel products that time has all but forgotten. Well now it's returned to grace the rump of this new sporty-looking Corsa parked before you.
So going on this brief history lesson I take it that the new Corsa GSi will be one of two things - fast or forgettable. Which is it?
Fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels, an aggressive bodykit and roof spoiler to boot, this Opel certainly looks quick - much like the Corsa OPC models of old. However, once you find an empty stretch of road and nail the throttle to the firewall, well, let's just say that the go doesn't quite match the show.
It looks like a vehicular extra from the 'Fast & Furious' franchise
Reason being that the Corsa GSi only has a relatively modest 1.4-litre turbocharged motor living under its bonnet. Consequently forward progress always proves tepid rather than hot - most diesel-powered SUVs won't have a problem getting away from this Opel in an impromptu traffic-light grand prix. Which is kind of embarrassing considering that it looks like a vehicular extra from the Fast & Furious franchise.
Still, when driving in isolation you can extract a reasonable level of excitement provided you keep on boost and make the most of that six-speed manual transmission that here has been fitted with shorter ratios for better in-gear acceleration. When not caning it you'll also discover that the Corsa GSi has usefully long cruising legs, which makes it a surprisingly good companion on those lengthier highway trips.
Okay, so we've established that it isn't particularly rapid - does it handle well at least?
Yes - perhaps the single greatest thing about the Corsa GSi is the way it scythes though corners thanks to its OPC sport suspension that was apparently tuned across the gnarly curvature of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. As such it gets a 10mm drop plus firmer springs and dampers.
FAST FACTS: Opel Corsa GSi
• ENGINE: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo
• POWER: 110kW at 5,000rpm
• TORQUE: 220Nm from 3000 to 4500rpm
• TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
• 0-100KM/H: 8.9-seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 207km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 6.4l/100km (claimed combined)
• PRICE: From R360,900
Low-speed driving is a stiff and jiggly affair but once you build some momentum things smooth out well and the Corsa GSi morphs into a properly nimble driving machine - one that allows you to carry an impressive lick of pace through whatever kinks the road fires your way.
Body roll is minimal and grip levels are astounding courtesy of those sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 215/40 profile tyres.
The only downside to all this poise is that the Corsa GSi isn't particularly playful and I found it tricky to provoke any rearward movement by coming sharply off the throttle after corner entry. And even if you do manage to incite some sideways shuffle it will be quickly quelled by the ESC system that can never be fully neutered.
The steering frustrates one too, for despite being quick and direct it telegraphs little about the tyre's relationship with the asphalt beneath you. More feedback would not go amiss.
Tell me about the cabin - is the interior as extrovert as the exterior?
As with so many other aspects of this Opel, the innards of the Corsa GSi charm and frustrate in equal measure. The driving position is near perfect for a car of this class and it's an absolute cinch to get comfortable behind the wheel thanks to generous reach and rake steering column adjustment. The aluminium pedals are well spaced for heel-and-toe work and the front seats (heated and leather-wrapped items supplied by the gods at Recaro) provide an excellent blend of comfort and body-hugging support.
Dislikes? While the infotainment system is somewhat clunky and outdated the onboard computer is - to me - unfathomable. Perhaps I'm a complete imbecile but I could not work out how to make it show me my average and instantaneous fuel consumption levels. Also, I don't know who signed off the gear knob but it's probably one of the most ungainly shapes you've ever wrapped your fingers around. Opel also stitched it together with what feels like old fishing gut it's so rough and prickly to the touch.
These niggles aside, the interior is well built and sturdy and gives you creature comforts such as cruise control, Opel's excellent driver assistance pack as well as a heated steering wheel. There's also a heated windscreen, which is quite handy in winter.
One last question - is it worth it?
Yeah, kind of. The Opel Corsa GSi is a bit of a strange car as it's currently sitting all on its own out in a vehicular no-man's land. The Ford Fiesta ST - its main rival overseas - is no longer available in SA so its closest local competitor is the more expensive (+R32,500) Volkswagen Polo GTI. The Polo in standard specification is nowhere near as well equipped as the Corsa but it terms of straight-line punch the Volkswagen will leave the Opel picking up its teeth off the tarmac after every encounter.
But in terms of handling I'd say there's not much between the two. So if you favour cornering fun over robot-to-robot drag racing then the Corsa GSi definitely makes a case for itself. It feels a bit more special too with its racy styling and those special Recaro seats.
However, before you rush out and drive one, just remember that the new turbocharged Suzuki Swift Sport will be launching here shortly: a hatch that packs similar power and torque figures but should manage to undercut the Corsa GSi in terms of price.