I wanted to love the Vauxhall Corsa VXR. Really, I did. I wanted to return from Scotland with tales of how it vanquished its arch enemy, the Ford Fiesta ST, and how it could take the throne as the king of the affordable hot hatch.
But alas, I return with no such stories of bravery and valour. Instead I find myself wishing the Corsa VXR felt a little more unhinged. Surprisingly, Vauxhall appears to have played it safe with its new pocket rocket.
Take the styling, which is hardly daring. Sure, there are smatterings of small details designed to make the VXR stand out amongst less well-endowed Corsas. But to my eyes it just isn’t enough, especially when you consider that your neighbour, his best friend and that weird bloke from accounts will end up buying some kind of Corsa.
In fairness, the same could be said about the Ford Fiesta ST, which also has a tendency to blend in…
Vauxhall has shown restraint with the interior. The quality of the fit and finish is streets ahead of the previous VXR, but aside from small badges on the base of the steering wheel and the gear knob, there’s little to suggest you’re sitting in an expensive Corsa.
Expensive? Surely the £17,995 price tag is a bargain. It is – after all – some £1,000 cheaper than the outgoing Corsa VXR. Yes, but there’s a catch. The sub £18k screen price will lure you in to the showroom, but you’ll want to upgrade to the curiously-named Performance Pack to enjoy the full-fat VXR experience.
Curious in the respect that it doesn’t offer a smidgen of extra power. Instead, it gives you the tools with which to enjoy the full quota of 202bhp on offer from the Corsa VXR. Which means 330mm Brembo four-piston front brakes, 18-inch alloy wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Supersport rubber, a Drexler LSD and retuned Koni dampers. The car is more engaging, so it’s £2,400 worth spent.
Which, of course, takes the screen price up to £20,500. No longer the bargain it first appeared.
That the new Corsa VXR is quick is in no doubt. Indeed, it’s the most powerful Corsa VXR ever to grace the planet, assuming you can ignore that heavily modified example you saw exiting the McDonald’s car park last night. The 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mph put the tiny tearaway in sports car taming territory.
It’ll also sprint from 50-75mph in 6.4 seconds, giving it terrific mid-range punch. But the pace is delivered with little in the way of theatre. Part of the problem is a disappointingly muted soundtrack from the Remus twin-exhaust system, which is despite Vauxhall making a big thing about how it pushed the noise levels to the road-legal limit.
At best it sounds average, at worst it sounds painful, especially at 5,000rpm. No doubt an aftermarket tuner will be able to sort this problem. In the meantime, your best bet would be to settle back into the excellent Recaro seats (leather is optional) and make use of your happening tunes saved to your smartphone and synced via the IntelliLink infotainment system.
It’s a well-equipped thing – you even get cruise control, bi-xenon headlights and a heated windscreen. We’ve come a long way from the days of the Nova SRi.
So we’ve established that the Vauxhall Corsa VXR is quick and well-equipped, but how does it feel? Well, truth be told, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Without the Performance Pack, the ride and handling is OK, but nothing more. The front wheels are all too eager to break loose and there’s more than a hint of body roll. Sure, there’s plenty of grip, but overall, the Corsa VXR just feels a bit soft. So the only option is to fit the Performance Pack, which has one or two issues of its own.
With the Michelin-shod 18-inch rims and the Koni dampers, the ride is unashamedly firm, but all the better for it. Some may find it jarring, especially on seriously pitted roads, but there’s a greater connection with the road. Just make sure you can live with the ride on a daily basis.
The torque steer is still there and you’ll need to be on your guard to keep the Corsa VXR in line when exiting bends or performing scolded cat manoeuvres. At times it can be rather violent and you’ll be wresting with the steering just to keep the Corsa between the white lines. Still, at least the car is showing some much needed unhinged qualities.
There’s also a sharpness to the steering, which is wonderfully direct, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel is nicely sculpted and wouldn’t look and feel out of place in a sports car costing a great deal more than the Corsa VXR. In fact, the steering wheel and Recaro seats combine to deliver a terrific driving position. The six-speed short-throw gearbox is also a delight, though it is sadly ruined by an oversized gear knob.
Put it this way, if – like me – you’re not a driving god, the Performance Pack will flatter your driving skills in a manner the standard Corsa VXR simply cannot achieve. The Performance Pack is the full-fat Corsa VXR experience. You really don’t want the diet version.
But here’s the thing. Even taking into account the undoubted pace, the trickery of the Performance Pack and the excellent seats, there’s some magic and sparkle missing from the Corsa VXR. A few hours in a wet and cold Scotland probably weren’t enough for the Corsa VXR to show its true colours.
It’s a huge amount of fun when you take it by the scruff of the neck, but it’s as though you have to prod it with a stick to get the best from it. As a track day tool, a Performance Pack-equipped Corsa VXR is going to be a huge amount of fun, but while the Fiesta ST offers fun in any given circumstance, the Corsa VXR doesn’t.
Right now, without more time behind the wheel, I’d put the Corsa VXR just behind the 208 GTi. If you want the best hot hatch money can buy, get the Fiesta ST. If you want something a little more ‘everyday’, go for the 208.