Richard Aucock | April 2015
In a sector dominated by the brilliant Ford Fiesta ST – an unquestionable five-star car – Vauxhall is itching for a fight. And has been to the Nurburgring to up the Corsa’s punch and give it a fighting chance.
Literally, been to the Nurburgring: the Vauxhall/Opel performance car development centre is sited on the other side of the road to Nurburgring’s iconic miles-long straight, led by Volker Strycek, whom history books record as the 1984, and first, DTM champion. Race-bred, ‘Ring-tuned? Literally.
Headline figures first. As standard, it has 205hp and a swelled 180lb ft of torque (with five seconds of overboost). The torque curve is also broader, giving it more meat throughout the rev range. This is good for 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, a 143mph top speed and, more worryingly, a barely-improved 37.7mpg and 174g/km. Only the colour is green for the car pictured here.
While the 1.6-litre turbo has largely been breathed upon (and now breathes far better courtesy of its standard twin-pipe Remus exhaust), the chassis has, by comparison, been totally overhauled. It gets standard (and clever) Koni Frequency Selective Dampers, 10mm lower springs, new bushes, new uprights, a stiffer rear axle, new steering – even the ESC tuning is all-new.
That’s not all. There’s now a £2,400 Performance Pack option that adds more focused Koni FSD dampers, bigger 330mm four-pot Brembo front brakes (they’re 308mm as standard), 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sports plus, deep joy, a mechanical Drexler limited-slip differential. Serious stuff: in a sector where, say, the latest Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo’s softness so disappoints, it’s a refreshingly extreme approach.
Vauxhall believes every other buyer in the UK will go for the Performance Pack and, as the halo car that is appreciably more focused than the standard model, we decided to focus on it for our first drive. As you’ll read, so too should you…
What’s the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack like to drive?
On the road, with initial expectations dampened by the feel-similar interior, it proves a thriller. The bombastic old Corsa VXR Nurburgring and Clubsport models upon which it’s based (and carries a £2,000 price advantage over) were fun but lairy and a bit uncouth. This delivers all the spirit of the old-shape cars but with an unexpected extra slice of sophistication.
Several things stand out. Ride quality for one. We forgive the Fiesta ST’s stiff ride because it’s such a cultured performance car to drive. The Corsa VXR PP shows that tight and occasional harshness perhaps isn’t obligatory. Sure, it’s firm and sporting, but real roughness is kept at bay despite the 18-inch wheels, and body control is very classy. Indeed, thanks to it being tied down a bit more firmly, it’s perhaps more comfortable than the softer, looser standard car here.
The effervescence given to the driving experience by the limited-slip differential is also uniquely welcome. Rivals either don’t bother distributing traction between the front wheels so well, or try to fake it by electronic means. Having such direct, mechanical input is terrifically grin-inducing; floor it into corners, feel the front end pulled into the bend and wrestle with the steering as you straighten up. It’s a blast.
The old Nurburgring had this, but the new VXR PP drops in other new areas of sophistication, such as brake linearity, power delivery, gearbox directness (not Fiesta-crisp but shorter-throw than before), refinement, interior appeal, general composure and even exhaust sound quality. Which makes it as jewel-like as a Fiesta ST, then? Well, not quite.
While undoubtedly exciting, charismatic and very thrilling, the VXR PP doesn’t quite have the subtlety and granularity of the Fiesta. That car rewards even when you’re pootling; this needs to be picked up by the scruff of its neck to excite. It’s cracking fun and very fast – the sweet-spinning engine’s low-rev flexibility is bolstered by a real surge from 4,000rpm to the (strict) 6,500rpm redline for a flood of power – but it’s still a bit blunt if you don’t have the front end and the diff hooked in.
The softness of the straight-ahead steering, fluff in initial brake pedal bite and lack of feel through the accelerator are all things you’d notice if stepping from a Fiesta ST – until, that is, the roads cleared and you got chance to find out where the VXR PP’s strengths lie…
Does the Corsa VXR Performance Pack sock it to the Fiesta ST?
The Fiesta stands proud in this sector of warmer-than-hot rivals. Renault scored an own goal with the Clio 200 Turbo, the Polo GTI is Germanically satisfying and the 208 GTI is nice, but none has the all-encompassing satisfaction delivered by the Fiesta. Neither does the Corsa VXR PP. But it does dish up a bucketload of charisma lacking in its rivals.
That’s enough to see it eyeball the Fiesta, and probably nose ahead for those who value hot hatch staples of exciting looks, street appeal and a marvelous set of seats above Ford’s trick of making a sporty Fiesta feel like a cut-price Porsche.
Look at it, all spoilers, open-spoke 18-inch alloys, branded tyres, brakes and exhausts, Bi-xenon headlights combined with LED running lights and, yes, that slice of air intake at the bonnet’s trailing edge. Showroom appeal: off the scale, and a damn sight more standout than the overfamiliar Fiesta.
The hard-shell Recaros are the same as before and none the worse for that, a flat-bottom steering wheel is neat and the new IntelliLink touchscreen system adds modern app-deep sophistication for free. Yup, impressively, it’s standard.
All this, combined with the fact its right-road, fast-scrabbling bang is so big and buzz-inducing, will be enough to convince some it’s the car for them. We’ll entirely understand this, and appreciate the extra depth of car they’re buying into.
But, for us, it isn’t quite enough to topple the Fiesta’s fully-formed appeal. Even if it does now get our nod over everything else in this thriving sector…
Verdict: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)
The Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack takes the highs of the old Nurburgring and Clubsport models, rounds them off, throws in an extra dose of depth and ends up being a cracking supermini hot hatch. Within five minutes of getting in it, we felt we were having the thrilling drive of our life.
The more in-depth reality is that it’s still a little route one, all about the unique front diff, particularly the sharp bite, fearsome traction and, yes, even the firework steering thrills it serves up. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Hot hatches for some are all about controlled explosions and this is the most explosive of the lot.
It’s just that, for us, the fully-formed performance composure of the Fiesta would ultimately be more satisfying, particularly if you’re living with it day to day and want to feel good on a quiet Sunday tour rather than a redline-thwacking, foot-floored-in-second, steering-wheel-fighting magnetic surge around a tight right-hander. But boy, how good it does feel in said tight right-hander…
Rivals: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Volkswagen Polo GTI
- Peugeot 208 GTI
- Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo
- SEAT Ibiza Cupra
The Ford Fiesta ST is the undisputed class leader, sitting far ahead of the rest. The Volkswagen Polo GTI is good, though, and the Peugeot 208 GTI is a nice choice for those seeking a grown-up hot hatch. The Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo simply lacks the fine breeding of earlier models and is thus a disappointment; so too is the Ibiza Cupra.
Specification: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack (2015)
Engine 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder
Gearbox Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive (with mechanical LSD)
Price £20,395 (Prices from £17,995)
Torque 180lb ft (280NM)
0-62mph 6.8 seconds (0-60mph: 6.5 seconds)
Top speed 143mph