It's tough to be Opel. Once one of Europe's (and South Africa's) most popular car brands, it has seen its share of the market decline significantly in recent years. It's not entirely attributable to product, either.
No, many analysts point to General Motors' poor management of the Opel brand. Rival Volkswagen is successfully climbing up the premium ladder and gets away with charging a premium, which Opel has failed to replicate.
On the other hand, it has to fight off an aggressive onslaught from the Korean brands that are rising through the ranks. So, Opel is unsure where it wants to go premium, or stay a brand for the masses. With the latest Opel Corsa 1.3 CDTI Enjoy, it appears to suggest it could be a premium car for masses...
Mini-Astra stylingThe latest Corsa is a very grown-up looking car, borrowing many styling cues from its bigger sibling, the Astra. This is a good thing in the sense that it lends the Corsa an upmarket aura, which sits well with its maker's quasi-premium aspirations. On the other hand, the "mature" design does rob the Corsa of some youthful appeal.
Ultimately, however, a closer inspection of the Opel Corsa 1.3 CDTI Enjoy reveals excellent build quality, with tight panel gaps and a superb paint finish.
Sit down on the firm, but ultimately comfortable driver's seat, shut the weighty feeling door and take in an interior that rivals the best in this class for perceived quality. Yes, soft-touch plastics are hard (pun intended) to find, but the look of the facia is upmarket and the detailing excellent. The controls also have a Germanic solidness about them. The driving position is excellent, with a height-adjustable seat and rake/reach-adjustment for the steering wheel (which features very neat remote audio controls). In fact, it is clear that General Motors
SA has specced this Corsa to be comfort-oriented. Also on the standard features list are; air-conditioning, electric windows in front, electric mirror adjustment, cruise control, remote central locking and an audio system with iPod compatibility.
New Corsa may be a bigger car than its forebear, but the dimensions haven't been stretched too much. Consequently rear legroom is better than before, but not quite best in class, while the size of the boot is about average for this class. Interestingly, the boot features a double floor. With the rear seats folded flat, and the double floor in its highest position, a completely flat load floor is offered.
Alternatively, with the floor in its lowest position, the size of the boot is increased.
Mini Diesel Opel's 1.3-litre, common-rail direct injection, turbodiesel engine powers this Corsa - previously a 1.7-litre Isuzu unit was used. This 1.3-litre engine's outputs (66 kW and 200 Nm) are class competitive, and power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. The engine is impressively refined, being one of those rare diesels that likes to rev, even all the way up to 5 000 rpm, without much of that diesel clatter and vibration reaching the cabin.
It is also very frugal - with a fuel consumption figure of 4.6 litres/100 km it is among the most economical in this segment – and yet the power delivery around town is good, too.
Unfortunately, the picture is less rosy at higher speeds and out on the open road. The problem is the gearing. Sixth gear is very tall, which means lots of gearing down for the hills, itself not entirely pleasurable as the shift action is typically Opel - rubbery. One can learn to drive around this problem, however, and fundamentally this Corsa is not a bad cruiser, just one that requires some planning when an overtaking situation presents itself.
Comfort-oriented rideAround town the Corsa is a convincing daily runner with premium aspirations. The cabin is quiet and refined, and the controls work with a well-oiled slickness and solidity that never fails to impress.
Opel's engineers selected a comfort-oriented approach for the Corsa's suspension set-up and consequently the ride is cosseting and quiet.
Unlike previous-generation Corsas, this is not a car that will awaken the enthusiast driver in you - it doesn't come across as particularly agile, for example - but for the majority of likely buyers, the set-up is probably spot-on. Interestingly traction control is standard fitment, which is probably unnecessary in a car with such little power. If there's one major criticism, it is the steering. The assistance feels very artificial and is also inconsistent, resulting in lots of adjustments having to be made.
VerdictThe Corsa has grown up, and all the boy racer antics of previous generation cars are a thing of the past. In its place we now have a mature, sophisticated product that rivals the VW Polo very strongly on perceived build quality and refinement. The flaws are few and even negligible with prolonged exposure, so the Corsa is well-positioned to play an important role in Opel's climb up the premium ladder. But it will take time. True desirability usually comes not only from being consistent, but also requires something outstanding, and this Corsa, consistently good as it is, needs that one stand-out feature to help it break-through in this market.
Stylish, well-built interior
We don't like:
Engine: 1.3-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 66 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm @ 1 700-2 500 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 172 km/h
0-100 km/h: 12.7 seconds
Fuel economy: 4.6 litres/100 km
Unfairly ignored by the South African car market, this well-built Renault offers a classy interior and good specification level. It is slightly down on power, but you're unlikely to notice it on the road. No standard service plan, though.
An older offering, for sure, but the engine is a good one, with impressive refinement and a good combination of performance and economy. Fun to drive, too...
Not a regular sight on South African roads and therefore something of a well-kept secret. Lots of power, though refinement could be better. Interior is reasonably spacious and comfortable but not up to the same levels of build as its European rivals.