If you thought South Africa’s love affair with the pick-up was somewhat peculiar, then you’d only be partially correct. There are other nations, such as America and, perhaps ironically, Iraq, that share our passion for these hardy machines. Far more unique to the land of biltong and Mandela, however, is a big appetite for half-tonne pick-ups. There’s almost no other country where they are as desirable, except perhaps certain nations in South America. The reason? Well, you have to say we’re an outdoorsy nation, and we need to stretch our rands, so a vehicle that doubles as an affordable leisure toy and practical workhorse is always going to succeed.
In many ways the Opel Corsa Utility represents the latest evolution of a very specific breed. Partly developed in South America and further refined in South Africa, it is no longer strictly speaking a half-tonne vehicle. You see, it can carry a load of 735 kg! It’s got rear side steps, a neat plastic liner that runs along the top of the bin with tie-down points, as well as a few more conveniently placed inside the load bay. It may look rather pretty, but given its load-carrying credentials, it’s also a pretty serious worker. The figures don’t lie – the Ford Bantam, VW Caddy and vintage Nissan Champ are simply no longer in the same league!
But what about the leisure aspect? If anything, it has to be said that the Opel Corsa Utility is as impressive from that point of view as it is as a purely practical tool. It looks modern, with the front-end of the Opel Corsa, and rather funky aft of the B-pillar. Backwards from there it gains some serious curves, a sporty roof spoiler/tie-down bar and even side-mounted steps a la certain American full-size pick-ups. This Sport version rides on neat 14-inch alloy wheels and sports front foglamps and a generous amount of colour coding.
The Opel Corsa Utility cabinThe interior knocks anything else available straight back into the stone age where they’ve come from. The facia is from the Opel Corsa, complete with the flagship GSI model’s white-faced instrumentation. The centre piece of the facia is a neat silver-faced section that incorporates an integrated radio/CD sound system. The individual bucket seats are upholstered in a vibrant print and the driver’s chair is adjustable for height (the steering wheel is not). It’s a very youthful-feeling cabin. It is also very spacious, with excellent head- and shoulder-room. Nissan Champ drivers will certainly feel like they’ve stepped into a luxury car. There’s even useful space behind the front seats to store valuable items out of sight.
On the roadDiesel pick-ups of this size are few and far between. Nissan and Volkswagen don’t offer anything, and only Ford has a somewhat underpowered 44 kW oil-burner in the Bantam. This Opel’s 55 kW/165 N.m 1,7-litre turbodiesel is therefore somewhat of a revelation. It doesn’t only endow the Opel Corsa Utility with the best acceleration figures and the strongest pulling power, but also the best fuel economy. Yes, it is somewhat noisy, but the Ford is no better, and the Opel smoothes out rather nicely once up to the speed limit. The five-speed ‘box is typical Opel fare, somewhat recalcitrant and not one to be rushed. However, you soon learn to adapt your driving style to the Opel’s powertrain, surfing the “surge” of torque that follows a well-timed gearshift.
Around town the Opel Corsa Utility is similar to any other small hatchback to drive. The ride quality is good, aided by the longer wheelbase (compared with the previous Corsa) and generous suspension travel. Strangely, the steering on this vehicle felt more direct than the somewhat wishy-washy feedback from a Corsa hatch or sedan. Overall, given its “cool” looks, economy, well-specced and spacious cabin, the Opel Corsa Utility is likely to gain as much traction with young buyers looking for a leisure activity vehicle (or even student car), as those in need of something compact and economical that can work hard.
Opel Corsa Utility - VerdictThe Opel Corsa Utility 1,7 DTI Sport is a little more expensive than its direct rivals, but the price is entirely justified. It is a vehicle that is very hard to fault given its intended purpose. Stack it up against its ageing rivals from Ford, Nissan and VW, and it looks like unbeatable value.
- Spacious cabin
- Build quality
- Leisure/workhorse balance
- Fuel economy
- Load-carrying ability
- Noisy engine
Engine: 1,7-litre, turbodiesel, four-cylinder
Power: 55 kW @ 4 400 rpm
Torque: 165 N.m @ 1 800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 14-inch alloy
Top speed: 150 km/h
0-100 km/h: 15,4 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,14 litres/100 km
- Ford Bantam 1,8D XL: The Ford is a popular purchase, but outclassed by the Opel Corsa Utility. The cabin is smaller, the engine less powerful and it can’t match the Corsa for load-carrying ability.
- Volkswagen Caddy Club: Only available with petrol power and significantly cheaper, but for a reason. Its design is archaic compared with the Opel Corsa Utility and it lacks the mod-cons too.