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Once enjoying great popularity in South Africa, the Opel badge has, over the years, lost the appeal once associated with its badge. Forgotten are the days of the legendary Superboss, Kadett 200t S and Calibra – replaced with dire memories of the brand’s later, more lacklustre efforts. Under the General Motors umbrella, Opel – along with many other brands, including now-defunct Saab – were neglected. As the Detroit-based corporation birthed one mediocre car after the other, the competition steamed ahead.
As a result, the previous-generation Corsa ‘E’ (also known as the X15) was a fairly unremarkable car, vying for a slice of the very lucrative B-segment pie. Locally, the Volkswagen Polo has always been a firm favourite, with the Ford Fiesta following behind closely. Wanting to re-establish their position as a serious player in this segment, the Rüsselsheim-based brand has introduced a brand new Corsa to SA.
The styling, while handsome, is conservative. Much like its fiercest rival, the Polo, it remains an attractive looking car, but manages to fly under the radar and not garner much attention. Painted in Hot Red, our test unit looked rather sleek. Similarly restrained 16-inch alloy wheels finish off the look. From the rear, the family resemblance to the outgoing Astra is noticeable.
Step inside the Corsa and you’ll find yourself in a similarly demure environment. A pleasant enough place to be, the materials used in the German hatchback are a mixture of rather good, soft-touch materials and some questionably harsh plastics. Spanning the width of the dashboard is a lovely, textured finish. Equally premium-feeling are the faux-leather door inserts and granite-look trim elements. However, some of the plastics – particularly around the gear lever – felt cheap to the touch. A leather-wrapped steering wheel does, at least, give a luxurious feel.
Trimmed in durable cloth, the seats should be praised not only for their support, but comfort too. Even on long journeys, no sign of back pain or discomfort is to be felt. What’s more, they’re heated too – a boon in the middle of winter. On the equipment front, this Corsa Luxury model is generously equipped, sporting niceties like LED headlamps, cruise control and auto headlamps/wipers as standard. The seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system is easy-to-use, and includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, as well as Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
More impressive is the little Opel’s extensive list of safety features. Sporting technology one would expect to see in a premium saloon, the Corsa Luxury boasts the usual – six airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounts, ABS with EBD and electronic stability control. But you also receive traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist, a driver drowsiness alert, front pedestrian detection and collision mitigation braking at lower speeds.
Passenger space is on par with most rivals, although the rear bench can feel a touch cramped for taller passengers. However, the Fiesta and C3 suffer a similar problem. The boot is commodious, offering 309 L and extending further to 1081 with the rear bench folded down.
The 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol engine is undoubtedly the highlight of the package. Peppy, athletic and energetic, the powertrain pulls strongly from any speed. Opel claims a 0-100 km/h time of 8.7 seconds, which is very sprightly for a run-of-the-mill hatchback. It sounds great, too – under hard acceleration, it growls and grunts as it charges up to the redline. Even the economy isn’t bad. Opel claims the Corsa will use just 6.3 L/100 km. Over my week with the hatchback, I managed to average 8.1.
Through the corners, it’s a similar story. It feels nimble and alert, shimmying through the bends with poise and balance. The steering provides plenty of feedback, working with the three-cylinder to provide an engaging driving experience. In fact, the six-speed automatic gearbox seems to be the only weak link, with a hesitancy to change up (or down) numbing the experience. In town, it’s mostly well-behaved, although it does tend to slip in a jerky gear change every now and then.
Despite the dynamic prowess, it rides rather beautifully. Certainly aided by the 16-inch alloy wheels and plump tyres, the Corsa manages to shrug off bumps in a way that very few rivals (buttery-soft Citroën C3 excluded) can.
At R386 900, the range-topping Corsa 1.2 T Elegance is crammed full of safety and convenience equipment. What’s more, it offers an entertaining drive and a very supple ride. The service plan could be a bit longer (three year/45 000 km), but overall it’s a solid offering. Problem is, it simply does not have the reputation of its peers, the Fiesta and Polo. Both are backed by a sizeable dealer network, and thanks to their popularity, enjoy great resale value.
Still, the Corsa has myriad positive attributes. It may not turn the B-segment on its head, but importantly, the new model shows great promise for the Opel brand and offers buyers even more choice in a segment fit to burst with talented offerings.
Opel Corsa 1.2 T Elegance
Price: R386 900
Power: 96 kW/235 Nm
Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km (claimed)
Top speed: 208 km/h
Rivals: Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo
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