CORSA VXR - GOES AS WELL AS IT LOOKS.
It used to be the case that performance hatchbacks were limited by some kind of gentlemen's agreement to no more than 150 bhp but that was blown out of the water by the arrival of the 197 bhp Renault Clio.
The Clio has had things pretty much all its own way but now it faces a genuine contender for class honours with this new Vauxhall Corsa VXR.
Vauxhall now has a VXR version of all its models, from the Meriva compact MPV through to the Vectra but to my mind the Corsa is by far and away the best executed and most convincing member of the family.
It looks absolutely sensational and of course, image is a crucial aspect of a car's appeal in this market. The stylists have done a brilliant job of adding just enough little details to make the VXR into a real head-turner.
It sits a little lower to the ground which helps, but then you take in the `shark gill' cooling slashes at front and rear, the alloy housing for the fog lights, the twin-spoke door mirrors more reminiscent of a supercar's and the huge alloy wheels, 17 inch as standard or 18 inch as an option, the biggest ever offered on a supermini.
At the rear there is a triangular exhaust and a diffuser aimed at cleaning up the airflow as it leaves the car and producing enough downforce to cancel out the inevitable aerodynamic lift caused by a road car at high speed.
The Corsa VXR is one of those cars that looks fast even when it is standing still and it is even more dramatic in the metal than these pictures convey.
Inside there are specially built (and very comfortable) bucket seats from Recaro and thereby hangs an interesting tale. Refusing to compromise on the Corsa's five star safety the development team had to find a solution of how to fit in side airbags to such thin seats. Its answer was to use the same ones fitted to the Lamborghini Gallardo so VXR owners now have something in common with Lambo drivers!
The seats, by the way, are half-leather as standard in contrast the Clio's cloth covering.
The steering wheel is flat at the bottom which is a design used in the cramped cockpits of racing cars where space is at a premium, you get the obligatory drilled alloy pedals and the needles on the main instruments sweep around the dials as the ignition is armed, giving the sense of the car coming alive.
Out on the road the VXR is a little belter. It was developed over tens of thousands of miles at some of Europe's best test tracks, including the Nurburgring, and Lotus engineers had a hand in its chassis development at the Millbrook proving ground near Bedford.
The result is a car that handles and rides exceptionally well, proving that with careful honing these two often competing functions can be harmonised. It makes the Corsa civil when you want it yet more than able to deliver the rock and roll through the corners when the mood takes you.
It is nicely balanced, very agile and very grippy although should you want to hang out the tail on a trackday you can switch off the ESP chassis stability system. The variable rate steering is quick and informative and although there is some kickback from the big front tyres the diff (I believe taken from the diesel version of the Corsa) does a great job of minimising torque steer which could overwhelm a car of this power.
Ah yes, the power. The engine is a gem, a turbocharged 1.6 producing 192 PS and with an overboost facility on full throttle that delivers an extra 15 per cent of torque for five seconds to help overtake safely. As a little aside, its specific output of 120PS/litre allows it to sneak through a loophole in the drive-by noise regulations originally intended to help out Ferraris. It means the VXR has a rortier exhaust note which is all to the good.
The performance is strong, with a top end of 140 mph and the 0 to 60 sprint taking 6.8 seconds, a tenth quicker than the Clio and three-tenths ahead of the MINI Cooper S. It also shades the Renault flat out by three mph but equals the Cooper S.
Overall I was hugely impressed by the VXR which I think is an excellent package. Stylistically it is the business, it delivers dynamically and it's good in terms of value for money too. Vauxhall is only talking of selling 2,500 a year and it has sold 844 already even though the car is not yet in the showrooms. I suspect it might have no trouble finding a few more owners.
Vauxhall Corsa VXR.
0 to 60 6.8 seconds
Top speed 140 mph
Average mpg 36
CO2 190 g/km
Insurance Group 16E