The Verdict: Vauxhall Corsa VXR

No need to visit Halfords for your go-faster tweaks; Vauxhall’s done it all for you. But is this hot hatch overcooked? David Wilkins and our panel find out
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Price: £15,625
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Performance: 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds, 35.8mpg
CO2: 190g/km:
Worth considering: Mini Cooper S, Renault Clio 2.0 Renaultsport 197, Seat Ibiza 180 Cupra

I'm really not very keen on the practice of sticking spoilers and other large pieces of plastic to cars’ bodywork. I’m even less in favour of fitting cars with wide wheels and very low profile tyres for the sake of appearances, an attitude I know a lot of people regard as snobbish.

My defence has always been the following. Manufacturers invest hundreds of millions of pounds developing and refining their new models. They go to enormous lengths to make sure that the aerodynamics of any car as it leaves the factory are optimised for economy and stability.

They also spend a lot of time on all that really boring stuff like making sure that the front wheels and tyres won’t foul a car’s bodywork when they are turned. I’ve always thought it exceedingly unlikely, therefore, that a recent school-leaver armed with a Halfords catalogue and a few hundred quid could improve on a lavishly funded development programme.

But this week’s test car, the Vauxhall Corsa VXR, finally put me on the spot and made me admit that I’m old, stuffy and boring. Because the fastest Corsa, you see, owes nothing to Hal-fords, but was chavved up – or perhaps that should be chavved down – at the factory by Vauxhall (or more accurately Opel) itself, which surely means that all those practicalities should have been taken care of. I’m still not that keen on the result, but then it’s a long time since I was 19.

Out on the road, though, this Corsa is pretty enjoyable; the comment of our reader-tester Lee Dalton that “if you drive everywhere like a loon, the VXR could be for you” captures quite a lot of its exuberant character. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine has an awful lot of go, and positively begs to be pressed hard.

While the Corsa VXR always feels safe, though, there’s no mistaking the fact that there is an awful lot of power going through the front wheels of what is still a fairly small car. The hardworking electronics do manage to keep genuine unruliness to a minimum, however. There’s remarkably little roll under cornering, and the sporty Recaro seats with their big side bolsters keep you in place when you are pressing on. The rest of the cabin is fairly sporty, but rather more tastefully executed than the exterior.

One negative point is the Corsa’s rather limited luggage space. It’s not that the sort of people who will buy this car are going to be big on camping holidays or grocery shopping, but the small boot will certainly make it difficult for anyone to fit those over-sized subwoofers that any self-respecting boy racer must sport these days.

Lee Dalton, 34; Joshua Dalton, 8, senior project manager, schoolboy Binfield, Berkshire

“A badly behaved teenager with terrible dress sense” is the best way to describe this car. Unless you adapt to erratic behaviour, it will get the upper hand! Driven hard, it requires the driver’s full attention as turbo-induced torque steer throws you in all directions. It’s just as badly behaved about town, too. On twisting roads, the adolescent is much more fun, devouring bends and urging you on with its “go faster” exhaust note. If you drive everywhere like a loon, the VXR could be for you. But I imagine this car will be the undoing of many a driver, and I don’t want to be one of them.

David Duvall, 58, training manager from Reading

I’ve never owned a Vauxhall. Lack of driveability, heavy depreciation and, if I’m honest, image have put me off. But here is a Vauxhall for people who enjoy driving; 190bhp for this size of car makes for a terrific shove as soon as you touch the pedal – but there’s plenty of torque and you can pull smartly away from low revs. Ride is firm and handling sporty, but not excessively so, and the seats are excellent. Minus points: Vauxhall’s eccentric indicator operation has infected the wipers; the designer has clearly never tried to reach the seat-belt; and there’s too much boy-racer bodyk-it. I’m all for recapturing my lost youth – but I don’t need everyone else to know it.

Mark Jenner, 38, and Shaun Medhurst, 16, bank official and schoolboy Maidenhead, Berkshire

Performance is electrifying; the acceleration is rapid (to say the least) whatever gear I was in. Smooth gear-changing was hampered in low gears by the revs “hanging on”, but the gearbox was easy to use otherwise. Braking was fearsome; Shaun said it felt like hitting a wall! The handling was superb, and driving position and seats were very good. Shaun said he was sliding around a bit in the back, but there was enough room. Tyre roar was bad at speed, and the boot’s not big enough for a family shop. Would I buy one? Yes, if I didn’t need to go on long motorway journeys.


If you would like to take part, e-mail or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.