On wheels: Vauxhall Corsa 1.4SXi

Stop the press! Car purist Michael Booth gets excited by a Vauxhall Corsa

Would suit Closet mum-racer
Price £10,595
Performance 107mph, 0-60mph in 11.8 seconds
Combined fuel economy 46mpg
Further information 08457 400 800

This isn't going to be pleasant for any of us, so let's just get it over and done with, shall we? No one really wants to read about Vauxhall Corsas, and I can't say that I am that inspired by having to churn out 600 words on the subject. But true to January's mean spirit of self-discipline and denial, let's give it a go. After all, we can't have Lamborghinis every week.

Up until now the Vauxhall Corsa has been a car for people who don't really like cars - or at least, for those happy, well-adjusted members of society who have more important things to think about. Anyone who gets a mild thrill when a new copy of Car magazine arrives on the newsagent's shelves would no more consider buying a Corsa than a wine buff would think of stocking his cellar with Piat d'Or. But the Corsa has always been an important car in the sense that people actually bought them with their own money.

A Corsa has featured in the top five best-selling cars in this country since Kajagoogoo occupied a similar position in the top 40 (that's around 1983 to the uninitiated). They have sold 9.4m of the things worldwide, most of them with Opel badges. It's a wonder any other companies have had a look in.

As I approached the 1.4SXi two-door version I had borrowed for the week, I was deep in thought (if you must know, I was rather depressed. My wife had just pointed out to me that, if Prince William, with all his wealth and resources can't arrest his male-pattern baldness, what hope had I got, so why didn't I stop moaning and get on with my life?), but within seconds of moving off, the Corsa had swept away all such concerns. I was having fun. FUN! Driving a Vauxhall Corsa! Hair loss, get lost!

This new Corsa not only rides with the suppleness and maturity of something that your dad would drive, but it maintains that composure when you turn the steering wheel. I always like cars that make you feel good without an excess of power; cars that are fun at legal speeds, and the Corsa is such a car. You find yourself anticipating bends and roundabouts as if you were in a Caterham... OK then, a Ford Ka.

Like the new Renault Clio and me, the new Corsa is a little bulkier than it used to be. It is now almost four metres long, but that means it seats four adults comfortably and there are signs that General Motors has made some effort to jazz up the interior with "funky" transparent plastics and "groovy" soft-fading lights. There is also a rather clever built-in bike rack that folds out of the rear bumper (a £500 option). Why has no one ever thought of that before? And, if you need to remove the parcel shelf, you can store it behind the rear seat - which, if you ask me, is the kind of thing the Nobel jury should be hearing about.

There is a caveat: I can't imagine a smaller-engined Corsa would be quite as much fun - the three-cylinder, one-litre model, for instance, might well struggle with the ramps in multistorey car parks, or speed bumps. Other than that, if you are looking for a refined, spacious, large-small car for a reasonable price, you should think seriously about the Honda Jazz, chuckle ruefully at the thought of a Peugeot 206, but at least take a look at a Corsa.

Don't worry, next week I'll be back driving something fast and vulgar. But that wasn't so bad, was it?

It's a classic: Vauxhall Ventora VIP

Like many car enthusiasts, I have two fantasy garages. One is filled with the usual thoroughbred Ferraris, Astons and Maseratis, but the other conceals a more secret, shameful hoard: purple Morris Marina coupés, Talbot Tagoras, mint-condition series 1 Jaguar XJSs, and the like.

I might even make a space for one of these, a Vauxhall Ventora VIP. The VIP was the end of the line for Vauxhall's "glamorous", Chevrolet-engined luxury saloons. Its fake wood veneer, vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels set it apart from the run-of-the-mill executive saloons of the day visually, and when that six-cylinder engine burbled into life, you knew you had something special on your driveway.

Performance didn't quite measure up to the power, however, and the Ventora struggled to top 100mph. The early 1970s were perhaps not the best time to be owning a gas-guzzling saloon but the VIP lasted for three years before the axe fell in 1976.

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