By Jonathan Crouch
Time, perhaps, to change the way you feel about Vauxhall's Corsa. This fifth generation version aims to surprise in all the ways its predecessors were unremarkable. As a result, on paper at least, it's the most competitive supermini the brand has ever brought us. There's even an all-electric model.
Vauxhall's Corsa has always been a well-priced, practical supermini, but in its first four generations, it was usually let down by distinctively average engines, a bit of a weight problem, less than cutting-edge technology and the lack of the kind of spark that would endear you to the thing. All stuff that Vauxhall tried to sort in this fifth generation version.
The name plate here dates back to the Corsa A model of 1982 (badged as a Vauxhall Nova in the UK). Our market first met the Corsa in 1993, that 'B' model replaced by a Corsa C contender in 2000, before a complete re-design for the Corsa D of 2006. That car was only lightly re-skinned to create this model's predecessor, the Corsa E of 2014, a fourth generation model that had to carry on well past its sell-by date before it was replaced in Autumn 2019 by the MK5 Corsa F model we look at here. By that point, over 13.5 million Corsas had been sold in Europe, with 2.1 million of those badged as Vauxhalls for the UK market. Here, this supermini is almost as much as a supermini institution as its closest rival, the Ford Fiesta and it's still by far the Griffin maker's best selling model, shifting over twice as many units as anything else the company makes. But, as that little history lesson makes clear, by 2019 it had been an awful long time since we'd seen a completely fresh from the ground-up version of this Vauxhall.
There was a reason of course for this impasse and it lay with the French PSA Group's £1.9 billion purchase of the Opel and Vauxhall brands back in March 2017. By that point, development on an all-new MK5 Corsa was almost complete and prototypes were pounding the roads around Russelsheim, but the PSA board ordered that the project should be scrapped and begun again using their more flexible CMP small car platform. Unlike the underpinnings that the Opel / Vauxhall team had planned to use (which would have required a licence fee payable to previous owners General Motors for every car built if PSA had used it), this chassis could support four cylinder engines and full-electrification. Which was all well and good but the change in project direction meant the need for a completely new car to be created from scratch in record time; in the event, from start to finish, the project was completed in just two and a half years.
That kind of compacted gestation period wouldn't of course have been possible had not Chief Engineer Thomas Wanke's development team been able to borrow so much from this car's close cousin, the second generation Peugeot 208, which hit the UK market about the same time as this MK5 Corsa. The two cars share virtually identical dimensions - and of course all the same powertrains, including a fully battery-powered one that enabled the range to include the completely electrified Corsa-e. Another shared attribute was an emphasis on weight saving which saw the Vauxhall tip the scales a massive 108kg lighter than its predecessor; it's actually one of the few superminis from its era that can weigh in at below a tonne. That plays its part in what Vauxhall claimed were driver-orientated dynamics, sharpened with extensive chassis tuning. There was also a level of camera safety provision and media connectivity that was way above anything Corsa buyers had ever experienced. Vauxhall tinkered with this MK5 Corsa range constantly, deleting the diesel engine in 2022 at the same time as re-naming the Corsa-e the 'Corsa Electric' and upping that EV model's driving range. More significant changes followed with a full facelift in mid-2023; it's the pre-facelift 2019-2023-era MK5 Corsa model that we look at here though.
What You Get
This fifth generation 'Corsa F' design was certainly very different from its predecessor. It was described by Vauxhall as being less 'van-like' and if you come from the previous model, that'll certainly be your first impression, thanks to 39mm of extra length and a substantial 48mm reduction in roof height. It's certainly a more grown-up-looking car, with its smarter detailing, shorter overhangs and more vertical windscreen. And it came only with five doors.
And inside? Well if you've driven a Corsa before - as most of us have - the Griffin badge on the steering wheel will be the only thing you'll recognise about this one. You sit much lower than you did before and the cabin surrounding you is of considerably higher quality, with glossy black trim that delivers a much more up-market feel. Technology also helps of course, with the greater perception of sophistication. The minimum centre dash monitor size is 7-inches, while at the very top of the range, plush variants get a wide, brightly-coloured 10-inch HD fascia display. Both monitors deliver the expected smartphone-mirroring functionality and of course there's navigation too - which was optional with the smaller screen. What you see through the steering wheel is either another 7-inch digital display featuring with virtual dials in the instrument binnacle - or conventional gauges separated by a 3.5-inch trip computer. Build quality doesn't match the highest standards in this class, but ergonomically, there's not much to fault. The seats are supportive, nothing's irritatingly awkward to get to and everything's exactly where you expect it to be.
Move rearwards and you'll encounter narrow rear door opening through which you've to pass to access the back of the car, an aperture constricted not just by packaging issues (and a rather bulky bit of bodywork over the rear wheels) but also by the substantial reduction in the roof height of this fifth generation model. If you're particularly tall or you habitually need to reach into the back to fasten things like child seats, you're not going to like it at all. Once inside, it's actually not too bad; there's certainly less room than there was in the previous generation Corsa (despite the fact that this MK5 model has 28mm of extra wheelbase length), but there's not much less space than you'd get in the back of a Fiesta for instance, though that's not really saying much. To be frank, both models are somewhat embarrassed in this regard by some supposedly smaller and much cheaper citycars from the class below, like Hyundai's i10. There's not much room for either knees or heads - larger adults certainly wouldn't want to be spending too long here. But does that matter, given that for the majority of buyers, these rear seats will be used only occasionally for those above school age? Only you can decide.
The boot is 309-litres in size - which is 24-litres more than was on offer in the previous generation model and 17-litres bigger than the trunk of a Fiesta but is a capacity figure that remains about average by class standards. Vauxhall though, feels pretty proud that there's no compromise in cargo area size if you go for the battery-powered Corsa-e variant - which must have taken quite a lot of development effort. There's a straightforward 60:40 rear bench split which, once retracted, reveals 1,118-litres of capacity when you load to the roof.
What to Look For
You'll need to buy quite carefully because we came across a number of issues with this MK5 Corsa in our reliability survey. We came across one customer with a 1.2 litre petrol turbo variant saying the speedometer screen blinks and cuts out if the phone is plugged in or is connected to Bluetooth. Try that on your test drive. Another customer had a problem with the central locking malfunctioning. We've come across faults reported with the engine stop-start system too. With the electric Corsa, we've come across issues with the charging system malfunctioning: owners put the car on charge, but then it goes off after around 20 minutes and a fault light comes on. Make sure the car you're looking at has gone through a full charging cycle with your inspection. We also came across Corsa electric models having window demisting problems. And one owner reported a knocking sound on rough roads.
Across the range, check for parking dings because this Corsa has rather large pillars front and rear. And inspect the alloy wheels (if fitted) for scrapes and nicks. Examine the interior for broken bits of trim and child damage - the upholstery may have been affected by the fitment of child seats. And we've heard of the clips on the seat backs braking, making it hard to release the seat back and fold it down. Insist on a fully-stamped service history.
(approx based on a 2020 Corsa 1.2 75PS excl. VAT) Using the 1.2-litre 75PS petrol model as an example, expect to pay around £8 for an air filter, pay around £4 for an oil filter and around £9-£19 for a wiper blade. Front brake discs are around £47-£126 for a set. Front brake pads are in the £23-£54 bracket; rears are in the £23-£33 bracket. A water pump is around £80. A thermostat is around £134.
On the Road
This MK5-era Corsa started off with a huge advantage over its predecessors: a much lighter CMP platform that enabled it to lose a shed-load of weight in comparison to its direct predecessor - 108kgs to be exact. Vauxhall's engineers would have liked to have built on this by specifically tuning the drive dynamics of this car to British roads - as the brand has very effectively done with previous generation Corsa models, but that wasn't possible this time round. Something evidenced, for example, by the way the slightly over-light steering wasn't tweaked for the twistier, more challenging tarmac common in our market - as previously, it might usually have been. Still, if you opt for a mid-range 'SRi' variant, you get a 'Sport' button to firm the helm responses up a bit, a mode that at the same time adds a sportier note to the exhaust. 'SRi' models also get suspension equipped with special strut tower tie rods, which provide a form of cross-bracing to create a more solid and precise feel through the steering.
Engine-wise, we don't think your choice is going to be that difficult. You probably won't want a diesel - even though the 1.5-litre Turbo D unit offered here, which puts out 102PS, is impressively efficient. Ideally too, you'd want to look beyond the base petrol powerplant, a 75PS normally aspirated version of the Stellantis Group's usual three cylinder 1.2-litre engine that in this form doesn't have a great deal of pulling power. That same 1.2 Turbo unit's much better suited to this car in the turbocharged 100PS guise that many preferred, a form in which it manages to be very competitively clean and frugal. If you want to do substantially better in terms of running costs and you can't face the thought of melting the polar ice caps in the diesel variant, there's another more eco-friendly option available in the form of the battery-powered Corsa-e (later re-named the Corsa Electric). This mates a 100kW electric motor putting out 136PS with a 50kWh lithium-ion battery that when fully charged is capable of giving the all-electric Corsa a WLTP-rated driving range of up to 209 miles (upped to 222 miles on '22-plate models).
Vauxhall produced a much better Corsa with this MK5 design - of that there's no doubt. It was smarter, quieter, classier and more sophisticated than any of its predecessors. But it was also considerably more expensive too, so it's just as well that it offered plenty more in return.
True, it's not class-leading in any particular area, but it's a very mature-feeling little thing, with a combination of virtues that's difficult to beat. It's a small Vauxhall for which no apologies need to be made. This model's predecessors had nothing like the depth of engineering and quality of this car, yet still racked up very respectable sales. In this MK5 form, the Corsa sold on more than just sheer value. And does so in used form too.