The Vauxhall Corsa's back and supermini buyers might well like the 1.3-litre CDTi diesel version. Jonathan Crouch does the maths so you don't have to.
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall's latest Corsa might just be at its best with a diesel engine. Yes, you can make the numbers work for you with a diesel supermini. The Corsa's offered with a 75PS 1.3-litre which you should ignore and a 95PS version which you most certainly shouldn't. Markedly quicker, it's also more economical, returning a cracking 88.3mpg and emitting just 85g/km.
It's always been much the same when it comes to diesel superminis. In order to justify the price premium of a diesel engine, you need to be able to claw that back in terms of lower running costs. Now that usually works fine if you plan on covering lots of miles, which is why motorway maulers like medium family hatches are almost exclusively diesel-powered these days. But what if you're not planning on putting International Space Station mileages on the clock? What if you're just going to use the car for trips to the shops, socialising and school runs? After all, that's what most superminis are bought for. Can a diesel engine still make sense?
Vauxhall is hoping the Corsa 1.3 CDTi diesel is a car that can provide some convincing answers to those questions. Here, we're going to break out the calculators and see if their numbers add up. The latest Corsa looks to finally be the car that can level with the Ford Fiesta and in the diesel department, General Motors reckons it has the edge.
There's not one but two versions of the 1.3-litre CDTi diesel to tempt UK buyers. The first is the 75PS iteration while those demanding a bit more poke beneath their boots will naturally be drawn to the 95 PS version. Both models develop the same 190Nm of torque from just 1,750rpm, so you get that reassuringly brawny pickup as soon as you pull away. They're far from identical when you put a stopwatch on them though, the 75PS car accelerating to 62mph in 14.9 seconds and running on to 101mph, while the 95PS version really leverages that extra power in the upper registers, trimming the 62mph sprint down to 12.3 seconds and maxing out at 110mph.
Underpinning this latest fourth-generation car is a completely redesigned chassis with precisely zero carry-over components from the last model. It sports a 5mm lower centre of gravity, a stiffer front sub-frame and a sharper suspension geometry. The electrically-assisted power steering gets a 'City' mode for you to twirl around effortlessly when parking, but receives a UK-specific tune to cater for our roads. Internal friction has been minimised, as has understeer. Both Comfort and Sport suspension set-ups have improved dampers that aid ride quality. Significant improvements to the Corsa's 1.3 CDTi diesel engine have been made to bring it up to Euro 6 emissions standards and two new six-speed gearboxes - a manual and an automatic - are available, Vauxhall claiming improved shift quality and efficiency.
Design and Build
Straight away you'll spot similarities to the front end of the ADAM model and that's no coincidence, this looking set to become the Vauxhall family face for the foreseeable future. That means a rounded, friendly look with a broader front grille than Corsas of old. The overall proportioning isn't that much of a departure, this car retaining the somewhat tall and narrow shape of the third generation model. It's almost identical in length but all of the car's body panels are new and provide greater definition between the 'sporty' look of the three-door and the 'premium' five-door models. Some of the detailing is quite assured, including the sculptural 'blade' running across the lower door-sections. The 285-litre boot is big for the supermini class.
Drop inside and you'll see even bigger improvements. The old Corsa always felt a solid thing but time hadn't been kind to the basic design of the interior and this replacement model rectifies that quite emphatically. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. The fourth-generation Corsa is also the first high-volume Vauxhall to be available with IntelliLink, the communications system which has already been seen in the ADAM.
Market and Model
The 75PS diesel models start at just over £13,000 in three-door 'Life' or 'Design' trim, with the 95PS motor offered in the 'Design' trim for another £500. Both engines are then offered with the sportier 'SRi' and 'VX Line' designations as well as the refined 'SE' model. Five-door cars tack another £500 onto those prices. The entry-level 'Life' trim gets a heated windscreen, tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control, hill start assist, a stereo with an auxiliary input, remote central locking and electric front windows. Quite why you'd buy a 'Life'-specified Corsa though, is a mystery as the plusher 70PS 'Design' variant costs the same and also gets the IntelliLink audio system with digital radio, USB and Bluetooth as well as six speakers and wheel-mounted audio controls.
Vauxhall also include leather trim for the wheel, cruise control, a driver's seat height adjuster, air conditioning, body-coloured door handles, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights and 15-inch wheels on the 'Design'. Some car-buying decisions are tricky. That isn't one of them. Optional safety systems include Side Blindspot Alert, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, bi-xenon lights and a rear-view camera.
Cost of Ownership
Now for the crunch. Would you pay nearly £13,000 for a 90PS 1.0-litre petrol Corsa (in 'Design' trim) or stump up nearly £1,000 more for the 95PS diesel version? Well straight away, you're clearly getting a bit more power with the diesel and more than double the torque; in this case 190Nm for the diesel compared to a mere 90Nm for the petrol engine. For some drivers, that might be worth the premium. Factor in three years fuel costs for the two cars and the bill for that (even at a modest 7500 miles per annum) comes to £2,257 for the petrol car and £1,457 for the diesel. That's £800 right there - though what's given with one hand is taken away with the other, as the 1.0-litre petrol car is cheaper to insure.
Cover 10,000 miles per year and the sums start to swing in favour of the diesel model. That's not an unrealistic mileage figure for a Corsa and it's a lot less than used to be the case. Time was when the break-even point for a diesel supermini hovered around 90,000 miles covered. With this Corsa, it's around a third of that. The 95PS model's tax-free 85g/km and 88.3mpg on the combined cycle is an impressive showing.
If there's one word we'd use to sum up this fourth generation Corsa, it would probably be 'pragmatic'. Vauxhall has clearly been working with a big budget for this model but as much as it would like us to think it's all new, well, it's just not. That said, the company has done really well and the changes really do punt the Corsa into contention with the top models in this class. Plus it'll help that some quite savage price slashing has seen it look much better value than before. It probably won't alter what you actually pay, because nobody really took Vauxhall's list pricing very seriously before, but at least now you cut some of the haggling time and the Corsa no longer looks such a dud in comparison tests.
The diesel engines are impressive, the 95PS unit especially so. Quite why you wouldn't spring the extra £600 or so for the markedly quicker and more economical 95PS version of the engine would be a mystery to us. In 95PS guise it looks a real contender, undercutting the Fiesta by about a grand, model for model. That ought to be more than enough to punt it to the top of the sales charts.