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Motors

New Corsa, new Opel

Wednesday, 26th February, 2020 4:06pm

Remember when Opel was the top-selling car brand in Ireland? To be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t — ‘twas long ago, at a time when Ireland could make it to the quarter finals of the World Cup and our greatest national hero was a fishing enthusiast from Newcastle with an impenetrable accent.

Back then, Opel was the epitome of gentle social climbing in a motoring sense — sensible prices, rational cars, with a faint hint of the engineering-led appeal of the more expensive German brands.

Since then, that appeal has waned. Volkswagen (which, when Opel was Ireland’s best-seller, was suffering financial travails of its own) has since muscled in on the affordable German quality niche, while other competitors — notably Kia and Hyundai — have made the marketplace a more difficult arena in which to compete.

Opel’s market share has tumbled, and much of the fault there lay with under-investment from former American owners, General Motors (GM). For many years, no-one seemed to be able to make up their minds what Opel was supposed to be; affordable and family-oriented, or Teutonically aspirational?

Well, some of that has at last now been answered. GM finally got sick of trying and failing to make Opel work, and sold up to new owners, PSA Group, which also owns Peugeot and Citroen. That has since triggered a change of ownership in Ireland — having been, more or less forever, part of GM itself, Opel Ireland is now being managed by the Gowan Group, also the importers here for Peugeot and Honda.

So the new Corsa arrives at a crucial time, as a new broom is sweeping through the company. Languishing well down the sales charts now, Opel will have to work hard to make its way back to the top. Thankfully, it looks as if the Corsa is a good starting point.

The regular Corsa petrol-engined range kicks off with a €17,975 1.2 litre version with 75hp. That’s a high-ish price for a small hatch, but Opel compensates for that with decent standard equipment.

All Corsas will now come with LED lights, speed limit sign recognition, lane-keeping steering, air conditioning, and a five inch touchscreen.

Sporty SRI models get stiffer suspension and sports steering, while top-spec Elite models get active cruise control, automatic wipers, and a driver drowsiness alert. There’ll be just the three trims, plus an automatic option for the higher-power engine, as Opel wants to slim down the lineup and make it easier for buyers to choose what they want.

According to rumour, when PSA took over at Opel, the plans for the new Corsa were well advanced, but the new car was too close in spirit and style to the old Corsa, a model which had been around — ageing rapidly in recent years — since 2004.

The new French bosses ordered a stop-and-restart, switching the Corsa to a platform share with the new Peugeot 208, and a complete redesign of the exterior.

It’s a conservative-looking car, far less avant-garde than Peugeot’s 208, but then that’s the point. Find the new 208 just a bit OTT in its styling? Step right this way, sir-or-madam…

Inside, the Corsa continues with that conservatism, but that’s not a criticism. Yes, the cabin could be accused of being a little plain, but it’s well-laid out, well-made, very comfortable, and mildly stylish.

There’s a neat seven inch touchscreen in our SRI-spec model, plus nice, legible, analogue instruments. Best of all, Opel’s policy is to keep physical buttons and dials for items such as heating controls, rather than adding them to touchscreen menus — that makes it a much easier car with which to get to grips.

The 1.2 litre 100hp turbo petrol engine (Opel expects all but a third of Corsa buyers to go for petrol power) is unusually well-judged for a car of this size. 100hp, and the useful 205Nm of torque, means that you have more than enough oomph to keep up with rushing motorway traffic, and the Corsa feels eager and responsive on tighter, twistier roads.

It also has a pleasing three-cylinder tremolo song when you rev it, but fuel economy should be fine. We averaged just over 6.0 litres per 100km, and closer to 5.0l/100km should be easily achieved if you take things a little easier.

The Cora’s chassis and steering strike a pleasing balance between comfort and agility. It’s not a true drivers’ car in the enthusiastic sense, but it has well-weighted steering (better if you activate Sport mode) and good front-end grip, so it feels planted through corners.

Refinement is good, too, so long motorway hauls hold no terrors, and you won’t feel knackered come journey’s end. The ride quality is, perhaps, just a hair on the firm side, but possibly opting for smaller alloy wheels would dial that out a little.

Perhaps the only black mark against the Corsa is its price. Spec up to this SRI and you’re spending north of €23,000, which even against a backdrop of generally-rising car prices, still feels like a lot for a small hatch.

Even so, this is a solid all-round performance from a solid all-round performer, and it definitely feels like a solid base from which Opel can start to rebuild its reputation, and its sales, in Ireland.

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