The Opel revival starts right here and right now, which is just as well because until recently the brand was in dire need of a defibrillator to get it back on its feet.
With the new Opel Corsa, the first car to be built by the German giant under a new regime after being taken over in March 2017 by the French PSA Group, which owns the Peugeot, Citroen and DS nameplates, Opel’s famous ‘Blitz’ logo faces a critical few years of rebuilding. Corsa is the first block in that reconstruction.
Opel, long treated like a poor relation by its former American owners General Motors, was once one of Europe’s biggest and most profitable automotive brands, but in the face of constant financial neglect due to a lack of R and D funds and critical infrastructure redevelopment on both manufacturing plants and product, it was lucky to find a benevolent new patron in Peugeot.
The new sixth generation Corsa is the first fruit of the take-over and its birth has not exactly been a straightforward affair. Prior to Opel’s being subsumed into a new French orbit, it had actually invested three years on the development of a new Corsa before the Peugeot bigwigs darkened the doors at Russelsheim and started wittering on about commonality of product, shared platforms and all that other stuff which is so important for profitability these days.
Opel chief designer Mark Adams and his cohorts therefore had to scrap all the work they had already done and were given two-and-a-half years to come up with something that met with the wishes of their new masters. The result is the new Corsa and they’ve done a fantastic job breathing new life into a dying entity.
Here in Ireland – not to mention across the entirety of continental Europe – Corsa was a massive success from when it was first launched back in 1982. Across five generations the car sold 13.6 million units and it is an illustration of the car’s ongoing popularity that even in the dying embers of the fifth generation of the car, between January and September last year, Opel sold 49,000 of them.
By contrast during the same period – and in a sad reminder of how far Opel’s fortunes had fallen – the company sold just 22,000 units of their Mokka X and 20,000 units of the Astra. Corsa is, then, key to the future of the Opel brand moving forward under the ownership and management of its new French owners.
Following on from the PSA takeover, it was decided that the new Corsa would be built on Peugeot’s CMP platform – the third car to use this architecture, with the other two being the new DS 3 Crossback and the new European Car of the Year Peugeot 208, which appears to be a cracking machine, although we won’t actually get our hands on one for another couple of weeks.
That aside, the result of all the jigging around is that, by comparison with the old car, the new Corsa’s bodyshell is 40 kg lighter, with such as PSA’s aluminium engines, revised front seat designs and an aluminium bonnet all contributing to car whose total weight is some 108 kg lighter than its predecessor.
The design is not (as you might expect, what with the French being self-determined style kings) as pretty as the new 208 and some truly terrible colour options are offered – the Power Orange overcoat on the tester was particularly vile – but this is still a very attractive car to look at and one which seems to have cast off the shackles of Opel’s old and tired design principles.
The interior has also got a fresh makeover and a bunch of fresh tech which brings its right up to date in the supermini class and truly it needed this sort of shot in the arm in the face of the opposition it has to contend with. The Corsa is a very nice to sit in and live with, although I did find the steering column-mounted stalks for the indicators/lights and wipers, to be sited unusually high vis-à-vis the quarter-to-three steering wheel hand position I usually adopt.
But that was only a very small niggle in what is otherwise a pretty damn good cockpit, which is largely of Opel’s own making, although there are obvious bits that have come straight from the PSA parts bin, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
It has to be said that while the front seats are very comfortable and enjoy excellent head/leg/shoulder room, the rear seat passengers are not so well looked after and legroom is poor, while headroom will be very tight for six-footers. Boot space is ok at 309 litres, but not class leading.
But it all gets better from here on in as the Corsa now has PSA’s 1.2 litre three-pot turbo petrol engine (in 100 bhp guise in the tester; there is also a non-turbo 74 bhp version, but the higher rated unit is is the one to have) which is a delight to use and live with. Top speed is 200 kph and the 0-100 kph time is ten seconds dead.
Emissions here are just 96 g/km and that gives you a €180 annual tax bill and the car will also return a serviceable 6.7 l/100 km (41.6 mpg), but the figures don’t tell the full story here as this is a flexible, pokey and terribly enjoyable engine to live with.
It has strength across the rev. range and while you might have to use the six speed ‘box a lot more than you might in a diesel, this does not make it any less enjoyable on a day-to-day basis. This is far from being a chore to drive and, in fact, while with the car I completed a journey which usually takes an hour-and-a-half some fifteen minutes quicker than normal.
This not only indicates that the Corsa is what Australians might describe as a ‘little ripper’ but that it also has serious handling chops. Even with the turbo, there is little sign of the terminal understeer which can bedevil such layouts and thus the handling is sharp and much more driver-oriented than any other Corsa I can remember.
The ride is a touch on the stiff side – something which suited my particular preferences – and that might not be for everyone, but I have to say that overall this was the best-sorted Corsa I’ve encountered and therefore a lot closer to the class leaders than ever before. And the fact it is so closely related to the Car of the Year-winning Peugeot 208, says a lot about it.
Having had the defibrillator applied and being the beneficiary of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Opel is indeed back. And indeed, one hopes that Franco-Germanic ties continue in such a productive manner. If so, the good ship Opel and all those who sail in her are guaranteed a bright future.
From €17,975 - €23,000 in SRi trim as tested.
Cracking 1.2 petrol turbo.
Corsa’s gone and got all grown up on us.
a much-needed return to form from Opel.