You might be surprised to learn that there are already about 100,000 examples of the Opel Corsa on Australian roads; it’s just that you’d know the car better as the Holden Barina.
The city car is back in fourth-generation form, and this time with its original make/model names as part of Opel’s ambitions to follow fellow German brand Volkswagen’s import success in Australia.
Its rivals, of course, will include today’s Holden Barina that is now a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo/Sonic.
Opel wants its models – which from launch also include the well-known Opel Astra and the lesser-known Opel Insignia medium car – to be seen as aspirational mainstream models. Yes, just like Volkswagen.
That has clearly been applied to the pricing, because in a budget-sensitive segment the Opel Corsa starts higher than most competitors whether in three-door or five-door body style.
A three-tier range starts with the Opel Corsa three-door hatch at $16,490, with a fancier-looking version called Colour Edition available from $18,490 and the five-door hatch, dubbed Enjoy, priced from $18,990.
If Holden behind the scenes wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of fellow GM brand Opel launching locally, it’s probably not too upset to see that latter price tag starting a significant $3000 higher than the equivalent Holden Barina.
Opel argues the Corsa compares well once lined up against higher-specced variants of such rivals, and it has some case.
Focusing on the Enjoy five-door we tested during Opel’s launch program, the model is equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes, foglights, four-way adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, leather steering wheel, climate control, electric side mirrors, front power windows (but wind-up rears), cruise control, trip computer, and voice-controlled Bluetooth.
Our test car also included a $1250 Technology Package that adds useful features such as rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear parking sensors and projector headlamps that can turn to illuminate corners at night – a category first, stresses Opel.
All Corsa models in Australia are powered by the same 1.4-litre four-cylinder with outputs of 74kW and 130Nm that are respectable but not much more.
The manual gearbox version we tested takes a leisurely 11.9 seconds to reach 100km/h from standstill, so the Opel Corsa is some way off being the fastest city car about. The four-speed auto, which we didn’t get to sample, takes another two seconds.
It’s a willing engine, however, that doesn’t mind to be revved, even if the four-cylinder is hardly music to the ears as the tachometer needle spins higher. It gets rather raucous beyond 4000rpm and doesn’t encourage aiming for the peak power point of 6000rpm for too long or too often.
A sixth gear would be of benefit to more relaxed freeway cruising and better fuel economy – still a decent 5.9 litres per 100km – though the engine doesn’t feel overly stressed even if using about 3400 revs at 110km/h.
Road and wind noise are more detectable.
Like rebadged Corsa/Barina models of old, the latest generation is enjoyable to drive without setting any dynamic benchmarks (step forward Ford Fiesta, closely followed by Polo).
The Corsa will lean noticeably in corners but not to the detriment of balance, there’s decent grip from the tyres, and the steering is consistent and just lacking in feel.
We only got to try the Corsa through towns and on country roads and freeways in the Hunter Valley wine region of NSW, though ride comfort was exemplary at all times.
The front seats are comfortable, too – with particularly good under-thigh support that aids long-distance driving (even if the Corsa is likely to spend most of its time making short trips).
Storage options up front could be more generous (there’s no obvious place for your mobile, for example) and the rear seat feels rather Spartan with the absence of a rear centre armrest and those manual-winding windows.
You wouldn’t want to be an adult getting the centre middle seat, either, though the outer pews of the firmly sprung bench are comfortable and complemented by a decent amount of space for all limbs.
The boot is big for the city car class at 285 litres and includes a ‘Flexfloor’ that conceals a secondary compartment or can be removed to create a larger single boot area.
Folding the 60/40 split-fold rear seats expands cargo to 700 litres.
The interior of the Opel Corsa betrays the car’s age, however, which is now getting on for six years. That’s despite a model update in 2010.
The styling and presentation pre-date Opel’s drive to lift the perception of quality in its vehicles, and the centre stack looks particularly bland and bearing no family resemblance to the smart cabins found in the Astra and Insignia.
So while there’s much to like about the Opel Corsa that makes it a worthwhile consideration over a Hyundai i20 or, yes, Holden Barina, it’s difficult to look past the Ford Fiesta and especially the identically priced Volkswagen Polo 77TSI that offers a much classier cabin and a much more sophisticated, better-performing engine-gearbox combination.