What is it?
The Vauxhall Corsa GSi is pitched as an ‘affordable’ performance version of the brand’s supermini.
VXR looks, some performance upgrades, lower insurance groups than the norm.
The Vauxhall Corsa GSi feels like a stop-gap, attempting to fill a hole left by the departure of the VXR, and not very well.
While an adequate warm hatch in itself, and certainly a lot cheaper an option than would be a VXR, it offers no price advantage over the Ford Fiesta ST, and suffers from a significant performance disadvantage compared to its Ford rival.
Only significantly cheaper insurance should sway buyers in the Vauxhall’s direction.
The revival of Vauxhall’s sporty-pitched GSi line began a few months ago with the Insignia GSi and now continues with a perhaps more appropriate wearer of the badge. The Vauxhall Corsa GSi fills the gap at the performance end of the brand’s supermini range left by the recently discontinued Corsa VXR.
Well, sort of – and not permanently. Vauxhall insists that the VXR line will return, probably as potent as ever though possibly with more 21st high-tech, perhaps hybrid, powertrains.
The GSi, however, is we are told a much more affordable option – ‘quick, safe and agile’. And one immediate plus is that it looks like a VXR, thanks to using much of that car’s underpinnings and particularly the body styling.
It’s not nearly as mechanically outlandish as a VXR though, and as a result it is expected to appeal to a wider market – particularly younger drivers who will be able to afford insurance premiums that are significantly lower than for a Ford Fiesta ST.
At the GSi launch event, Vauxhall’s PR man repeatedly name-checked the ST as a prime rival for this new Corsa. They cost virtually the same to buy, so that the insurance savings, around eight groups lower, might appear attractive. But there’s a reason for that – the ST is far more potent a proposition than the GSi…
Buying and owning a Vauxhall Corsa GSi
It’s a simple choice when buying the Corsa GSi – unlike the Ford which offers three different versions, there is one base model, three doors only, costing from £18,995.
The Corsa GSi employs much of the VXR’s chassis, with its clever adaptive dampers. The brand’s performance department, led by former German Touring Car racer Volker Strycek, have spent many hours tuning this chassis by pounding around the 14-mile Nurburgring race circuit in Germany.
The 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine has, we are told, also been specifically tuned for this car, allowed to breathe more freely at upper revs with recalibrated boost pressure, fuel injection and timing. But while its 150hp might be 50 horses more than any other Corsa, this is no bespoke engine but a mainstream unit available (for example) in several Astra variants.
More pertinently, the GSi engine not only produces 60hp less than the old VXR used to put out, but 50 shy of the Fiesta ST. Vauxhall emphasises the impressive mid-range acceleration, going from 50 to 70mph in fifth gear in just 9.9 seconds, while strangely failing to mention that at 8.4 seconds, the GSi will reach 62mph from rest almost two seconds behind its Ford rival.
So what do you get for almost £19K? Standard specification on the GSi includes 17-inch alloy wheels and the VXR-inspired styling – a roof spoiler, sports front grille, air dam/bumper and side sills.
There are also dark-tinted rear windows, carbon-effect exterior mirrors and grille bar, and LED daytime running lights to complete the exterior effect.
Inside the recipe runs to sports-style front seats, a leather-covered flat-bottom steering wheel and Vauxhall’s IntelliLink infotainment package which offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
It doesn’t include navigation, however, which adds an extra £650. Front and rear parking sensors can add £465 and electronic climate control (as an option to stock aircon) £410.
There are also 18-inch wheels and leather Recaro seats on the options list, and the best way to buy them is in the GSi Plus Pack, which costs £1900 and also adds bi-xenon headlights with cornering lights.
The Corsa also falls down against its admittedly newer rivals when it comes to safety. Back in 2014, Euro NCAP gave it four stars following crash tests, highlighting marginal protection against whiplash from rear-end impacts and the lack of autonomous emergency braking, even as an option.
Inside the Vauxhall Corsa GSi
When we first reviewed the then-new Corsa some four years ago now, we liked the cabin. It was well-built, with quality fit and finish to the plastics, and at the time boasted tech that simply was not the norm in superminis.
The Corsa cabin is still basically a comfortable environment. The cowled pod-like instrument panel and swooping curves of the front fascia are attractive, though fitting the centre console air vents in above the infotainment screen does force one’s eye line further from the road than is desirable, especially if using it as a navigation screen.
However, even the presence of a steering wheel with a cut-off base, alloy pedals and the optional Recaro seats on our launch test cars cannot raise the interior above the mainstream, as one would expect on a performance-pitched car.
Meanwhile, the GSi is only available with three doors, which means that adding those Recaro seats and their somewhat limited folding ability does make accessing the rear the work of some contortion.
Driving the Vauxhall Corsa GSi
We mentioned the modifications made to the engine to improve its response. This unit is allied to a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, but the technically most impressive mechanical upgrade is in the suspension.
The GSi boasts the ‘Frequency Selective’ damping system developed by specialist Koni. The aim is to be the best of both worlds – offer the performance handling you expect on a car of this type, while not sacrificing the ride comfort needed in everyday motoring. It achieves this through a second damper valve that opens or stays shut depending on whether you are cruising or pushing on.
Aim number one is very much met. The Corsa GSi’s exceptional agility was emphasised by a tight autotest competition staged on an airfield during the launch event. The car can be placed into corners with inch-perfect precision, and grips strongly all the way through. The excellently sorted chassis, along with the special Michelin Pilot Sport tyres on our test cars, made a series of challenging B-road bends quite satisfying to traverse.
Satisfying, but not exciting, because the engine simply does not have the potency to make the GSi feel like a proper hot hatch – definitely not like the Fiesta ST, which is a great deal more fun in this respect.
And then there is aim number two. In terms of general ride comfort, the frequency of the dampers were certainly not on our wavelength. The car copes well with smooth road surfaces but hit any significant indentations and they are transferred neatly through a very stiff chassis into the cabin, on the launch emphasised further by those Michelin tyres surrounding the 18-inch rims that are on the options list.
Take the GSi on a long journey and you might enjoy the odd corner entry, but generally it will display the compromises one expects from a true hot hatch, but without the performance one gets from a true hot hatch.
When considered in isolation, the Vauxhall Corsa GSi has some plusses going for it. It looks the part, and so long as one does not consider outright speed it offers adequate pace and pretty good handling, albeit with some ride comfort compromises.
However, as soon as the Vauxhall comes up against its perceived rivals it struggles. Faced with the alternative of a Fiesta ST, which is available for around the same money, the Corsa will only score with those who really do need to keep their insurance costs as low as possible.
And if that’s the buyer’s vital criteria, they might do better buying a Suzuki Swift Sport – it’s more expensive to insure, but helping to fund that premium will be the almost £1,000 you’ll save buying it, and you will end up with a car still quicker to 60mph than the Corsa…
|Make & model||Vauxhall Corsa GSi||Ford Fiesta ST-1||Volkswagen Polo GTI|
|Price (on-road)||From £18,995||From £18,995||From £19,500|
|Engine||1.4-litre petrol||1.5-litre petrol||1.8-litre petrol|
|Power||150 hp||200 hp||192 hp|
|Torque||220 Nm||290 Nm||320 Nm|
|0-62mph||8.4 sec||6.5 sec||6.7 sec|
|Top speed||129 mph||144 mph||147 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||47.1 mpg||47.1 mpg||47.1 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||138 g/km||136 g/km||140 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||4 stars (2014)||5 stars (2017)||5 stars (2017)|