JOHANNESBURG - The Opel Corsa hardly needs an introduction in South Africa. Since the late 90s it was the mainstay of the General Motors (GM exited South Africa in 2017) group and you could get anything from an introductory Lite to a performance packed OPC variant (with obligatory ‘drive it like you stole it’ sticker on the rear window) and there was even a half ton bakkie in the mix.
Williams Hunt took charge of the Opel brand in South Africa for the past few years since GM pulled an Alt+F4 on Mzansi, before it was taken over by the PSA Group for a little while (Peugeot, Citroen - which is now part of Stellantis) which in turn merged with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
So it’s been a rocky road that’s seen the German marque taking a bit of a hammering in the sales charts but with its new backing and a new Corsa in the market, prospective owners have the knowledge that they now have a large corporation backing them up.
Gone is the familiar bubble shape now replaced by a more mature angular look that Opel says is one of the most aerodynamic vehicles in its class with a drag coefficient of 0,29. It also has underbody panelling from the engine compartment to the back of the car reducing turbulence while a rear roof spoiler helps cut the lift on the rear axle of the car increasing stability.
To induce all these aids the Corsa on test, the range-topping 1.2T Elegance, has a three cylinder turbocharged engine under the hood that’s good for 96kW and 230Nm that drives the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Thankfully not a CVT.
Its stablemates the Corsa Edition and the Corsa use the same powerplant without the turbo but only with a five speed manual gearbox.
While the exterior of the car has all the right features it’s somewhat let down by the interior and personally I would have liked some more contrast rather than the blandness that evokes little emotion. There’s some budget plastics combined with more upmarket surfaces that rather spoil it at this price point, but it is very well put together with no rattles or squeaks even on corrugated dirt roads.
The seats are very comfortable and in this Elegance trim, heated which you never thought you needed until you have to collect a child at 6am in winter and you see your neighbour's windscreen iced up. The LED headlamps and High Beam Assist come in handy too at that time of the morning.
Doing the sit behind yourself test, rear space was a little cramped although I am on the tall side so I suppose for kids it should be fine but on a long trip I would have to sit with my legs stretched across to the passenger side.
There’s a host of safety features such as 180 degree view reverse camera, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, forward collision alert, front pedestrian detection and collision mitigation braking. You also get six airbags ABS with EBD and electronic stability control with traction control.
The 18cm touchscreen infotainment system is easy to operate and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible while the leather-clad steering wheel allows you to control the audio system, Bluetooth and cruise control.
Press the accelerator hard and there’s an expected slight delay as the turbo spools up before the familiar thrum of the three pod motor does its thing and takes you off rather briskly. The auto box changes easily to second but from there it’s a bit hesitant before shifting to the next gears. Considering the target market it’s not a deal breaker and once you get used to it, it quietly settles down to the speed limit and easily cruises along with traffic.
In town with traffic you need to find your rhythm between accelerator and gearbox although it does a fine job when you dash ahead to avoid drivers who think that hazard lights are fine for stopping anywhere they want and taxis that insist on blocking intersections.
It’s not a hot hatch by any means, but the suspension and chassis combination work well with 16-inch alloys and positive steering feedback to give you a very decent drive and it’s not shy to handle corners with some enthusiasm either.
Fuel consumption including some spirited driving evened out at 6.7l/100km, which is impressive and with more gentle throttle control I don’t doubt that the claimed figure of 6.3l/100km is attainable.
The new Opel Corsa is everything you would expect from a car that’s matured and been redesigned from the ground up and I found it a fantastic runner but the competition is tough with the VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 Kia Rio, Mazda2 and Nissan Micra all vying for attention.
It will be interesting to see whether it reaches its previous popularity and status.
2021 OPEL CORSA PRICING IN SA
OPEL Corsa - R 274 900.00
OPEL Corsa Edition - R 294 900.00
OPEL Corsa Elegance- R 386 900.00