Updated: December 2, 2014
You probably remember my first review of Opel Corsa OPC - Vauxhall Corsa VXR for the colonial readers, in which I highlighted just how impressed I was with the acceleration, handling and the grip of this little hot hatch, especially when compared and pitted against the likes of Peugeot 208 GTi and Skoda Octavia vRS.
Anyhow, my impression translated into a click, which means a buy, and so here we are, with Opel Corsa OPC for a long-term drive, and that means all kinds of feedback and whatnot. We will revisit all those fine and less fine things that we saw in the initial test, and follow up with some more prose and fine imagery. Yes.
What? Yes. We will start this review in the most unusual of fashions. With problems. As it turns out, less than 24 hours after I got this car, I had to take it to the official service garage. The A/C unit was faulty, and it would not blow air through the central console vents. I did spot this shortly after leaving the sales point, but it took me a while to register the pain and accept the reality.
Once in the official service workshop, things got worse. I watched men take apart a brand new car, touching the plastic and leather and others bits and bobs with their grubby, sooty hands. And I thought, it ain't a virgin no more. A black cloud descended on me. I had less than 100 km on the road, I haven't even revved once to 3,000 rpm, and the dashboard was being taken apart, piece by piece. This was quite horrible, especially for someone with OCD.
At this point, I decided not to watch the horrible ordeal anymore, and I phoned the sales manager. She came, picked me up in her car, and took me back to her office, where she promptly gave me the keys to her demo unit, the funky little Adam, which we saw some time back. Several days back, she asked that I return Adam because she needed to show it to some potential buyers, but she arranged for a turbo-charged rental Astra, for as long as the repairs continued, free of charge on my end.
The replacement of the A/C unit took almost three weeks, and it necessitated ordering a brand new part from Germany, plus a complete dismemberment of the dashboard. After I was informed the car was all sorted out, the Opel folks washed it, tanked it, and then took it back to their sales point, for a fresh start. Furthermore, the sales manager offered me one free 15,000 km oil service, and 10% off on all original Opel parts. I did not even have to argue or say anything. This is the most amazing and courteous service I have ever encountered.
However, a new spate of problems cropped up. The steering wheel had been positioned about one degree to the left and had to be slightly realigned. The silver plastic cover on the door handles bulged, especially on the driver's side. It turns out this is a manufacturing problem with all Corsa OPC, and a new one has been ordered for me. Then, there were some tiny scratches on the dashboard, and a big one on the multimedia system. The replacement of the A/C unit left some small but quite livable-with scars behind.
Well, almost. I decided the damage to the paint and finish of the multimedia system was not acceptable, plus it was misbehaving, by not playing music from USB devices, remembering radio stations or the volume level after switching the engine off and taking the key out of the ignition slot, and by not playing the last media source when turned on again. Once more, the sales manager intervened, phoned the contractor that had installed the system on Opel's behalf and demanded a replacement. They didn't even argue and agreed to replace the unit, including driving over to my work place or home or anywhere I found convenient. Needless to say, I was mildly shocked by all the good energy and the service quality. This was hardly what I expected.
I have to admit that the mechanical pieces are all working flawlessly. And there is no noise from the dashboard, even when driving over bumpy roads. Apparently, all of the components have been secured well and with precision, and the job has been done with care. That's a good sign. A troubling start, a first of a kind for me, but so was the actual interaction with the sales, the car service team, and everyone else employed or contracted by Opel. You don't get this kind of gentlemanly behavior anywhere else.
So after a while, things kind of settled. It comes down to the A/C unit replacement, door handle replacement, and a new multimedia system, while the three of four tiny scratches on the interior plastic, barely visible even for someone like me, will remain. Plus some perks here and there, and quite a bit of VIP service. Fair enough.
And now, the car
All right. Let's discuss the car. At USD48,000, this is the second cheapest proper hot hatch with 192HP on the market, bested only by Peugeot 208 GTi. The rest of the competition is pricier, or it delivers fewer horses and fewer accessories by default for the same kind of money. As far as the list price goes, the graphite black metal paint Corsa OPC comes with a sunroof, sliced and diced at the manufacturing plant in Germany, leather trim inside, ultra-awesome Recaro seats, a custom multimedia system plus a reversing camera that is offered at the local market, hill-hold assist, air pressure warning, six air bags, sporty ESP+ designed to kick in at a later stage than most systems, and a badass triangular exhaust pipe.
In return, you have the aforementioned horses, torque value that goes between 230Nm permanent and five-second overboost 266 Nm in third through sixth, translating into 225 km/h top speed and roughly 7.2 seconds to 100 km/h from standstill, although I will have to test and check this independently. This is more or less in line with most hot hatches in this class, and less than an eyeblink separates the whole class.
Opel Corsa OPC is a positively, decidedly chavvy car, by design. There hardly goes a day by without a fellow driver, neighbor or car enthusiast coming over and ask or praise the vehicle, curious about its aggressive, sporty looks and the ultra-low-profile tires. Indeed, with 225/25 ZR 18 wheels and beautiful alloys, this really draws attention everywhere. The rear diffuser and the exhaust pipe, with its ever-so-rumbly note, add to the general reputation.
From the front, this is very similar to ordinary Corsas, but things take a whole new turn once you examine the side and rear quarter. The sunroof adds ambiance, the tinted rear windows add mystery, and the whole rear quarter, which is very similar to Renault Clio RS, adds to your bad boy racer karma.
The vibe continues on the inside. The Recaro seat transform the interior from a utilitarian work area into a sports arena. Sure the perforated aluminum paddles, plus the metal motifs here and there contribute their charm. The steering wheel has a flat bottom with the blue-letter OPC logo, and a white ring marker that almost serves like missile guidance during cornering. Awesome.
But the Recaros are not there just for show. They are absolutely amazing. The single most fun piece of this car, after the engine and the transmission and all that. They hug everywhere, all the way up to your shoulders, and they completely relieve pressure from your lower back. You do not jiggle about in corners, and you stay put in your seat. Even after a long drive, you feel fresh and relaxed, and there's not a single knot of pain anywhere in your lumbar area. The buckets are a total blast, and they serve a real ergonomic, anatomic purpose. Plus, they are totally rad in every way, and they complete the chavvy sensation of look-at-me, look-at-me that this cars physically exudes, on the outside as well as the inside.
Let's go back to the rest of the interior. Not bad. The air vents add ambiance. The black central console plastic does not feel as cheap as the one used in SEAT Leon. It actually adds character. Even the small central computer, with its orange lighting is neat. In fact, in low-light conditions, various bits and pieces of plastic turn orange, which is totally cool, and contrast the black very neatly.
The instrument panel is fairly simple. No engine temperature dial, and the speedo goes only up to 240 km/h. Compare this to Audi A1, which clocks 205 km/h with the 240 km/h limit, Astra that can go 201 km/h but has a full 260 km/h range, Leon comes with 215/260 km/h figures, and this car, which has the toppest speed of them all, offers a very modest 240 km/h dial range.
The multimedia system is not like anything you will get with the car in its original form. Dating back to 2006 or so, the Corsa media system is an old thing, with a separate 12-button phone dial and all that hideousness. But this thing they put in there isn't much better either. It does have touch, navigation, rear camera, micro USB and all that, but it's not very pretty or sophisticated. For example, I much prefer the unit used in Adam to this junk.
Surprisingly, in the back, there's lots of space and headroom and enough belts for seating three adults, legally. Contrast this to Audi A1, where even short people need helmets, and there is only place for two. A surprise really, even though the access is tricky. Big doors help, but then you must be careful in the parking lot, and closing them takes a bit of swinging, plus they don't make a satisfying noise, and you might be tempted to try again. Anyhow, in the rear, the three legally allowed adults can spend some time without feeling too cramped. With the help of the sunroof, there's enough light to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia. No powered windows, I'm afraid, just static triangles of tinted glass. But you know what? Forget about seating anyone in the back. Why would you consider buying a three-door small hatch? To drive people around?
The boot is small but practical, and it comes with a false bottom, which is neat for storing invisible trash. You don't get a spare, to reduce the weight, but the downside is imperfect weight distribution and more jolting when the rear wheels go over deformities. Audi A1 has a much better front rear balance. But more about that later. Having no spare means you get a built-in compressor and a small book of prayers.
Now, the sunroof ...
This is a double-edged sword. First, it's cool. Second, it can suck hot air out of the cabin at low speeds and in town. Third, it lights up the cabin, and indeed, on the inside, Corsa OPC feels airy and light. It's really a pleasant feeling. Fourth, the extra window on the roof allows more sunlight and heat to filter into the car, and if you are driving at midday, this can be mildly unpleasant.
Now, this explains, like totally, while drivers in most of these small hatches go about with baseball caps. It's not like they are trying to ascertain a badass attitude. It's just they are trying to protect their brain from too much sunlight. And you thought they were showing off. Honestly, I never drive around with any head gear, but I am considering a simple cap for my midday endeavors in Corsa. It can't hurt, except maybe a few more random police checks, but with my awesome blue eyes and a totally honest face, there should be no problems.
This is the cream of the crop. The driving sensation. You don't buy a small hot hatch for comfort, practicality, fuel consumption, or resale value. You buy it because you want to enjoy yourself on the road, feel the road, and safely test the limits of the car and physics. When it comes to this simple mission statement, Opel Corsa OPC does not disappoint. I have highlighted this in the short test drive, but now we go deeper.
Once you snug yourself into the Recaro, the driving position is excellent. Great visibility all around, good steering wheel position, even though the soft leather can be slippery sometimes, your legs rest fully symmetrically, and the buckets do a most awesome job of keeping you well rested, pain free and fully in control during tight turns.
All that said, Corsa's low-profile eighteen-inchers transfer every little bore and crack in the asphalt straight into the cabin space. The extra dose of energy channeling into your body is not necessarily jarring or intrusive, but you are always aware of your surroundings, especially below you. The vibrations do manifest, interior plastic quality notwithstanding, and if the passenger's seat is empty, it may squeak a little. Therefore, if you are looking for an absolutely smooth and silent ride, you should pass on this car.
The upside of the firm suspension and lowered ride is that you are firmly planted on the ground. The Corsa sailed through corners without a sweat. You can easily top the results achieved by Leon or Astra by 10-20 km/h without any tire squealing or ESP kicking in. The steering wheel is firm, but it gives you great feedback.
Brutality returns in the town. You must be extra carefully when parking, so you don't scratch the front skirt, or kerb the fancy alloys, which are always at risk due to the low tire profile. With other cars, you will be rubbing rubber, here you will be denting metal. Speed bumps must be respected, with 20 km/h versus 50 km/h in Peugeot 308. And if you happen to come across the small, nasty ones, you will get a mighty punch in your kidneys as the rear axles jumps over them. This is true for all cars with a short wheelbase, but with the OPC, it is augmented a bunch.
The engine noise is sweet. You can hear the turbo spooling up and down, whistling nicely. The throttle response is sharp, almost too immediate. I've read that some people complained this could be tricky in town, and yes, for less skilled people, this might pose a challenge. However, if you are serene, the car will be serene too. You will be hard pressed to achieve that serenity, though.
The most magnificent part is the engine's elasticity and amazing mid-range pull. You can shift into sixth at only about 50 km/h, and it will still accelerate nicely, even though you're revving at a modest sub-turbo 1,500 rpm. As a rule, you can slot in one gear up more than you think, compared to most other sporty hatches out there. And we did see this come to bear in the road test, where Octavia vRS struggled, despite 25 horses and 40% torques more.
At 110-120 km/h, the engine dial hovers around 3,000 rpm in sixth. This is a relatively high figure, and it does impact the fuel consumption. I guess the designers could have made it a little less angry, but then some of that sweet mid-range g forces would have been lost. It's all about the gearbox tuning, and it's tweaked beautifully for the kind of ride you expect. Opel Corsa OPC eats competition in the fourth-to-sixth regime, across the band.
Finally, the engine thirst. My testing shows about 8 liters/100 km, which is a lot given the small size of the fuel tank, at only 45 liters, which means you will have to pull into a station every 400 km or so, unless you like to see the fuel light come on. This includes mostly highway cruising at 110-120 km/h, with a bunch of aircon. If you are really gentle, keep the speed down and use little to no artificial cooling, you can probably touch the 7 liter mark, and average about 7.5 liters. Not bad, but not ideal. Okay for a car with 192 HP, I guess.
The second part of this review comes about two months after all of the above has been written. With three thousand extra km under its tires, the little Corsa has unveiled some additional good and bad parts in its design, manufacturing and overall quality. On the upside, the suspension has softened a bit, and the engine runs a little smoother. It pulls a bit more sharply, but the fuel thirst remains unchanged.
The bad things are, well, there's still a bunch of squeaking from the passenger seat when empty. Because of the rigid setting, the metal parts vibrate and chirp, or rather, you can hear them if you close the windows and turn the music down. Place your hand on the seat, and the noise stops. Solution, always have someone ride shotgun, or just ignore them.
The second bigger problem has nothing to do with Opel, and everything with the custom media system. It's simply awful. It skip songs, it's slow, it won't remember radio stations after the engine is turned off and the key taken out of the ignition. Oh, and the paint is peeling off in the summer heat. The service guys have already replaced the unit, but the second one is just as bad as the first. It's a feature not a bug, it seems. They will be installing yet a third unit soon, and it will feature a new crap model that might work better. I'm contemplating putting back the original system. I totally hate this kind of thing.
Opel Corsa OPC is not the most refined car in the world. The interior is okay, but it could benefit from some extra robustness. The practicality is that of a typical small hatch. Fuel consumption is high, and the ride quality is on the harsh side. But that's not what the OPC family is all about. If you want all these, that's what the ordinary range of cars does.
Opel Corsa OPC is mostly about driving with mad and safe fun, enjoying every bit of the road, being and feeling in control, the mid-range kicks and punches, the throaty revs, the phenomenal grip and handling through corners, the extra dose of whoomp from the first millimeter of the throttle pedal, and with plenty of more when you need, and still more, when the overboost kicks in. Turbo noise, chavvy and impudent looks, tons of spoilers and diffusers, you're in for the show. Despite all the woes and troubles, in the end, this is a driver's car, and that's how you should treat it. 9.5/10, but make sure you properly tune your expectations. Pure driving joy first, everything else second. Cheers.