Updated: August 22, 2014
For the colonially inclined amongst you, i.e. the British, this is Vauxhall Corsa VXR. It is the smallest hot hatch that Opel offers to the market, based on the regular three-door Corsa, with some extra pimpage. Yes, it is the very end of the model, but why does it have to matter that much? Opel offers three years of warranty on this fine little model, plus you can score some nice deals just before the new one is christened. Finally, how it behaves and runs could very well tell us what the next model is going to do.
My test unit came with the GBM sky-blue metallic paint, 18-inch alloys, and a custom touch-based multimedia system plus reversing camera instead of the standard 90s phone-like console. The really important part is the engine, right, a specially tuned 1.6-liter turbo-charged unit that delivers 192 HP and 230 Nm of torque, with a five-second overboost to 266 Nm in third to sixth when you floor it. Top speed 225 km/h, acceleration from 0-100 in about 7.2 seconds. Sounds neat. Consider my recent experiences with Peugeot 208 GTi and Skoda Octavia vRS. Links further below. And now it gets interesting.
A box full of surprises; image courtesy of Opel Media Europe.
I had about an hour to monkey with this car in conditions very similar to the Octavia test drive. From the outside, it is a very sexy little hatch of goodies, with sharp, ostentatious looks, epitomized by that chavy single inverted triangular exhaust pipe in the rear. On the inside, the dash is a little old school, designed back in 2007 or so, but once you remove the central part and replace it with something more reasonable, it gets better. Build quality is good, as this car gets assembled in Germany. The Recaro buckets are the bomb. They are really comfortable and they take the pressure off your lower back in curves. For real. The only downside is that the head rests have a single vertical bulge down the middle, so if you want to lean your head against it, you will have to tilt it ever so slightly either to the left or right. Now, the fine details of the testing.
HDR effects for the win!
Excellent: Acceleration. It's complicated really. In the second, the limiter kicks in at 6,500 rpm sharp, not like SEAT Leon, where you can pull a handsome bit into the red zone. This translates into 85 km/h before a gear change. So, shorter gears, as expected in a hot hatch. Now, if you want to overtake other cars, the second and maybe even the third might not be the best option, because you might not have enough speed to do the right tricks before the limiter punishes you. In fact, you want the fourth and above. In addition to the slight dose of overboost, you get tons of kickass mid-range pulling power. Contrast this to said Leon, which gives you a lot in the second and third, but less so in the higher gears. Here, it's the opposite, and you have a lot of extra cavalry as the numbers go up. End result, less top speed, but this car accelerates like mad.
More excellent: Acceleration. I did the same route as with Octavia. Three adults, aircon, sweeping curves, tight corners, solid incline. With Octavia, through the toughest two corners, I was pedal down, 85 km/h steady. The car did not bleed speed, but neither did it gain any. With the little Corsa OPC, believe it or not, I was very gently accelerating without flooring it, in the exact same conditions, despite a 40% torque difference, a smaller engine block that has less flexibility and needs higher RPM to remain in the turbo range, and a supposedly more primitive transmission. Amazing. Slot in the fourth through sixth, and it does all kinds of magic.
Nothing beats 60s cinematographic effects.
Neutral: Noise and comfort. I've read a lot of reviews about chugging, induction noise, road comfort. Well, I have to say, none of these came to bear. Sure, you don't get a teddybear suspension, and yes, the engine is a little loud, but nothing out of ordinary. I did not notice any weird sounds or such. If you want to be gentle, it will do gentle, it you wanna do hard, it will do hard. But again, no kidney damage, no cursing, no special pains.
So much better than you expect.
Good: Grip and steering. Really neat. This car is incredibly precise and firm. Within minutes, I had a complete feel of its capabilities, and I could confidently corner with the full knowledge where the limits are. The brakes are also dope. All combined, Open Corsa OPC offers a highly accurate, predictable and engaging experience through all your senses.
Bad: The front end feels a little fluttery when you floor it. The steering wheel wiggles, and this could be torque steer, or just the fact the car is light and the weight distribution is such that when you apply the forces of physics, the front end struggles to find grip. This only happens at very low speeds, like in town traffic. In other words, be a little gentle when pulling out and then floor it, rather than the other way around. Nothing too drastic, just takes a bit of finesse taming it.
Good: The overall impression. Surprisingly good. I kind of wanted it to fail, but it delivers far more than I expected. Everything fits nicely. The driving position is great, the ride is splendid, the acceleration and the road fun are divine. And yes, with smaller cars, you need less of an edge to appreciate their abilities. Perhaps Octavia gets this fun when you go 150 km/h, but I doubt it. Tight corners in the high double-digit figures, that's about as rad as it gets for normal human driving in the normal driving conditions. The track is something else entirely.
Honestly, Open Corsa OPC is one of the better cars I've driven in a long time. Not the fastest, the best looking, the most modern, the cheapest, or anything of that sort. Simply the most fun and engaging. You do not need twice the horse power and three times the torque to go to the next level of excitement. It offers a whole more than its tech spec sheet offers. There's just so much more engagement and goodness there than you would bargain for looking at its 192 HP and 230 Nm resume.
It is a pleasant looking little car. Slightly archaic here and there, but it's a minor detail retail. You still get a plenty of airbags and electronic safety systems, and the five star crash rating, and warranty, and German origins and manufacturing, and it's pleasing from all angles, and even quite decent on the inside. The only bad thing is that I haven't driven it sooner. But no matter. Anyhow, a real surprise, a kaleidoscope of senses, and you'll get a fair dose of childish adrenaline rush once you snuggle yourself into the cabin. Overall, superb. My grade here is something like 9.5/10. Go for it, I'd say. And we'll be having a long-term review soon!