Thumbs up for come­back kid

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE - Ler­ato Matebese matebe­sel@bdlive.co.za

THE B-seg­ment hatch ac­counts for about 40% of the pas­sen­ger car mar­ket, so it will come as no sur­prise that most of the ma­jor play­ers have an of­fer­ing in this com­pet­i­tive arena, in­clud­ing mod­els such as the Ford Fi­esta, Kia Rio, Hyundai i20 and the sales lead­ing Volk­swa­gen Polo.

Opel has been left by the way­side in re­cent years as its cus­to­dian, Gen­eral Mo­tors (GM), turned its at­ten­tion to the Chevrolet brand in­stead, which I be­lieve was a fu­tile move. Granted, the bow tie wear­ing brand of­fered good value for money propo­si­tions in both the Aveo and Sonic vari­ants, but th­ese never quite net­ted the au­di­ence its ri­vals had, so the com­pany had to de­vise an­other plan.

En­ter the fifth gen­er­a­tion Opel Corsa, which is now avail­able in SA and will be spear­head­ing GMSA’s B-seg­ment on­slaught as the brand looks to dou­ble its vol­ume this year. In 2014 alone, the brand had a 36% year-on-year in­crease com­pared to 2013, ac­cord­ing to Ian Ni­cholls, vice-pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions. He said the fore­cast for 2015 is to dou­ble the vol­ume, which sig­nals the com­pany’s in­tent to make the brand the bas­tion it once was. The Adam launched at the end of last year, the now avail­able new Corsa, and the im­mi­nent Mokka cross­over will all be in­stru­men­tal in this growth. Niche mod­els such as the As­tra OPC and the forth­com­ing Corsa OPC will re­main halo mod­els of the brand.

The new Corsa’s styling takes cues from the Adam, par­tic­u­larly that front air­dam re­plete with the logo. Sharper head­lights, a sculpted bon­net, swage line on the side and the larger rear clus­ters are some of the de­sign high­lights. Most changes can be seen in the in­te­rior where some of the cheap plas­tics of its pre­de­ces­sor have been dis­pensed with and re­placed with bet­ter fin­ishes, which are right up there with its com­peti­tors. Pas­sen­ger space has been max­imised while the front seats are fairly com­fort­able and the scope of ad­just­ment, in re­la­tion to the tele­scopic steer­ing col­umn, was also good.

Avail­able in three spec­i­fi­ca­tions — Essentia, En­joy and Cosmo — the mod­els at launch in the Mother City were equipped with the com­pany’s peachy 1l three­pot­ter tur­bocharged en­gine with 85kW and 170Nm pow­er­ing the front wheels through a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. In April the range will be bol­stered by a 1.4l nor­mally-as­pi­rated vari­ant with an au­to­matic gear­box.

Per­haps not as punchy as the Ford Fi­esta Eco­boost en­gine, the Corsa’s mo­tor truly im­presses with its re­fine­ment and smooth- ness. Even at the higher rev range, the en­gine con­tin­ues to spin in a man­ner af­fil­i­ated with much larger en­gines. Whether weav­ing through the moun­tain pass in Fran­schhoek or over­tak­ing slower mov­ing traf­fic, the en­gine makes a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment over nor­mally as­pi­rated, slightly big­ger ca­pac­ity pow­er­plants. Ef­fi­ciency ranks highly for the new en­gine and the com­pany claims a con­sump­tion fig­ure of 5l/100km and 119g/km of car­bon emis­sions, although a more re­al­is­tic con­sump­tion fig­ure of about 6l/100km is fea­si­ble in real world driv­ing terms.

A seven-inch In­telliLink in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is avail­able as an op­tion on En­joy and Essentia mod­els, and stan­dard on Cosmo. It is com­pat­i­ble with both An­droid and Ap­ple smartphones so you can use apps from your phone via the high res­o­lu­tion in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen. Spec­i­fi­ca­tion is rel­a­tively good on the En­joy and Cosmo vari­ants we drove and all mod­els, in­clud­ing the en­try level Essentia, come stan­dard with ESP, dual airbags and ABS. This has seen the Corsa score a five-star EuroNcap safety rat­ing, which bodes well for those shop­ping in this seg­ment where man­u­fac­tur­ers some­times skimp on safety items to un­der­cut ri­vals on price.

The cabin is also well in­su­lated and on a par with that of the VW Polo. The chas­sis is a bal­anced af­fair and even through some switch­backs it dis­played fairly neu­tral han­dling through the cor­ners. It should, in my books, be a pre­lude to the 154kW OPC vari­ant, which will be made avail­able here later in the year.

With both the up­dated Kia Rio and the new Hyundai i20 al­ready launched, the new Corsa seems to have en­tered the game at a favourable time. While the Korean mar­ques of­fer good spec­i­fi­ca­tion and value, both the Corsa and Polo of­fer far su­pe­rior driver en­joy­ment, thanks to the tur­bocharged en­gines. The Corsa has also moved the goal­posts with re­gards to re­fine­ment and qual­ity, which should see it com­pete more favourably with its ri­vals, par­tic­u­larly the Polo.

Pric­ing is also in the ball­park of com­peti­tors, and thus should not suf­fer the fate of its pre­de­ces­sor, which seemed a tad ex­pen­sive for some­thing that was rather long in the tooth com­pared to ri­vals. Thanks to its new-found class and re­fine­ment, the new Corsa is poised to ruf­fle some feath­ers in the seg­ment.

Opel’s fifth gen­er­a­tion Corsa set to ruf­fle feath­ers of its B-seg­ment ri­vals The Corsa has also moved the goal­posts with re­gards to re­fine­ment and qual­ity

Pric­ing:

1.0T Essentia R185,500 1.0T En­joy R216,200 1.0T Cosmo R236,300

The new Corsa takes some styling cues form the re­cently launched Opel Adam, while the rear, top, has hints of As­tra about it. Mid­dle: The in­te­rior is a ma­jor im­prove­ment. The In­telliLink sys­tem, above, brings the Corsa into the new era of in­fo­tain­ment.

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