Another battle, and this month, it’s an odd one. On the face of it, the bigger XE should walk this, but its baby brother has plenty of positive attributes that might tip the balance in its favour...
The C16XE was the small-block version of the infamous Redtop, first found in the Corsa GSi, then the Corsa Sport (badged as an X16XE). Its Lotus-designed induction system reportedly delivered a power figure high enough to trouble the Astra GSi and this, combined with the dizzying hot hatch insurance prices of the time, resulted in Vauxhall redesigning it to choke back the power. That means that performance is still there, waiting to be unlocked. A Mantzel or Dbilas inlet can net you between 10 and 20bhp, while coupling these with exhaust mods can see you up to 150bhp. It’s also worth remembering that the ‘baby XE’ can be had for a fraction of the cost of a Redtop, and they’re still relatively plentiful.
Downsides? Well, unless you spend mega-money you’ll never match the 2.0 power figures, and tuning them over 200bhp often means sacrificing on-road drivability with aggressive cams.
This engine doesn’t need much introduction – it’s one of the cornerstones of the tuned Vauxhall scene, responsible for propelling some of the most famous and well-loved feature cars ever built. Designed to allow Vauxhall to go racing, then plonked between the wings of the Mk2 Astra GTE in an almost unchanged form, the XE didn’t so much move the goalposts of the hot-hatch market as totally change the game. You can tune them to insane levels (over 300bhp has been seen in race engines), and you can fit them into almost anything that’s wearing a Vauxhall badge.
On the other hand, there’s the fact that these are now old engines, so good ones command a premium price. Tuning parts can also be expensive, especially if you want to push past the 200bhp mark.
It’s a tough one, but the C20XE just pips it thanks to its fantastic performance potential. That said – if we were building a light, trackfocussed Nova or Corsa, it’s the 1.6 that we’d plump for.