First Drive – Opel Corsa 1.4T Sport

This is no OPC – that was one of the first things Opel South Africa made very clear to us at the business session on the launch of the new Corsa Sport – however with my hands around an OPC steering wheel, shifting gears via an OPC gear lever, and scything through Robinson Pass the 5-door hatch could’ve fooled me.  It wasn’t the outright pace – something the Corsa Sport is definitely lacking – but stringing together corners with balance, precision and composure, matched with the ability to carry impressively high speeds through the corners are definitely traits the OPC will bear with pride.


But for now, this lukewarm 5-door Sport model will have to tide us over until the OPC arrives either late this year or early 2016.  The Corsa Sport features Opel’s new 1.4-litre turbocharged 4 cylinder ecoTEC engine, derived from the turbo triple we’ve seen in the ADAM and lower-spec Corsa models.  Power outputs are set at 110kW @ 5000rpm and 220Nm @ 3000rpm, but Opel SA tell us those figures are achieved only on 98 octane fuel – so expect outputs locally to realistically sit around the 103kW/205Nm mark on 95 octane fuel.  It’s a new lightweight unit that shunts the Corsa Sport from 0-100km/h in a claimed 9.6 seconds before topping out at 204km/h – not spectacular figures I’ll admit, but also figures that do nothing to explain how good the Corsa Sport is.  Drive goes to the front wheels via Opel’s new 6-speed manual ‘box, one of the best around, and Opel claim fuel economy figures at 5.9l/100km.


The Sport features upgraded sport brakes, suspension, and a revised electronic steering setup, accompanied by 17-inch sport alloys – all aimed at improving handling and agility.  These, combined with the revised chassis of the new Corsa, are the highlight of the Sport model.  Through the Robinson, Outeniqua and Meiringspoort passes surrounding George and Oudtshoorn, the upgrades proved themselves scrupulously – with massive amounts of grip from the tyres, and an impressive chassis balance that saw quick changes of direction dealt with swiftly and comfortably, all whilst dealing with mid-corner bumps and surface changes completely unshaken.  The steering too, plays a huge role in all this, with turn in that’s immediate and direct, if a little light and vague to the sense – you really have to learn to rely on the car more than your own feeling as it’s far more capable than the lightly weighted steering setup would suggest.


Due to the fairly high allowance for wheel travel – this doesn’t lose inches from the suspension like an OPC would – comfort levels remain incredibly high, with the Sport soaking up bumps completely unfazed.  But it all becomes a lot more impressive when you glance down at the speedometer to see how much speed the Sport actually carries through corners.  It’s incredible how a small front-wheel drive hatch enters corners with such speed and fails to scrub any of it off through understeer.


When you do eventually push too hard though, and understeer does eventually seep into the concoction, you can either self correct with throttle reduction that rotates the Corsa ever so gently around the front wheels, or you can allow the ESP – which Opel touts as being ‘progressive’ – to intervene.  It’s an entirely unobtrusive system; just as well since you can’t deactivate it; but it allows for almost stupid speeds to be kept in check through even the most diverse surfaces through multiple radii turns – gently reining you in when you’ve gone too far.  The brakes, too, do an impressive job, resisting fade and anchoring the Sport to a near halt when a slow-moving truck appears around a blind curve.


It’s a good thing the Corsa Sport feels this alive through the bends, though, because everywhere else it’s almost too calm.  The interior has high levels of refinement and very little noise penetrates the cabin – barring wind noise at excessive speeds.  The suspension soaks up bumps in the tarmac effortlessly, and due to the solid lump of torque arriving so low down in the rev spectrum, the engine feels flat above 3500rpm, almost lifeless.  That low-down torque is so effective actually that even when grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, you’d be better off in a higher gear than chasing the rev limiter.


Unless you’re truly manhandling the Corsa Sport and searching for mountain passes to race through, it offers little that the standard 1.0T models don’t already do so.  The turbo-triple engines in the lesser specced cars offer a far more characterful drive at 1-9/10ths, while offering nearly the same amount of available torque.


But the Corsa Sport does offer plenty that potential buyers might enjoy over and above the lower-specced models.  ‘Moonray’ Sports seats; cloth covered items that feel wonderful until you’re really in the deep end of a turn, where they need more side bolstering, are standard pieces of kit, as are the OPC bits and bobs around the cabin.  Visually, the OPC-line bodykit looks great too, complementing the 17-inch Dark Titanium wheels and a range of 15 exterior colours.


Other standard kit includes LED daytime running lamps, bi-xenon headlamps, automatic climate control, Opel’s IntelliLink touch screen and mobile connectivity suite, tyre pressure monitor, auto headlamps, auto windscreen wipers, 6 airbags and a 5-star NCAP safety rating, and optionally, Opel’s Advanced Park Assist 2 (APA2) which parks for you, and blind spot alert, which come as a single optional package for R5000 above the base price.


Speaking of that base price, it’s R255 200 – R21 700 shy of a Fiesta ST, and R16 000 more than a Suzuki Swift Sport.  For all the kit it comes equipped with, the pricing is certainly on the fairer side of things, but those who care more for the driving thrills and less for the frills will opt for the cheaper Suzuki, which trades some comfort and premium feel for outright driving pleasure.  The Corsa Sport offers a perfect balance between comfortable daily driver, and when the occasion arises, a sporty warm hatch than can run with the big dogs.  But it’s only that last 10th of its drive that really thrills – the rest of the time it’s just a bit too plain to really deserve the Sport moniker…  That said, the supreme balance of the chassis and the way it handles that last 10th of the drive really does bode well for the forthcoming Corsa OPC.


The Opel Corsa Sport comes standard with a 3 year/60 000km service plan, and a 5 year/120 000km warranty, as well as backing from GMSA’s new Complete Care initiative.


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