What has this pic got to do with the new Corsa? Read on to find out

What has this pic got to do with the new Corsa? Read on to find out

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Could this be the car to wrest control of the UK's B-hatchback class away from the Fiesta? With Ford of Europe extending the current model's lifecycle out to eight years, Vauxhall might just get lucky.

The new Corsa won't be available to drive away from dealerships until January but the media preview events took place this month with two things being done differently to the norm for Vauxhall. One was that this all took place at the same time as (not after) Opel's German market launch. And two, Vauxhall chose to break the media drives out by region and nation rather than fly journalists from Scotland, England and Wales (and usually Northern Ireland) to somewhere warmer on the European continent. So we who reside in the south west of England got to experience the new car in Somerset and Wiltshire and for me, that meant some familiar roads.

Vauxhall's plan was to use some of the miles we logged to 'draw' parts of the picture you see above these words and in so doing, managed to achieve a world record for the largest such image yet created this way. Most of the work was undertaken by an artist who specialises in this area - he put away almost 10,000 miles in just a few weeks creating the witch and her ghoulish friends and accessories. You can read all about it here.

Let's get back to the car. You will want to know if it's a big step up over the current one. Yes, and no. Yes means the little three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, which is new to the Corsa and which I had tried not so long ago in the Adam Rocks Air. It's an absolute peach and surely one of GM's best ever small engines. Unlike the unit of the same size which was added to a distant Corsa long ago in 1997, this one isn't a base engine and nor does it deserve to be. It revs so willingly, its sump-mounted counter-balancing shaft makes it unique in its class - take that, Ford 1.0 EcoBoost - and economy is excellent. The other great thing about it is the slick six-speed manual transmission that accompanies it: not only GM Europe engines are being replaced or greatly improved, so too are its gearboxes.

As for that no, it's more that I mean a big step up wasn't going to happen in all areas, e.g. roominess, for one, as the new car uses the same basic platform as the old. This was a long ago joint venture between Opel and Fiat and the Punto still sits on this architecture, which was once known as SCCS. The chassis of the fifth generation Opel Corsa/fourth generation Vauxhall is effectively new but the hardpoints are the same, so as to save manufacturing costs at the Eisenach and Zaragoza (Figueruelas) plants. These make the three- and five-door cars effectively, with the Adam also built at the German factory.

The two body styles are expected to be balanced in terms of UK market sales, while retail and fleet should also be 50:50. It seems obvious that last year's 84,000 registrations will be improved upon in 2015 but that total will also likely be bettered by the end of 2014, even allowing for the run-out of the existing model. That's due to the fact that more than 70,000 Corsas have already been sold for the year to the end of September. And that, despite the first press release announcing the car having been in the public domain since July.

The three-door model is to be promoted as a sportier and more dynamic alternative to the five-door, which should hold greater appeal to a slightly older and perhaps more conservative customer base. Whichever car the buyers choose, it will be well equipped, with even the base versions now having a heated windscreen and other options being more affordable than in some rivals. That includes bi-xenon headlights. These have 25 watt bulbs, which means that they don't have to be sold with automatic levelling and cooling washers, which is reflected in the price: GBP395.

As the new model is being launched in the colder months, there will be an emphasis on things such as a Winter Pack, which includes not just heated seats but a heated steering wheel too. As for model grades and engines, the 1.4-litre 90PS petrol should be the best seller and this will be offered with a standard five-speed manual gearbox. A new six-speed automatic replaces a four-speed auto, though there is a lower cost alternative in the form of a new generation Easytronic 3.0 automated five-speed manual transmission. With this option, there is no clutch pedal, and shifting is done by pushing or pulling the gearlever.

The outgoing Expression base trim level will not be offered in the new model, as Vauxhall tries to move slightly upmarket. Other changes include the S having become Life, and SRi evolving into SRi VX Line. For fleet customers, Design is where model grades begin. Product manager Ian Mitchell points out that insurance groups are now lower, version for version, thanks to cheaper crash repairs. That's due to better front end collision protection, apparently. 

Prices have been cut by up to GBP3,000 in some cases, with the base car starting at GBP8995, which, as noted in a recent news story, means the Corsa undercuts the Fiesta by a thousand pounds. Vauxhall claims that its PCP deal of a GBP2,500 deposit and GBP199/month is also a superior package to what Ford can offer for the equivalent Fiesta. It's a sign of the new-found confidence of GM's UK brand that it is being so aggressive. Without doubt, Vauxhall sees that Ford of Britain is going to have a potentially hard time selling an ageing small car not only in 2015 but also well into 2016 and possibly even 2017. 

Economy is a particular strongpoint with the revised diesel line-up and one particular engine will return an official 88.3mpg with CO2 of 85g/km. The choices at launch are as follows:

• 51 kW/70 PS 1.2

• 66 kW/90 PS 1.4 EcoFLEX

• 55 kW/75 PS 1.3 CDTI (but it's a 1.2)

• 70 kW/95 PS 1.3 CDTI (ditto)

• 66 kW/90 PS 1.0 ECOTEC

• 85 kW/116 PS 1.0 ECOTEC

• 74 kW/100 hp 1.4 EcoFLEX turbo

The diesels have been updated and now have stop-start and are Euro 6-compliant. The changes extend to a new turbocharger, cylinder head, injectors and engine management system.

GM Europe is yet to say anything much about an Opel Corsa OPC or Vauxhall Corsa VXR but these are definitely on the way. They're also the reason why there hasn't been an Adam OPC/VXR as the market for such cars, while nicely profitable, isn't seen as large enough to support two similarly sized models. Expect to see the fastest Corsas appearing in the first quarter of 2015. Not at the Brussels show, as you might think, as next year's one is for LCVs and two-wheelers, not cars. So Geneva seems a more likely bet.

One of the most noteworthy achievements of this new model is the interior. It looks good, feels good and has lots of handy compartments. The front doors can take a 1.5-litre bottle, plus there are three cup holders in the centre console as well as a flexible cup holder in front of the gear lever. The seats have fabrics that are very now, there's an abundance of gloss or soft plastics, instruments are big and clear, steering wheels attractive and well positioned, pedals and shift lever perfectly aligned and weighted. All much improved.

On the infotainment front, this is the first high-volume Vauxhall to be available with IntelliLink, the communications system which we know from the Adam. This is fully customisable and operates through a seven-inch colour touchscreen. It can be controlled via apps such as BringGo (navigation), Stitcher and TuneIn (global radio channels and internet podcasts). IntelliLink is compatible with both Apple and Android phones, and incorporates voice command, Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free.

What's the new car like to drive? Only petrol engines were available and of the two, the 1.0 ECOTEC stood out, as noted above. The steering is sharper than what anyone who owns the existing model will be used to and the specific suspension tuning for UK roads has been time and money well spent. The thing is, there is just so much competition in the European B segment that Opel/Vauxhall had to get this car's set-up just right. Britain is easily the biggest market for this little car (Germany was number two in 2013, but only around 50,000 Corsas were sold there) so the preferences of British drivers really do count. It's more comfortable than sporting, but there's certainly less lean when cornering. I wouldn't call it a segment leader but it's up there fairly close to the best-in-class Fiesta, Polo and 208. The Ford's weakness is now its age and its dated interior but its dynamics are still superb.

The new car might not yet even be in showrooms but Opel and Vauxhall are already planning the Corsa after next. Which means that the 2006-2014 model is being followed by what will likely become a 2014-2018 or 2019 lifecycle car. For that reason, I can't imagine there will be a mid-life facelift for Vauxhall Corsa 4/Opel Corsa 5. The reason for the short shelf life is simple: GM will by decade end have switched all of its global B segment models to the forthcoming G2XX platform. Therefore it makes no sense to keep the Corsa on what will by then be a legacy architecture. 

After driving it, you can see this new car being competitive for the next four-five years, and crucially, it's more than good enough to properly challenge the Fiesta in the UK market. It could well be the key model in a new phase of Vauxhall's continued resurgence. A resurgence that, thanks to a fresh Astra five-door in a year's time and with the support of other smaller volume new cars such as the Viva, might even mean GM pulls ahead of Ford in passenger car sales in Britain. It won't happen this year, and not next year either, but I suspect the gap will be closing towards the end of 2015 and into 2016.