The Vauxhall Corsa, undoubtedly one of the most popular small cars on our roads since the mid-nineties, yet one that saw itself dissolve into the unexciting, just another run of the mill model that sold by the thousands.
Yes OK, there was the VXR in recent years, but always being a little overpriced and too hardcore for many, it was never a common sight on our roads. Long gone were the days of the sporting models, most sought after in Corsa B guise.
Models like the SRi captured the heart of the young men and women who wanted street cred, a bit of go, and something that rewarded on a spirited back road blast, but there was always one model that SRi owners were in awe of, The GSi.
Running back then, an almighty 1.6L 16v petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual ‘box, with body styling that was just different enough to set it apart from the rest of the model range, owning a GSi Corsa was something to be proud of.
Sadly though, things went soft, insurances spiked for young drivers, and Vauxhall resorted to softer models such as the Sport and SXi, both of which offered just enough for the younger market they were aimed at, but no match for what they replaced.
Until now, the Corsa from Vauxhall has went firmly under my radar, despite having an SRi model in varying guises, it just wasn’t the same, even the boy racers had given up hope, no longer could you get excited about a ‘combat kit’ or rear-shelf akin to a nightclub’s sound system.
Not all is lost however, as the GSi is reborn, offering ‘performance through dynamics’ in a trim and performance level that hasn’t been seen in over a decade, and when better to do it than the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vauxhall Corsa, at a guess it is bound to be twenty years or more since we last saw GSi and Corsa on the tailgate together.
A few months back, I got wind of the pending Corsa GSi and greeted the news with a beaming smile as I recalled many a story of days gone by growing up in a vibrant yet somewhat underground car scene in Northern Ireland which was awash with various GSi models.
One of my regular lifts to and from school was in a Red GSi replica, at that age none of could afford more than an excuse for an engine, so money was spent on style and sound, i still blame my hard of hearing on Darude – Sandstorm and DJ Jean – The Launch, being played at unsuitable levels through several 6×9 speakers.
Life was much simpler then, good times had, and memories made in one of Vauxhalls biggest ever sellers and this reincarnation is still primarily aimed at the young driver market, offering a quick, safe, and agile place to be, with favourable PCP deals and a segment leading low insurance group of just 20E.
Fitted as standard with 17” alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, an optional 18” wheel is available and handling is aided with a 10mm drop and the addition of Koni shock absorbers, specifically designed for increased damping when required.
Engine wise, I hoped that Vauxhall would utilise their almost 200bhp 1.6L turbocharged petrol unit, however it wasn’t to be as they see the turbocharged petrol 1.4L power-train, already used across the range, as the better suited unit producing just shy of 150bhp and with 220nm of torque, it sits a bit shy of some rivals.
GSi specific engine software sets it apart from lesser models that use the engine, and combined with a close ratio 6-speed manual gearbox, ensures this warm hatch is always ready, no matter what road, nor conditions, and stopping power is more than adequate thanks to 308mm discs up front.
In typical GSi fashion, noticeable body styling helps it stand out from the crowd, such as the restyled front bumper, carbon effect trim, rear spoiler and red brake calipers, whilst inside a leather sports steering wheel feels and looks great alongside the leather gear knob and alloy pedals.
As far as seats and trim go, I can’t comment on what comes as standard, nor how comfortable they are, as the test cars all came equipped with the leather Recaro reclining bucket seats, a must have for any potential buyer in my opinion, so in fairness, few should ever know what the standard trim is like.
This sports seat upgrade option which includes a leather trimmed rear bench is priced at £1,055, but for an extra £845 you can spec a ‘GSi Plus Pack’ which further adds 18” wheels and bi-xenon lighting – pretty reasonable value I feel.
Inside, the Corsa GSi is much better finished than Suzuki’s Swift Sport, but not quite near the quality of VW’s Polo GTi, all of which is reflected in the pricing structures of each model. I feel a dark head-cloth is required in the Corsa but overall it’s a pleasant cabin to sit in.
The seating position and the Recaro seats themselves are faultless with the dash well designed for ease of use, with just a few buttons hidden by the steering wheel making them a bit awkward when needed.
A 7-inch touch-screen is the hub of Corsa GSi’s infotainment system which features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, AM/FM/DAB Radio and Bluetooth connectivity with streaming as standard, whilst the cars tested featured Navigation with Apps as part of an optional upgrade.
Driving the Corsa GSi provides all the agility you would expect from such a model, I would even go as far as saying I was surprised at just how great the chassis is after completing an autotest course with multiple champion and world renowned precision driver, Paul Swift in the navigators seat.
On the road, over a more than substantial driving route of almost two hours, that incorporated every road imaginable, the Corsa GSi’s handling again proved fantastic with the perfect blend of comfort and stability, no matter how smooth or rough the road.
Engine wise and on first impressions, I feel the 1.4L unit is perhaps a little underwhelming for the chassis, needing revved hard, it doesn’t feel like it has the low-down grunt as that seen in the likes of the Suzuki Swift Sport.
Then again, increasing the engine size will increase costs greatly, as well as hike the insurance group and at this point, the target market is no longer financially able to afford the car they long to own, I can understand the combination for this reason.
I do hope to be able to bring you a more comprehensive review after a week of driving the Corsa GSi on local roads in the near future, at which point my views on the power-train may well be a little more enthusiastic after getting its legs stretched on familiar terrain.
Available without options from a realistic £18,995, the GSi now fills the void for a car that offers performance with refinement, frugality and affordability – bringing a bit more than the SRi but not just as much as the VXR.
With a real-world spec, I’d say you’ll need to spend at least £21,000, with the test cars pictured tipping just over £23,000 which puts a well-kitted Corsa GSi in the direct firing line of the much more potent Fiesta ST and VW Polo GTi, the latter with its 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine.
So can the Corsa GSi reignite fond memories and carve its name back into the ‘young lads car to have’ wall of fame? Only time will tell, but it certainly offers an attractive and affordable all-round package, something its rivals struggle to do for varying reasons.
Words and Photos: Graham Baalham-Curry
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