Opel Corsa 1400 Essentia

Cheap, but still cheerful.

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Straight after the unmitigated disappointment of that Sandero 1400, I climbed into one of the better-known of the original “cheapie” brigade. Oh yes, Opel might prefer it’s littlest Corsa range to now be more accurately referred to as a premium supermini, but I think we all still recall the Corsa Lite, yes? It used to be a budget offering this name.

It isn’t so much any more. Look at R160K for this entry-level 1.4, it’s quite fairly priced, but it ain’t cheap in the way the Dacia is. A casual glance at the spec sheet might leave you wondering just what justifies the extra cost over the Renault? So there are electric windows in the fronts rather than winders all round, a standard service plane included in the list price, and of course the latest Corsa shape is much, much prettier and more deliberately defined. But otherwise it’s the same five-door, 1.4-litre petrol-powered family tin box recipe, really.

However, one can tend to forget a little that Opel, although playing further down the value scale than the most prominent German players, is still a vehicle built in this centre of engineering excellence. So the moment you step inside the new Corsa, you can tell the real differences between this level of car, and a proper budget-beater. It’s just a nicely rounded and well-finished package on the whole.

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Adequate interior materials quality meets a tightly-integrated finish to modern, Eurocentric cabin styling cues. Although the Corsa isn’t a particularly new release there’s nothing inside that looks dated or in any way flaky or out of place. It’s not overladen with technology but it is pretty comfortably appointed as standard, and what you do get seems as though it’ll stay working for quite some time.

That said, a problem which has been pretty consistent on Opels for a few years now does quickly become apparent. With your foot on the clutch pedal, turning the steering wheel swings the pedal from side to side beneath the sole of your shoe. It’s a bit strange, but you don’t really notice it when on the move.

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Speaking of moving, the compact little 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine up front produces the same kind of numbers as the Renault unit in the Sandero, but in reality outpunches this motor easily while even managing to sound relatively keen about it all. Sure it’s still no supermini, but yet again demonstrates how the latest small-engine thinking can actually be applied without sacrificing all the qualities we’ve come to love about our dear little modes of transport, even without a turbocharging swelling its output.

This little featherweight motor can actually propel the Corsa up to and even beyond the 170km/h marking on the speedo without prompting the driver to lift off urgently or risk leaving bits of piston scattered about in an oily, smoke-filled wake. In short, there’s heart behind this compact vehicle, an indomitable spirit which refuses to back down regardless of how much bigger or more powerful it’s opponent. You have to love that a little, certainly compared to other cars in this price range which simply don’t feel like they’re interested in trying, or worse, that trying is going to be an expensive mistake on the part of the owner.

The gearbox is good too, moving with a solid precision through its gates and only occasionally baulking, and although the brakes are nothing to write home about, they do offer good progression and decent feel.

Handling is once again commendable for such a high-volume product. Again the impression of solidity comes up, despite its diminutive dimensions the little Corsa seems to stick to the road with conviction, and even relishes the bends that it finds itself scything through.

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And finally we come back to the look of the little Corsa. It’s evolved from its original bubbliness to be quite a sharp, handsome little machine in its latest form. It’s a car which actually looks designed, rather than simply being the most cost-effective sheet metal capable of being stamped out in big numbers for low cost at some obscure manufacturing facility. Once again, you may pay a premium for what seems like an intangible perception more than anything else, but you’ll appreciate that fact every time you park up and walk away from it without feeling vaguely ashamed of what you’ve shown up in.

Ths is an excellent overall proposition the Corsa 1.4. Fairly affordable without simply being dismal in every respect, it’s a great first car on a journey to being someone with at least a modicum of motoring passion, rather than for those who’re keen to be soulless drones untouched and unmoved by this dying artform of metal and power and presence. It’d also make a brilliant everyday runaround for a small but growing family, with low fuel consumption, enough build quality to make it feel nice and safe, and handling which even in an emergency is going to be on your side.

Perhaps Opel should consider reinventing the “Lite” moniker – dropping some of the amenities like the electric windows and driving down the price of the Corsa to take on the real budget players? Because the Corsa is so far ahead of others in this category t just isn’t funny. And against it’s direct peers, it’s very competitive and for me would be pretty hard to call between the Corsa and a similarly-priced Polo. The VW would have a bigger and better engine, but the Opel looks nicer by some margin.

Russell Bennett

Liked: Some character.

Slashed, angular styling.

Feels generally well built.

Disliked: Strange clutch/steering column relationship.

Could be even better value…

Drive Vitals: Opel Corsa 1.4 Essentia

Engine:                                                 4-cylinder petrol

Capacity (cc)                                     1398

Gearbox                                              Five-speed Manual

Power (kW)                                        74

Torque (Nm)                                    130

Driven wheels                                  Front

Wheel/tyre dimensions              Fr/Rear 185/65 R15

Price                                                    R165 650

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  • Phumlani ChiefofProjects Ndawo

    Eish…. Moving Off and Clutch Pedal is a hectic issue on this car…… Hope Opel will notice this , as I have a 2013 Model.

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