First Drive: Vauxhall’s Corsa GSi offers well-equipped fun
What is it?
To a certain generation of enthusiasts, the GSi moniker will hark back bags of nostalgia. The iconic nameplate has graced some of Vauxhall’s finest and most sought-after machinery, gaining a reputation as the badge of a working-class hero.
It’s been revived this year by the British firm — making its return following a 16-year absence on the Insignia, but it’s the latest application that’s more akin to its roots. Introducing the Vauxhall Corsa GSi.
Not-quite-but-sort-of replacing the Corsa VXR, this machine is the new flagship of the Corsa ranging — using the chassis of the full-blown hatch, but toning things back a bit under the bonnet.
Take a glance at the Vauxhall Corsa GSi, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a VXR. Not only does it use the chassis of that car, but more or less all of its look too — save for a switch to a single exhaust at the rear.
Rather than a 1.6-litre powerhouse under the bonnet though, this Corsa uses a tweaked version of the firm’s 1.4-litre unit. Although remapped for the more performance-focused application, it’s down on power compared with its predecessor — but the result is a car designed for younger drivers to run affordably.
What’s under the bonnet?
As mentioned, you won’t find the VXR engine to match the looks in the Corsa GSi, but on paper, its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine still sounds like an intriguing proposition for the hatch.
It delivers 148bhp and 220Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, sending it from 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds with a 129mph top speed possible. As for efficiency, Vauxhall claims 49.6mpg on the combined cycle, along with 139g/km CO2 emissions.
Sadly, the engine doesn’t quite feel up to the same standard as the chassis. Although flexible, it doesn’t deliver the punch the car’s looks would suggest and despite being up on power compared to rivals like the Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost, it doesn’t feel any quicker than either — let alone the Fiesta ST the GSi is priced around. A little more exhaust volume wouldn’t go amiss either.
What’s it like to drive?
While the engine may let the car down, fortunately the VXR chassis means it’s quite fun when the corners get twisty. There is tons of grip on offer — no doubt as a result of standard-fit Koni selective damping — and, although it may not be as playful as rivals, it just sticks to the tarmac.
As an all-rounder, it remains as usable as the Corsa always has been. Visibility is decent all-round, and steering is light enough in city mode for it to not be a daunting prospect around town.
The harsh ride may wear down on some drivers over long distance running, but this is a car squarely aimed at the driver.
How does it look?
The Vauxhall Corsa GSi is a car that looks much faster than it really is. Its VXR-based chassis measn it sits lower than the regular car, and a bold body kit — complete with rear wing — gives it an aggressive presence on the road.
Other subtle differences that mark the GSi out include dark tinted rear windows, a carbon-effect wrap on the grille and wing mirrors — plus LED daytime running lights for no extra cost.
As standard, it features 17-inch alloy wheels — but we’d recommend going for the 18-inch option purely to add to the bolder look.
What’s it like inside?
Hop inside the Corsa GSi and you’re not immediately going to get the sense of being in a real driver-focused machine — but that’s not a bad thing in this case.
On offer is the usual boxy, yet sturdy interior trimmings as found on the regular car — with some subtle differences added to separate it from the rest of the range.
Sports-style front seats come as standard (although we’d suggest ticking the box for the optional Recaro units), as does a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel. That aside, there’s little else to signify this as a GSi.
The Corsa GSi hasn’t seen practicality compromised either — still offering 285 litres of boot space, but still marginally lower than that of the Fiesta’s 292.
What’s the spec like?
At £18,995, the Vauxhall Corsa GSi is quite a pricey prospect. On top of all the racey-looking body bits and VXR mechanicals, other standard equipment includes a seven-inch touchscreen system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, air conditioning, sports-style front seats, cruise control and a heated windscreen.
Our test car came in at an eye-watering £22,160, thanks to optional 18-inch alloy wheels (£510), Nappa leather Recaro seats (£1,055), satellite navigation (£650), electronic climate control (£415), ‘Sight and light pack’ — bringing Xenon headlights (£240) and the red paint (£295).
No matter how you look at it — that’s Fiesta ST rivalling money for a car that competes with the lower-powered ST-Line. Its saving grace is its low, 20E insurance group — making it a tantalising prospect for young drivers.
Perhaps a Vauxhall Corsa GSi is a great choice for the young enthusiast who wants something fun to drive and sporty-looking yet well-equipped and cheap to insure. By those accounts, it ticks all the boxes.
Otherwise, it’s a good car in a segment currently full of great ones. The Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta ST-Line offer greater value for money and even a little more fun, while the full-blown Fiesta ST just totally outpaces the GSi at the same price.
At least room remains for a VXR return…