★★★★ | Vauxhall Corsa VXR

The Vauxhall Corsa is a familiar sight on UK roads; no surprise considering it’s the second best-selling car of 2015 with over 57,000 having found homes this year.

Although the majority of buyers will be drawn to the low purchase price, cheap running costs and smart (if inoffensive) looks, there’s a variant that adds something extra, excitement. Step forward the VXR.

Originally launched back in 2007 and heavily reworked along with the rest of the Corsa range at the start of 2015, the VXR takes aim at cars such as the Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S. Compared to these, it looks something of a bargain at just shy of £18,000. That may be slightly pricier than the ST but it offers more power and a level of standard equipment higher than the cheapest fast Ford. For serious driver’s there’s also the optional ‘Performance Pack’ that’s fitted to our test car.

Regardless of options, the VXR comes with a muscular 205hp from the 1.6 litre turbocharged engine, enough for 0-62mph in a rapid 6.5 seconds. That’s almost half a second faster than the Fiesta ST and enough to make the VXR very entertaining. The engine is certainly effective but lacks the kind of aural fireworks that make for a truly great motor. It’s also some way behind rivals in terms of carbon emissions and economy. While I did manage 40mpg on a long run, my average for a week was nearer 35mpg. A heavy right foot can see this drop below 30.

Still, it’s unlikely you’d buy a hot hatch for cheap running costs. Of more interest will be how it goes round bends, an area the Performance Pack really helps with. For £2400, you gain bigger Brembo brakes, stiffer suspension, larger wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and a race bred Drexler limited-slip differential.

Opt for the pack and the first thing you’ll notice is the suspension; those after a comfortable life should look elsewhere. In day to day use the VXR is very stiffly sprung and can get a little bouncy at times. The pay-off is fine body control when you’re going for it with very little roll and a neutral balance, a good thing considering the vast reserves of grip the tyres serve up.

For me it was the Drexler diff that made the biggest difference. Unlike electronic systems that simply slow a spinning wheel with a dab of brakes, this mechanical device prevents one wheel spinning by locking up making them spin together. Not only does this improve traction but it actively pulls the nose of the car into bends where a normal car would start understeering.

Eventually the nose does run wide but the amount of speed you can carry up to that point is incredible. The VXR may be fast and great fun to throw around but it’s never the most talkative of companions, you’re much more likely to have the wheel writhing with torque steer than sending gentle messages about what the road surface is doing.

Style wise, the VXR wants you to know how quick it is. There are gaping intakes and a chin spoiler up front, a faux diffuser and a couple of big exhaust pipes out back, side skirts, a big rear spoiler and 17 or 18” inch wheels barely hiding those big Brembo brakes. For real boy racers, there’s even a pack that adds carbon fibre effect flourishes to the grille and mirrors. If it were a person it would most definitely be wearing a tracksuit and chunky gold jewellery. It would be an attractive chav though.

The interior is dominated by a pair of figure-hugging Recaro seats (leather is a £1045 option) that along with the chunky leather steering wheel really set the scene. A leather handbrake grip and gearstick gaiter are nice additions although the gearknob itself was a bit too big for my dainty hand. The upper half of the dashboard is nicely finished in soft touch plastics with piano black and chrome trim helping it seem quite upmarket at first.

This illusion is somewhat undermined the first time you reach for the cheap feeling heater controls or feel the hard and scratchy black plastic that covers much of the doors and lower dash. This isn’t an expensive car however and you do get a lot of performance kit for your cash, with that in mind it’s just about acceptable.

Those wanting their hot hatch to be as practical as possible should bear in mind the VXR is three door only, While that undoubtedly helps the looks, the heavily winged seats don’t lean forwards very far making rear entry tricky. Space in the back isn’t terrible though and the boot is far bigger than you’d get in a MINI too.

To sum up, the Corsa VXR Performance Pack feels a bit like a four wheeled hooligan. The exterior styling is brash, it can be physical to drive and it’s a little rough around the edges inside too. On the flip side, it’s vast amounts of fun, fast and not too expensive either. If you’re so inclined, I think it would be an absolute riot on a track day and you’d probably surprise some more expensive metal too. Come and have a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough.

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Pros

Exciting to drive
Good value
Looks like a hot hatch should

Cons

Coarse engine
Expensive to run
Could be more feelsome

The Lowdown

Car – Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack
Price – £17,995 (£21,590 as tested)
Power – 205hp
0-60 – 6.5 seconds
Top Speed – 143 mph
Co2 – 174g/km

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Reviewed by Alan Taylor-Jones

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