Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nürburgring review
by David Finlay (22 November 2011)
The Nürburgring edition of the Vauxhall Corsa VXR is a historic device in that it's the first small Vauxhall ever to produce more than 200bhp in standard form. With the help of revised engine management, turbocharger and exhaust system, the 1.6-litre petrol unit has a maximum output of 202bhp (when running on extra-expensive 98 octane unleaded), adding 3mph to the original VXR's 140mph top speed and reducing the 0-60mph time by 0.3 seconds to 6.5 seconds.
The engine tweaks are part of a larger package of improvements which also include a mechanical limited slip differential (much better than those electric versions which, though cheaper and lighter, don't work in the same way and aren't as good) along with new Brembo brakes (30% lighter with more pad area and uprated linings) and Bilstein springs and dampers chosen after testing on the German race circuit which gave the Nürburgring edition its name.
These things, along with several interior and exterior styling fripperies, come at a cost. The standard VXR already costs £18,900, which is on the high side for a small hot hatch. In Nürburgring form, the Corsa is priced at no less than £22,295, or, with the metallic paint, privacy glass, adaptive lighting and Touch and Connect system (satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port and so on) an even more alarming £24,090.
This is a sensational amount of money for a Corsa, and if you are tempted to spend less on a rival with similar - or even substantially less - straightline performance, I will understand entirely.
In fact, I would almost be inclined to bring the discussion to a close at this point, except for one thing: this is a simply fabulous car. I'll wait until I've described it more detail before giving my final opinion, but for the moment I'll settle for pointing out that this is by an enormous margin the best VXR I have ever driven, and possibly, in terms of offering what it's meant to offer, the best Vauxhall full stop.
All of this test was conducted in damp conditions of the sort which brought the Renault Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup to its knees. My very first lap of a damp and greasy Knockhill race circuit in the Corsa confirmed that it wasn't going to have any of this kind of trouble. In fact, if it had behaved on dry tarmac the way it did in the wet during subsequent, and faster, laps I would have been mightily impressed.
The limiting factor on corner entry is that the tail is inclined to step out a little, but you really have to be going very quickly for the road conditions for this to happen. The front end grips tremendously well, so you don't have to wait long before getting on the throttle, and when you do that it actually tightens its line, so that a kerb (or, as the case might be, a marker cone) which you thought you were going to run over when you saw it at the apex remains untroubled even though you're now accelerating as hard as the car will go.
And it's all very easy. People think that a powerful front-wheel drive car with a limited slip diff is bound to be a handful, but in the Corsa there is no fightback through the steering. There's no anything, really. You just tell the car where to go, and how quickly, and it goes there, that quickly. There is no fuss or bother.
It's so relaxed that I devoted as much concentration to chatting with former Touring Car and now Aston Martin GT racer Jonathan Adam - who was in the passenger seat - as I did to driving round the circuit. We prattled on about marketing budgets, career structures in motorsport and so on while the Corsa went round and round, quickly yet securely.
The only source of disappointment was a slight misfire which meant that the car didn't accelerate as well as it should have done between about 5000 and 5500rpm. Presumably that's easily fixed. In all other respects the engine, despite being so powerful for its size, is very friendly, and behaves in more or less the same manner no matter how quickly it's spinning. For that reason I clattered into the rev limiter embarrassingly often; there is absolutely no sense of it straining as it reaches its electronically determined maximum of 6500rpm.
On the roads surrounding Knockhill - sometimes wetter and often much dirtier than the track itself was - the Corsa once again behaved beautifully. From what has already been described you can take its performance and cornering ability as read. In addition, it rides extraordinarily well for a car whose 18" wheels are fitted with what Vauxhall justly describes as "ultra-low profile" 35 section tyres, which just goes to show that rubber like this doesn't need to result in a crashy ride if the suspension has been developed to suit it.
I genuinely didn't expect the Corsa to be anything like as good as this, largely because of the "what the ... ?" feeling I've experienced after driving previous VXRs. The price is, of course, an outrage, and for that reason the Nürburgring edition isn't going to harm sales of rival products as much as it might otherwise have done.
But I'll set that aside and conclude by making the point I sidestepped earlier in this review: as a driver's car, the Corsa Nürburgring is the very best hot hatch of its day.