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Can you trust a used Vauxhall Corsa?

Can you trust a used Vauxhall Corsa?

11 April 2022 Concept Car

Before we consider that provocative question in the title, think about the following for a second:

Anyone thinking about buying a subcompact/supermini, can’t NOT think about the Corsa. If that isn’t a measure of success, then we don’t know what is!

Over three decades, Vauxhall have created one of the UK’s (and Europe’s for that matter) strongest car model brands. And this despite the almost continuous sniping and sneering from the car press, who have always felt that this car lacks charm, charisma and personality.

In 2021, the Corsa even managed to achieve the seemingly impossible: it secured the top spot in the years-end-sales-ranking, becoming the UK’s most popular model. It far outsold the number two and left its perennial adversary, the Ford Fiesta biting its dust.

Right now, the Corsa has reached the undeniable pinacle of its popularity.

But: Can you truly trust it?

This seems like a bizarre question to ask.

In total, around one and a half million UK customers have already put their trust in this car. Vauxhall has emerged as one of the brands who have adapted to the demands of the pandemic best. And the way things are going, its sales numbers are going to keep rising.

And yet, from the beginning, the Corsa has been plagued by a bad reputation. Let’s forget the criticism about its supposedly unsatisfying driving behaviour for a second – we’ll get into that later.

The main point of contention has been the questionable reliability of the Corsa and about Vauxhall in general.

Although you won’t find any truly horrific stories about Corsas breaking down or outright scandals, many Vauxhall models tend to score below average rankings at many reliability comparisons.

Especially if you’re on a tight budget, this can be bad news. So: Should you invest in a Corsa if you can’t afford any risks?

In this article, we’ll take a deep look at the Corsa, from earlier models to the current generation. Even though the new iteration of the model is pretty young, you can already find second hand offers for it. We’ll take a look at the significant changes it offers as well as improvements over previous generations.

After that, we’ll go back in time a bit to investigate the reputation of older Corsas as well as its prime competitors.

But first, let’s ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind:

How bad is the Corsa’s reliability, really?

When the new Corsa was released to the public, most reviewers were keen to point out how bad the previous version’s reliability reputation had been. It seemed everyone was simply taking this for granted.

Upon closer inspection, as it turned out, there was very little hard proof for this assertion. Most reviews over the years have awarded the Corsa perfectly reasonable reliability. Which makes sense for a car which is perfectly average – in the best possible meaning of the word – in every respect.

Sure, you’d sometimes get the odd review which placed a Vauxhall extremely low on the reliability ranking. But these were always quickly offset with remarkably high scores in other surveys.

How to explain these striking differences?

When it comes to reliability, things have always been somewhat confusing. You’d think that it shouldn’t be too hard: Simply count the number of issues drivers experience with a particular model, compare them to the statistics of its competitors and then create a ranking.

This type of ranking has existed for many years across the world. Curiously, results in the UK and the USA can be significantly different, sometimes outright contradictory. Rankings in a country like Germany can occasionally even seem as though they’re measuring something else entirely.

Which, in fact, they are!

The German Automobile organisation ADAC creates its influential reliability list with a particular focus on the number of times a specific model has broken down on the highway. This is a statistic which doesn’t factor into any other comparable survey anywhere else.

It explains why German cars do so much better at home: They hardly ever break down seriously, but can be plagued by somewhat less dramatic issues if you don’t take utmost care of them.

Which means: They tend to be excellent even though their reliability is usually just slightly above average elsewhere. And despite their premium prices, they are certainly not without fault.

That said, with the exception of Germany, Corsas have garnered the same reliability ratings across the board as other Vauxhall / Opel models: Not truly bad, but often below average.

How bad is below average?

There are a few ways to answer this question.

Firstly, although Vauxhalls do often lag behind the competition in reliability overviews, there are several instances where they’ve done really well. In a recent Telegraph rating, they actually ended up fourth overall! https://www.osv.ltd.uk/are-vauxhall-relibale/

So the slightly disappointing overall picture significantly improves if you take the occasional positive result into consideration.

Secondly, it is important to take a closer look to see which departments Vauxhalls are actually below average for. When it comes to a few expensive items such as the electrics, they will often score below average, according to Whatcar.

This clearly drags down their overall rating.

How reliable is Vauxhall’s reliability?

Different Vauxhall models have traditionally performed very differently in reliability ratings. Although Vauxhall overall doesn’t score too well, the Corsa in particular has always been a positive outlier. It is, we can say with confidence, a perfectly reliable and great car.

Finally, reliability rankings measure very different things today than they did two decades ago. Whereas our parents’ generation suffered from major rust issues, breaks that would break down mid-ride or oil leaks, most issues today are rather minor in comparison.

That’s not to say that smaller issues don’t matter. It does mean, however, that even the worst car on the market today would have been a figurehead of reliability not that long ago – and will drive just fine for the average person.

The Peugeot connection should help Vauxhall’s reliability!

Germans have a reputation for reliability. That’s not entirely unjustified, although the demise of Mercedes in the 90s and the rapid rise of Japanese and Korean car brands have somewhat reversed that impression.

Whatever your feelings may be, very few of us think of French car makes as particularly reliable. For good reasons: Especially in the 60s and 70s, the build quality of French cars left a lot to be desired, especially when it came to mechanics and the metalwork.

Peugeot, too, did not always give off a great picture.

And yet, the company has entirely turned that impression around over the past decade.

Thanks to a relentless drive for improvement, Peugeots are today very reliable and, in some instances, are setting industry standards rather than following them.

In 2019, JD Power, the marketing research company in charge of the biggest American reliability study concluded that Peugeot was not the USA’s most reliable car brand. The extremely severe study found that Peugeots had only 70 issues per 100 cars – whereas the average lies at 118!

“Peugeot didn’t just come out on top in the study,” experts concluded, “it was miles ahead of its competitors.”

The JD Power study isn’t without its critics. But in the UK, reputable publications have arrived at a similar picture. Recently, Auto Express this year also considered the 2008 as one of the UK’s most reliable vehicles.

With this in mind, it looks more than likely, that a similar turnaround should be possible for Vauxhall, too.

What are some of the Corsa’s general weaknesses?

That said, we need to take an honest look at the Corsa’s cons.

Generally speaking, many experts agree the following points are not exactly strengths of the brand:

Corsa Cons #1: Driving experience

The Ford Fiesta satisfies those who want a gritty ride and truly feel the road. Volkswagen, many Japanese brands and the French models tend to more comfort oriented, which creates a smooth and fluent drive.

The Vauxhall sits somewhat aimlessly in between these extremes and has often been described as an unsatisfying experience.

Here, however, the new Corsa appears to mark a turning point. Some even consider it the currently finest drive on the UK market, combining a balanced ride with a sporty immediacy.

Will it dethrone the Fiesta or achieve the German and French sense of softness? Probably not. But the current Corsa need not hide from its main rivals.

When it comes to earlier versions, the experience may be an acquired taste. For most of us, the Corsa will do just fine.

Corsa Cons #2: Uninspiring design

A car is not meant to be looked at, it’s meant to be driven. So you can forgive Vauxhall for its somewhat conservative exterior design.

Unfortunately, the passenger cabin is also somewhat uninspiring. Which is a pity, really, especially for the Astra, which invites drivers to rack up plenty of miles and spend many hours inside of it.

But let’s be honest: Are these disadvantages truly relevant when it comes to choosing a car? And besides, the Corsa’s looks have always been familiar and sympathetic. We may not passionately love it. But as a friend and daily companion to work, it’s certainly not bad!

Corsa Cons #3: Space

Even today, the Corsa is still a pretty spacious car with a sizable boot. The redesign did make it a little less so, especially for the backset passengers. If you’re very tall, this may indeed count as a disadvantage and make you go looking for the Honda Jazz or Seat Leon.

It could be argued, however, that the layout and accessibility of the boot have actually become better, which means that you can use the available space better. It’s really a classic case of trying it out and taking a decision based on what the car feels like in practise.

As you can see, we’ve spoken quite a bit about the new, redesigned Corsa. Let’s therefore take a closer look at it. After all, you can already buy used versions of this latest generation!

First, the good news: The new Corsa has significantly improved!

The story of the latest Corsa generation is remarkable. It is the tale of the end of a long success story and the beginning of a new chapter. And it is impressive proof of the notion that a clear vision rather than playing it safe can go a long way in these times.

Originally, the old team was still going to be in charge of this generation. They had already started work on the car, and all but finished a first design. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get to see it. Because halfway, Vauxhall changed owners. Suddenly, the French PSA group (which owns the Peugeot and Citroën brands) was in charge – and it had entirely different plans.

All processes were stopped and the concept for a new Corsa emerged. And you can tell. The Corsa does not actually openly reference or resemble PSA’s superminis, such as the Peugeot 208. But it has palpably gained esprit.

No wonderer UK drivers sprinted to their Vauxhall dealer. They all wanted to experience the “new Frenchness” first hand!

So what, precisely, has improved in the new Corsa?

It looks great!

For decades, the Corsa was one of the least exciting cars in the country. In a way, that “drabness” was even part of its success. Clearly, the Corsa was sending the message that quality was more important than looks. The journalists hated it. But many ordinary people could relate.

Today, the new Corsa is still not the most fashionable vehicle out there. Certainly, its in-house rivals, the 208 and the C3, still hold a visual edge over it. And yet, in its own way, the Corsa has suddenly turned into a looker. Not stunning, but smart. Not beautiful, but quite intriguing for sure.

In many ways, Vauxhall and PSA have got the design exactly right: This is a car that will make you feel good without attracting excessive attention. And it also doesn’t distract from other, far more important factors: Space, safety, running costs and its ecologic footprint.

Hatchback power

The new Corsa is a hatchback, with all of the benefits that come with this car body type. Don’t get us wrong, we can totally relate to why so many in the UK are opting for an SUV and why SUVs have become the dominant type of car.

But there is something to be said for a hatchback design in these times:

They’re lighter and thus more economical than SUVs.
They’re considerably smaller. Which means it’s a lot easier when it comes to finding a parking space in tight city centres.
Because they’re smaller, they offer better maneuvaribility in busy city traffic.

Of course, most of its immediate competitors are hatchbacks, too. But we just thought we’d mention that Vauxhall did not succumb to outside pressure to turn its most successful model into something it is not.

Further Reading:
Sedan, Hatchback or SUV? The body type deathmatch!
Why a Car’s Body Style is Vitally Important

Quality seems much improved.

The verdict on reliability isn’t out yet, obviously. That’s something only the thousands of drivers across the UK driving a Corsa for the next few years can pass verdict on.

And yet, the first impressions of the new Corsa’s interior appear to indicate that things have improved.

Honest John found the Corsa’s interior to feel more upmarket and genuinely “impressive”.

Others have reported pretty much the same. So for anyone who’s felt slightly disappointed by the previous Corsas, this may be the time to take a second look.

Let’s add to these pros the general benefits of pretty much all Corsas:

  • Interior and boot space: These have traditionally been advantages of all Vauxhall models. They’re one of the main reasons for their ongoing popularity. As we mentioned earlier in this article, if space is your main concern, then older Corsas are actually better than the current one. This is because the cool design of the latest version comes at the expense of leg room for the backseat passengers. (the new boot, however, is more practical)
  • Wide dealer network: Wherever you may be in the UK, you should never have an issue finding a Vauxhall dealer.
  • Cheap to buy, cheap to run: A Vauxhall is never expensive. New models are highly competetively priced. And since they tend to lose value fast, second hand ones are even cheaper. Add to that remarkably low running costs and you can see why Corsas are a great choice for the budget minded.
  • Even though they’re cheap, Vauxhalls are usually remarkably well equipped.

Opel Corsa Competitors: Ford Fiesta

Let’s take a closer look at some of the Corsa’s closest competitors and see how it stacks up against them.

The Ford Fiesta is obviously its eternal nemesis. These two models are among the most sold vehicles ever in the UK and have consistently been in the top 3 of most sold cars at the end of the year for decades.

There are many good reason why the Fiesta seems to have a slight edge for most: There are more trim levels to choose from as well as many different engines. This has the undeniable benefit that you can always find exactly the Fiesta that’s right for you.

The Fiesta, by most expert accounts, offers the best driving experience: Fun, sporty, and yet controlled and comfortable. It is well built and reliable and one of the few cars which can double up as a small family vehicle and a city car.

Although it’s good value, the Fiesta is quite a bit more expensive than the Corsa, especially on the used car market. A new Fiesta will set you back at least £23,000, whereas the Corsa pallette starts at £17,000. That’s a lot of money that you can either invest in extras or as a safety cushion in case something does go wrong.

Opel Corsa Competitors: Volkswagen Polo

The Polo is perhaps an even more perfect car than the Fiesta. It ticks all the right boxes and feels more like a little Golf than a larger Up! (In fact, in terms of cabin space, the current iteration of the Polo is larger than the Golf III!) It is extremely comfortable, convenient and offers plenty of space. It is extremely well built, efficient and not particularly expensive to drive.

If the Fiesta offers the most fun driving experience, the Polo’s is harmonious and balanced – less exciting, but all the more comfortable. Although car journalists sing the Fiesta’s praises, the average driver will almost certainly prefer the Polo. Especially if you’re navigating rough roads or potholes.

So why isn’t everyone driving around in one of these beauties? Very simple: A premium car comes at a premium price.

At £19,000, the cheapest Polo ist actually less costly than the Fiesta, but this trim level is very spartan indeed. So do expect to invest more than £20,000 to get to a level which will satisfy you.

Opel Corsa Competitors: Renault Clio

The Clio, as most Renault models, offers the possibly most refined design of its class. In a world of mostly homogenised cars, the Clio is instantly recognisable and has that little something that so many French makes excel in. Europe-wide, the Clio ist the most sold supermini, even beating the mighty competition from Volkswagen.

All Renault models tend to come well equipped and the Clio is no exception. It is fun to drive, and yet comfortable, and simply feels like a fantastic car all around.

In fact, Auto Express, in a direct confrontation between the Clio, the Polo and the Corsa favoured the Renault, concluding:

“The Clio’s biggest advantage here, and in the wider market, is that it is good value for money. It’s the cheapest car on test, yet offers the best interior and the most hi-tech kit, as well as the biggest boot. It’s the most fun to drive of our three rivals, and while this R.S. Line model isn’t our pick because its large wheels impact ride quality, the Clio is still comfortable. Low running costs seal the deal – the Clio is still the best supermini around.”

Top Gear agrees, as does Europe’s biggest car magazine Auto, Motor und Sport. So, in terms of alternatives, the Clio should probably be your first choice.

Opel Corsa Competitors: Peugeot 208

The 208 makes for a fascinating comparison. After all, this is now an in-house battle for supermini supremacy.

It is quite surprising that the 208 is so seldomly considered as a serious contender for the crown in this department. Just like the Clio, it has a bold design – that grille! – that instantly sets it apart. It is very reasonably priced: Just a tad above the Corsa, but hardly noticeably so. And it has many, many obvious benefits.

The differences between the two cars are so marginal that many reviewers have found it hard to pick a clear-cut winner. Generally speaking, and surprisingly so, the Corsa feels a little bit sportier and the 208 offers more comfort. That said, the Corsa offers more headroom for taller drivers than the Peugeot – albeit most of us won’t actually feel that difference.

11 April 2022 Concept Car