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First drive: Opel’s wild new Corsa OPC Nurburgring

Little ripper: The OPC Nurburgring Edition of Opel's light-sized Corsa has a well-sorted chassis and astonishing mechanical grip.

Top-shelf OPC Nurburgring Edition shows there’s plenty of life yet in Opel’s Corsa

27 Sep 2011


IT MAY be the oldest member of the Opel model family that will go on sale in Australia by October next year, but a full-house OPC Nurburgring Edition hot-hatch proves there is plenty of spark left in the pint-sized Corsa city-hatch.

Last sold here in previous-generation XC guise as the 2005 Holden Barina, Opel’s latest Corsa was released in Europe in 2006, before it received a substantial mechanical upgrade in 2010 and a cosmetic makeover earlier this year.

Opel Australia has confirmed the standard Corsa will be offered here in both three- and five-door body styles, powered initially only by a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol engine matched with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions.

The mainstream models will be a key part of Opel’s sales ambitions in Australia, where Holden’s last Opel-based Barina proved most popular in 2002, when more than 9000 examples were sold.

Expected to be priced in line with its most direct European hatch rivals, including the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta (which both start at $16,690 plus on-road costs), Corsa will command a base price premium of around $1000 over Holden’s newest Korean-sourced Barina, which was launched last week priced from $15,990.

In Europe, Opel’s smallest model – aside from the Suzuki Splash-based Agila micro, which will not be sold here – has averaged more than 400,000 sales annually for the past three years, accounting for almost 30 per cent of all Opel sales and being outsold in its class only by the Polo.

So far this year in the hotly contested European B-segment (known here as the light-car segment), Corsa has proved more popular than Fiesta, Skoda Fabia (which was also released here last week), Peugeot 207, Seat Ibiza, Fiat Punto, Renault Clio, Toyota Yaris (Australia’s top-selling light car) and Hyundai’s i20.

52 center imageLeft: Opel Cora Nurburgring Edition. Below (in white): Standard Corsa five-door exterior and interior.

To keep sales bubbling along, special five-door Colour Line Series and piping-hot three-door Nurburgring Edition versions of the Corsa were launched alongside this year’s facelifted model, which brings wing-shaped LED running lights and continues to be built in Zaragoza, Spain and Eisenach, Germany.

Opel has much lower expectations for the Corsa in Australia and, although neither model has been confirmed for sale here, the OPC hot-hatch is certain to eventually top the local Corsa range.

GoAuto was invited to drive both models during a two-day ‘Opel Immersion’ event designed for selected Australian media to sample the brand’s three key upcoming models – Corsa, Astra and Insignia.

While the Colour edition features cosmetic additions like gloss piano-black interior and exterior highlights including a black roof, 17-inch alloys with lower-profile tyres, and tinted windows and tail-lights, underneath is essentially the same car that will open the Corsa line-up here in a year.

The Corsa’s base 74kW 1.4-litre engine is worlds away from the high-tech turbo-petrol four that powers VW’s Polo 1.2 TSI five-door, which starts at just under $20,000, but is a good match for the equivalent Polo 1.4 three-door. It is no firecracker and requires the five-speed manual to be rowed for best results on undulating roads.

In Europe, 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre diesel engines are also available, along with a host of luxury features including a heated steering wheel, five-inch colour touch-screen with Bluetooth/iPod/USB connectivity, adaptive headlights, a panoramic sunroof and Opel’s unique FlexFix integrated rear bicycle carrier.

Of course, the Corsa also comes with the full gamut of safety equipment, including electric stability control, ABS brakes, a hill-holder and a full complement of airbags.

While cabin presentation is livelier than the Polo’s darker, more clinical layout, all touch surfaces are harder to touch than to look at and there are obvious cost savings like the wind-up rear windows, while the low media screen positioning is indicative of the model’s older design.

Interior packaging is a highlight, with reasonably comfortable front seats and relatively good rear legroom appearing to be on par with the Polo, while the Corsa we drove also offered competitive noise levels and ride quality.

Steering performance is also up there with class leaders like the Fiesta, Polo and Suzuki Swift, the electric power-assisted system responding faithfully and precisely while delivering plenty of feedback.

The Corsa’s fundamentally solid chassis is stretched to its limit in the OPC Nurburgring three-door, however, which remains perfectly free of steering kick or rack rattle but produces far more torque steer under full-throttle applications.

That is understandable because the hottest ever Corsa, which aims to cash in on Opel’s long history of developing models (including all OPC models) at the Nurburgring, swaps the base model’s 1.4 for a turbocharged 1.6 that delivers no less than 154kW of power and 250Nm of torque (rising to as much as 280Nm in overboost mode) to the road via a limited-slip front differential.

That puts the Nurburgring-tuned Corsa – which packs a retuned turbo and exhaust, rides on 18-inch alloys and 20mm-shorter springs, scores four-piston Brembo front brakes and Bilstein monotube shocks, wears a unique performance bodykit and features a range of sports interior extras including front Recaro seats – in a class of its own at this end of the market.

However, the three-door/six-speed manual-only Nurburgring Edition also eclipses the regular Corsa OPC, which delivers some 141kW and 230Nm as a direct rival for pint-size hot hatches like the 147kW/215Nm Renault Clio RS 200 ($36,490) and 132kW/250Nm Polo GTI ($28,990), which comes with a slick seven-speed dual-clutch auto.

Running on 100 RON premium unleaded, the Nurburgring Corsa lowers the OPC’s claimed 0-100km/h dash time from a respectable 7.1 seconds to just 6.8s, while top speed increases from an already formidable 227km/h to 230, yet fuel consumption remains acceptable at 7.6L/100km.

The Corsa OPC is not as modern, well-finished or refined as VW’s polished Polo GTI, which is also a bargain but commands a 12-month waiting list here, but its well-sorted chassis and astonishing mechanical grip equips it with undiluted visceral appeal and made for an outstanding drive at Opel’s ex-military Pferdsfeld proving ground.

The Nurburgring Edition is without doubt one of the best light-size hot hatches ever, and also underscores just how good the German-engineered Corsa remains.

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