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Review

First Drive: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring car review

14/11/11

WHAT A difference a bit of old-school thinking makes. The Corsa VXR was always a contender in the hot hatch market but some people argued that it lacked a little bit of bite.

But this, the Corsa VXR Nurburgring, is a limited edition version that changes things quite a lot. It has a traditional mechanical limited-slip differential, specially-developed springs and dampers from handling experts Bilstein, and lighter Brembo brakes that offer 10% more braking surface.

On the ride and handling side, with the lighter brakes reducing unsprung weight the uprated, progressive suspension can do its work more comfortably, counteracting the often ride-ruining effect of having 35-section tyres – they’re little more than (very grippy) rubber bands around the wheels. This Corsa is low and overall suspension travel is reduced, but it actually rides relatively well for what it is.

But the news every potential buyer will look at first is that power is up to 202bhp, with torque peaking at a meaty 206lb.ft using the temporary overboost function. That’s where the limited-slip diff comes in, reining in the wave of turbocharged muscle and finding unbelievable amounts of grip throughout corners.

The way the system works is to mechanically respond to whichever wheel has the most grip. More power diverts to the wheel with most grip – usually the outside one – and that in turn both stops the inside wheel spinning and kills understeer.

The difference in cornering attitude between this and any ‘normal’ turbocharged hot hatch with no limited-slip diff is outrageous. The way it claws so viciously at corners, creates huge lateral g-force and then catapults itself out of bends towards the horizon blows normal cars away.

It scurries off the mark at a stunning rate, too. The differential works again there to minimise any potential wheelspin, and its quoted 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds seems entirely believable. But it’s powering up through the gearbox that its curiously low gearing comes to light.

With a rev limiter set for about 6,500rpm it doesn’t rev particularly high, and a fairly low-pitch engine noise emphasises a torquey rather than outright thrashy nature. It’s very quick, but with second gear topping out at only just past 50mph, the slick six-speed gearbox needs close attention on fast, winding roads.

Its swell of torque would allow it to handle longer gearing, but that might take the edge off the surge of power and Vauxhall decided against it. As it happens, the powertrain creates noticeable turbo lag below about 3,500rpm, but the power arrives with a bang when the turbo is up to speed.

That sort of intentionally compromised – but fun – ethic is obvious throughout the car. You can order it in orange and lime green, both of which are a bit mad but that’s the point. Its handling on the limit is lively too, and it demands your absolute respect even though you’re having a ball in it. It’s got a sense of humour, but it’s not to be messed with.

The front seats don’t fold forwards properly either, so potential rear-seat passengers have got to show a bit of dedication to get in. They’re part-Recaro types that have been shaped with side and shoulder bolsters, which help keep you planted through corners but get in the way when it comes to folding the seat forwards.

It’s very difficult to hold much against the Corsa VXR Nurburgring in terms of what it was designed for. It does exactly what it’s meant to, with a great driving position and brilliant brakes to boot.

Any black marks are purely practical, like the extremely low profile tyres making it all too easy to ding a wheel on potholes. They’re lovely wheels, but they stick out a little too far and would be easy victims for kerbs, too.

Apart from that, there are one or two dials on the centre console that look and feel a bit beneath a £22,300 car. It also gets through super unleaded indecently quickly if it’s driven hard, but for its foibles it’s an awful lot of fun. It’s the kind of car that would suit someone who had a company car or van to drive in the week, leaving the VXR for the weekend.

It’s not a cheap car and it asks thousands more than the common-or-garden Corsa VXR, but for its sheer audacity and the way it drives, it’s not bad value by comparison. It finally achieves what the Corsa VXR always promised to, and it’s going to be awfully tempting for people who love their driving.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring, £22,295 on the road.

Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol producing 202bhp and 206lb.ft of torque.

Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox only.

Performance: Top speed 143mph, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.

Fuel economy: 37.2mpg.

CO2 rating: 178g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups1 (very high costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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