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Do it now I'll do it later...
Thursday 12th May 2011


DRIVEN: VAUXHALL CORSA VXR NURBURGRING

Forget the dubious image; we reckon the latest fast Corsa's a fine hot hatch


Yes, the prospect of a Vauxhall Corsa profiteering on the name and ubiquitous outline plot of the world's most fearsome circuit can make the teeth grind, and it's true, £22,295 is an awful lot of money to pay for a Vauxhall Corsa.

Right, that's been said: now let's take a closer look at the actual car, because there's a lot more to this Corsa than marketing spin and a questionable price tag.

The 'Nurburgring' title might sit rather uneasily with the Vauxhall brand, but it makes more sense when you realise that this car is a wholly Opel OPC (Opel Performance Centre) product. Headed up by ex-racer Volker Strycek, OPC has its development centre at the 'Ring, and conducts much of its testing there, including a 10,000km durability slog that, in the case of this particular car, was conducted by another Opel employee: BTCC and DTM legend 'Smokin Jo' Winkelhock.


OPC project manager Robert Kubel has been quietly developing a Group N rally version of the Corsa VXR that has competed in the German Rally Championship in recent years, and much of the thinking behind that car has influenced the Nurburgring edition - in particular the Drexler mechanical limited-slip differential. In addition, you can't help but wonder whether the tasty big brand name stuff hasn't been more attainable given the bulk buy GM must have instigated for the forthcoming Astra VXR, certain to use much of the same kit.

The diff is part of a number of chassis revisions to take place. The standard VXR dampers have been junked in favour of much more expensive Bilstein inverted monotube items combined with some stiffer, progressive rate springs (VXRs have linear springs) and new bump stops. The car is 20mm lower at the front, 15mm at the rear, while the diff has 40 per cent lock on acceleration, but none under braking save a little pre-loading in the name of increased stability.


Brembo has supplied discs with increased ventilation, and some new four-pot calipers on the front axle that each weighs 1.25kg less than the regular items. The forged wheels - finished in dark grey - are 200g lighter than the optional VXR 18s, but measure half an inch wider, despite wearing the same Conti SC2 tyre.

There's also a little bit more power: 207bhp (210ps) on 100ron, 202bhp on 98ron in the UK (the VXR has 189bhp), with up to 207lb ft of torque from 2250-5500rpm on overboost. This is achieved via a remap that increases the boost pressure to 1.2bar (from 0.9) and reducing the exhaust backpressure (the Nur has chunky twin pipes in place of the faddish VXR triangle exit). Performance-wise, you're looking at 0-60mph in around 6.5sec and 143mph flat out - pretty much level with the Clio RS 200 and the Mini Cooper S JCW.


Finally, there's an extra front splitter, some superb Recaros (half-leather in the UK) assorted Nurburgring badges and the option of 'Grasshopper Green' and 'Henna Red' (in addition to white and black).

The Recaros grip you tightly, but the current Corsa still has more of an MPV-feel to its driving environment than most of its rivals. Nevertheless, get on the throttle and the Corsa snaps forward with real guts: compare the torque figure with the Clio's 159lb ft at 5400rpm and it's not hard to see that, while the Renault might be making lots of noise, it's the Vauxhall that really gets going at low-to-mid revs.

Surprisingly, there's little turbo whistle (it's almost exclusively induction roar), and this is a small turbo engine that enjoys revs. What genuinely surprises it what happens in the corners.


Before the good news, it's important to note that we were only allowed to test the Corsa on a circuit (Euro Speedway Lausitz), so these views need to be taken in that context. Anyway - picture a typical 90-degree corner taken in the lower reaches of second gear: now apply full throttle [i]before the apex and, instead of dealing with the inevitably messy, clumsy understeer you can feel the Corsa almost tighten the corner, not wasting a single one of those horses as you punch out the other side.

This is where the Corsa is staggeringly effective. It's incredible just how much grip it manages to find, even on relatively ordinary tyres (Michelin Cups were tried, but until warm the back end was quite 'lively', according to Kubel). The same thing happens in faster corners: you turn into the corner using a rack that doesn't weight up much, but is very fast once on lock and accurate, and the car suddenly wakes up. It has much more poise than the standard VXR, staying just on the right side of nervous, and you can apply more and more power until your sides are really digging into the seat bolsters.


The new brakes do a fair job, with good feel to them until the artificially taxing circuit work lengthens the pedal: on the road I'm sure there would be no problem. As for the suspension in a more general sense, it's hard to tell on a race track but the pricey dampers have less friction in them and, teamed with the progressive springs, are said to improve the ride quality. Initial impressions are certainly of a car that doesn't feel too stiff, but still resists roll keenly.

Nevertheless, the Corsa's big test will take place on the road, and no more so on a typical British B-road. It also needs to face up to the Clio RS 200. The Clio bristles with aggression, growling and spitting at low revs and screaming to the limiter, with great steering for a 'modern' and superb adjustability, it worms its way deep into your affections like few other cars currently on sale. It's surely on its way to joining the usual suspects in the pantheon of hot hatch greats, but without doubt there're going to be situations where a Corsa VXR Nurburgring is going to leave it gasping...


One thing we can comment on is price. Possibly it's all a bit academic given what people actually pay in the showroom, but there's no disguising this is a very expensive Vauxhall. It's no low-spec lightweight either, so you'll need to compare it with the full RS 200 with the Cup pack rather than the pure Clio Cup model. Upgraded with leather Recaros, the Renault still works out at around £2000 cheaper, although the Mini Cooper S JCW is a few pounds more, and probably a lot more once the inevitable options have been added, as is the Citroen DS3 Racing. Neither of the latter two offers the same tightly focused experience.

Oh, and the 'Ring time? Around 8m35s if you're interested...

Tech spec


1,598cc, inline 4cyl, turbocharged
207 (202) bhp @ 5,750
207lb ft @ 2,250-5,500
1,307kg (EC inc 75kg driver)
0-60mph: 6.5sec
Top speed: 143mph
£22,295

Author: Adam Towler
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