You are statistically more likely to see a McDonald's takeaway bag hurled onto the pavement from the window of a Vauxhall Corsa VXR than any other vehicle (probably). The 2007-2014 model is a flawed hot hatch with a growing image problem, but in the right circumstances it can also be good fun to drive. Certain models even came equipped with Recaro seats, a Remus exhaust, Brembo brakes, Bilstein dampers and a Drexler limited slip differential, so perhaps we shouldn't dismiss the car too offhandedly.
I remember turning up to the Evo office on my first day at the magazine in 2014, eager to find out what sort of Aston Martin I'd be running as my long-term test car. Negotiations went very well indeed, although not for me - I left at the end of the day in a Vauxhall Corsa, six very plasticky months reaching a long way out in front of me.
But it wasn't just any Vauxhall Corsa. It wasn't even any old Corsa VXR, because it was the Clubsport model. That meant it came fitted as standard with all of those go-faster goodies listed above, making it a pretty serious performance machine. The run-out Clubsport had a number of issues, however, not the least of which was that it cost more than £22,000. It was also up against some very stern opposition in the form of the Ford Fiesta ST and Mini Cooper S, both of which were significantly cheaper to buy.
I maintain the Clubsport was a good car to drive - more on which in a moment - but that's mostly because of how lavishly equipped it was with trick suspension, brand name brakes and so on. The basic Corsa VXR, which first arrived seven years previously, was a more straightforward sort of machine and not so extravagantly decked-out. It was enjoyable to punt along a road in a kind of base-level way, because the punchy acceleration from the turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and the agile chassis meant you could really wring its neck (how it should be with a small hot hatch).
When you deconstructed its constituent parts, though, you realised it wasn't that well-resolved. The steering, for instance, was vague, throttle response wasn't exactly razor sharp and the gearshift not terribly precise, while body control was of the pogoing variety, the body constantly bouncing up and down on the springs. Before the Clubsport there was the Nurburgring Edition, which arrived in 2011. It had all the same fancy-pants mechanical hardware as the later Clubsport and the same uprated engine, too (with 205hp, 13hp more than the standard Corsa VXR).
Today the Corsa VXR starts at only £2,000, which might be a paltry enough sum for me to put my reservations firmly to one side. At that sort of money, you'll be looking at a basic VXR from around 2009 with 80,000 miles on the clock. You do risk slipping into the murky world of used and abused cars at that price, but if you can stretch your budget a little you'll have a good selection to choose from.
Inevitably, though, the Nurburgring Edition and the Clubsport are the models to look out for. But they do cost rather a lot more, starting at around £7,000 and £8,000 respectively. My old Clubsport wasn't a prestigious car and it was always busy and noisy on the motorway, but I grew to like it nonetheless.
I had two very memorable experiences with it away from the public road that mean I'll always have a soft spot for it. The first was a sprint challenge against the rest of the Evo editorial team around the short lap at Blyton Park, during which the car took a real kicking but didn't miss a beat.
The second was a day of hillclimbing at Gurston Down in Wiltshire. I'd never tried my hand at that sort of motorsport before, but the Clubsport was absolutely spot on for a rookie. Despite being far from the most powerful car there it actually set the quickest time of the day, partly because its diminutive size gave it an advantage on the very narrow course. But mostly it was that differential. I could hurl it into the tighter bends at whatever speed I liked, knowing that as long as it pointed the front wheels in roughly the right direction and flattened the accelerator pedal, the diff would haul the car through without a trace of understeer or even wheelspin.
I've never come across a more effective LSD in a hot hatch since. It more or less defines the driving experience - to a fault at times, it must be said, because the steering wheel never stops tugging at your wrists. All of which is to say this: if you're in the market for an entertaining hot hatch and you don't give a stuff about image or kerb appeal, the Clubsport (or indeed the virtually identical Nurburgring) is a fine little machine. It'd be a perfect candidate for a sprint or hillclimb car conversion, too.
You'll have to overlook a very patchy cabin, a firm ride, a far too lofty seating position and plenty of other gripes. But if you can, you will have a lot of fun. Just be mindful that these cars can have engine trouble, mostly relating to cooling issues on piston four. A smoky idle, misfiring or a lack of power hint at that piston playing up, which will eventually prove terminal if not caught early enough and the offending parts replaced. Meanwhile, the Getrag gearbox can be another weak point, so make sure the shift action is as it should be and that there are no unwelcome noises from the transmission.
The Corsa VXR was never a class-leader, but I think that says as much about the depth of talent in the small hot hatch class at the time as anything else. Having said that, the contemporary Fiesta ST was better looking, even more fun to drive, more agreeable to use every day and somehow less yobbish. On balance, I'd have one of those instead.
SPECIFICATION | VAUXHALL CORSA VXR
Engine: 1,598cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 192/205 @ 5750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 170/184 @ 2250-5500rpm (+26lb ft on 5sec overboost)
0-62mph: 6.8/6.5 secs
Top speed: 140/143mph
MPG: 35.8/37.2 combined
Price new: £15,625 VXR/£22,295 Nurburgring Edition/£22,390 Clubsport
Price now: from £2000 VXR/£7000 Nurburgring Edition/£8000 Clubsport
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