Corsa Capital at Vauxhall Dealers in London

by : Gareth Jones

London is chock-full of unique landmarks and Vauxhall have added another. No not an addition to Saint Peter's Heritage Centre, I'm on about a four wheeled Vauxhall, in this case the Corsa Capital. Only by visiting a London Vauxhall dealer will you be able to pick one up, as Vauxhall aims to show its city car can take on the biggest conurbation in Britain. To help you deal with not only the congestion, but the charge that goes with it, Vauxhall are enticing Londoners to the Capital - pun intended, with (deep breath): 15" alloy wheels, a CD player that's MP3 ready, rear spoiler, body coloured bumpers, electric front windows and air conditioning to name but a few, for only a slight price hike over the standard model.

Of course the Capital is just one derivative of the all-new Corsa range and the new cars find themselves in the middle of the most competitive sector of motoring - the hatchback. Crucially then, the new Corsa must score highly in likeability, drivability and price (ability?). With Vauxhall dealers pitching the Corsa range directly at big rivals Ford and Volkswagen it has to be very good indeed to become the market leader. Those cutesy little fellas in the advert seem to be having fun mind - but you can't trust cuddly fabric, so crucially how is it to drive and how does it look in the flesh?

As I am still the new boy when it comes to road testing cars, I am faced with the daily anguish of opening my letterbox to find a distinct lack of keys to the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini, with a "have this for a week" note attached from Mr Lamborghini. I have however, had the joy of driving the new Corsa and I don't use the word 'joy' lightly. Firstly however an anecdote...

My own car is a Hyundai Coupe, the automotive equivalent to Kelly Brook - pretty to look at with racy curves aplenty and great handling (particularly dancing the Salsa). However thanks to karma, the gorgeous looks come at a price - it's very slow and drinks like Oliver Reed in his heyday. Despite this fact, one rain-drenched evening when all the sensible people were fast asleep, I found myself meandering around the twisty back roads on the outskirts of Cardiff, when what looked like a B & Q shed with wheels pulled up alongside me.

It appeared the four youths had been on the sun bed, as there was a blue neon glow emanating from the shed and that's when my inner eight year-old took over. I forced the hamster in his wheel to run faster than ever before and the engine roared to life. As I left the shed and sun bed combo behind with Kelly's wonderful handling, I thought to myself "nothing could handle this well". Low and behold six months later I was proved wrong.

If my Coupe is Kelly Brook, then the new Vauxhall Corsa is Kate Thornton. The design doesn't rip your eyes clean out or make you go weak at the knees but it's still an attractive hatchback. Crucially though, this car has brains with: ABS, CBC, SLS EBA and DTC. Don't worry about what the acronyms stand for, they all add up to give you a very safe hatchback, but most importantly for a city car - it handles brilliantly. I drove a 1.2 litre Corsa derivative during my high-brow summer break to Ibiza and fell in love.

The island is split into the two best environments for testing a car: twisty mountain roads and city driving. With this in mind I left my hotel high on the sun-drenched hillside and set off for the capital, Ibiza Town. The air conditioning instantly cooled the car, although I admit I leant out the window on occasion, to smugly show the face of a man who still had all 4 wheel trims on his car. I didn't however shout "C'MON!" The 1.2 litre engine was surprisingly willing and the car gripped as tightly through the hairpin turns as it did through the s-bends.

Hitting the main road towards the capital gave me time to reflect on the interior. Everything seemed well put together with no rattles or squeaks and the driving position gave perfect visibility - ensuring I had plenty of time to see the crazy drivers and get swerving to avoid them. At times, I really did think I was in Beirut, as no-one seemed to understand the old adage of 'don't crash into another car, it'll do neither me nor you any good'.

Emerging unscathed with a combination of cheeky handling and dumb luck, I arrived at Ibiza Town, wheel trims and all. Parked against the backdrop of a billionaires' playground of yachts in the harbour, the Corsa seemed somehow prettier. The funky looks seemed in-keeping with the fashion boutiques and hustle and bustle of the city. As night descended, the light steering and responsive gearbox came into its own. At one point I took a wrong turn. Well by wrong turn I mean turning into a dead-end street complete with drug dealers, ladies of the night and no La Policia in sight.

For some this may seem like a perfect night out, not for me and Kate though. It was a ludicrous situation really, these burly druggies being crept up on by the Corsa, with its lop-sided grin and surprised eyes. I'm pleased to announce that the excellent turning circle allowed me to deliver a swift three-point-turn and chirp off onto better climes within the big smoke. The next day, Kate had to be returned and with a heavy heart I did so, wheel trims and all - she really will be the envy of the rental company's car park.

The small hatchback market is one of the toughest to conquer, but I really think Vauxhall have produced a worthy competitor. When I think of the Corsa I think of chirpy, cheeky, cute and cuddlesome. Coupled with the handling this is a fun car and ideal for any urban jungle. So if you're looking for a city car, remember the equation: city + fun - cost = Vauxhall dealer. "C'MON!" Ah damn it.