We were in Iceland. We wanted to see stuff we had never seen before, and we needed transport by which to travel around. And that was exactly what we got.
We love to use the tag Rotten Rental Car reviews here; but in truth there was nothing rotten at all about this one. Well, as long as we remember that it’s ONLY a rental. In this situation, what we want from a car and what we need are two very different things. In truth, the Corsa’s near total lack of defining characteristics were ideal so as to not distract us from all that incredible scenery.
There’s a 1.4 litre, 89hp four cylinder engine under that short hood, linked to a slushbox of the old school. When you telegraph your demands down to the engineroom the rev needle spins frantically as the guys shovel more coal into the boiler. An apocalyptic racket fills your ears, but while the needle on the tach spins freely as if in a vacuum, that of the speedo moves as if fighting its way through molasses. As a workaround for this bug, I just overtook less than normal and enjoyed the fact that missile acceleration is seldom needed on Route One.
Overtaking manoeuvres are, therefore, not to be taken without carrying out considerable research beforehand. The transmission is a peculiar beast, from time to time it’ll drop a cog when you least expected it to, as if responding to a rumour of some upcoming incline and readying itself to make a run up lest it fail to crest the peak.
I can’t really tell you anything useful about the steering. With its 15″ steel wheels being shod with Winterclaw “Extreme Grip” tyres, every conversational exchange between steering wheel and road was forced through a translation process so vague and convoluted that the punchline to “why did the chicken cross the road?” became “I thought you asked for a small pianist”. On top that the way Icelandic blacktop bucks and weaves so much that every steering input made ends up taken right out of context and you’re basically driving a sponge while wearing boxing gloves.
The specification of this car was probably fairly typical of Corsas that end up in far-Northern reaches, but seemed a bit weird to me. Namely the inclusion of a (much appreciated) heated steering wheel and a pair of arse-warmers, but a dearth of air-conditioning which I cursed when the windscreen began to steam up. All the other basics were there; windows at the front yo-yo electrically (annoyingly without a one-shot feature), remote central locking, Bluetooth phone connection and a stereo which sounded fine when parked but was completely defeated by road noise on the move thanks to its weak output.
Build quality is modern-car-sufficient. The doors shut with a PUNG rather than a THUNK but the shut-lines are crisp, but there are areas where the fit and finish of components attached to the sound underlying structure are perhaps not so hot, like the uneven gap between the wheelarch opening and the liners, which suggests that the protective addenda elsewhere on the car might not be beyond reproach either.
Styling wise, well, I think the front end looks terrific, with nicely sculpted headlamps featuring well integrated LED daytime running lights flanking an assertive grille which gives the cars face an alert look which I rank as slightly more appealing than that of the fiesta. Particularly fun is the intriguing depression in the hood which gives the look of a Le Mans style radiator air extractor. Unfortunately, aft of the front wheels it’s all a bit of a stylistic vacuum and the ideas that flowed when designing the nose seem to have evaporated by the time they got to the tail.
Inside the look is of big-car-done-small with considerable effort to impart a premium feel, which is common procedure in small cars these days. There are acres of semi-soft feel plastic and the impression given is that the designer actually put some time into properly thinking things over. It looks interesting, even in our lo-cost example.
What it isn’t, though, is very playful. There’s nothing about this interior which implies either “I’m fun” or “drive me”. You don’t jump in with any notion of a good time awaiting you, but it’s a perfectly pleasant location to sit while the world passes you by. The seat fabrics aren’t especially tactile but feel robust enough, and though the Corsa shares the same foibles as other cab-forward hatchbacks with an expanse of dashboard so vast you could comfortably camp on it, or build a miniature railway layout, it doesn’t suffer from terrible A-Pillar blind-spots. Up front it feels pretty spacious, and there’s reasonable footwell space for my size 13 hiking boots if I showed a bit of dexterity.
Those budget winter tyres wail like HAIM would if they were attached to electrodes, while probably syphoning off their fair share of my valuable petrol thanks to their considerable rolling resistance, but they don’t make overall roadnoise intolerable. It must be said, though, life for rear seat passengers doesn’t seem anywhere near as enjoyable; the economy-section is rather gloomy and not over-imbued with room. Best left for the kids.
If I was uninterested in how a car feels or works, or what it is or does, then I would heartily recommend a Corsa Automatic. On my ten days behind the wheel it didn’t give me a single reason to think about what I was doing, nor the vehicle I was doing it in. A few years ago I tested a Ford Fiesta with an auto transmission and an even smaller engine, and I found it quite a compelling little machine. It was the very epitome of easiness to drive, a lot like a twist ‘n go scooter. It was a fun machine. GM’s equivalent, the Corsa, feels way, way too mature to compete. It feels like a small car for grown-ups.
On what was officially our honeymoon this suited us just fine. We were having more than enough fun away from the road to be bothered with grinning on the blacktop.
The Corsa provided us with an appropriately plain, featureless plate from which to eat our exquisite Icelandic meal from. Perfect car for the job.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Redusernab 2016.)