TEST DRIVE: Vaux Popular

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Steve Sharpe drives Vauxhall’s top-selling Corsa

They say familiarity breeds contempt but it can also result in a certain amount of trust.

While the streets of the UK are full of vehicles from manufacturers which have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, or have relatively recently appeared on our shores to grab a piece of the action, Vauxhall – like Ford – have a long history on these isles.

Our parents and grandparents would undoubtedly have a Vauxhall or two in their history of family cars, and most of us have grown up with the name.

So it’s probably true that just the brand name alone will persuade many customers to pencil in one of their stable as a possibility.

Which brings us to the Corsa.

Replacing the popular Nova, the original Corsa – marketed as ‘the new supermodel’ – was launched in 1993 in a blaze of publicity with an ad featuring supermodels Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and a then teenage Kate Moss.

A range of seven four-cylinder engines were available at launch, including an economy 1.2-litre that achieved 60mpg.

The Corsa had more room than the outgoing Nova and was better equipped, including among its then luxuries power steering, air con, anti-lock brakes and a car alarm.

The model was refreshed in 2000, 2006 and then last year this most recent version was unveiled.

The new Corsa has more kit, better engines and sharper looks, plus an all-new 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and a speedy VXR model..

The small car proved as successful as its predecessors – the new Corsa is Vauxhall’s most popular model in the UK, and sits in third place in the 2014 best-selling car list, behind the Ford Focus and Fiesta.

That success was undoubtedly aided by the fact that Vauxhall has slashed its prices – the new model starts at only £8,995, undercutting the Fiesta by around £1,000, with list prices across the Corsa line-up reduced by up to £3,000 over the previous model.

But it’s not all about the money – or the name.

The Corsa is popular because somewhere amongst the huge selection of models available in the range – and there are more than 50 versions available – there is a small car that ticks enough boxes on an individual’s list.

The new Corsa is near-identical in length to the previous model, with the same roomy interior, but almost every other element of its design and engineering has changed.

All of the car’s body panels are new, and provide greater definition between the ‘sporty’ look of the three-door and the ‘premium’ five-door models.

The car’s profile includes new elements such as the ‘blade’ crease running across the lower door-sections.

As well as the new bodywork there are new lights and a nose inspired by the Vauxhall Adam.

The front end is closer to the ground, with a low-set grille and LED running lights that are similar to the city car’s. It’s now a sporty, chunky but sharply-styled supermini.

Almost every element of the Corsa’s cabin is new, including a completely re-designed instrument panel and dashboard, and greatly improved levels of functionality, highlighted by Vauxhall’s sophisticated IntelliLink system.

It takes its design cues from the Adam here, too, with a central touchscreen controlling all the functions except the heater controls, which are easily reached below.

The dash is also lifted by a body coloured stripe right across it.

The comfortable, supportive seats are upholstered in funky cloth patterned with colours matching the body colour, and the higher spec versions are lifted further by glossy black plastic elements.

It makes for a neat, stylish cabin, that looks well built and with enough soft touch plastics to provide a overall classy feel.

The Corsa has always been deceptively roomy inside and there’s plenty of headroom in the front and back for four normal-sized adults.

The Vauxhall is available in three- and five-door versions but as with all three doors it’s a bit of a scrabble to access the rear seats.

The boot’s a decent size for the class but you have to go for higher-spec versions to get split-folding rear seats for extra space.

Out on the road you need to pick which model suits your needs.

I drove the 1.3 diesel, one of the most expensive of the range but the most frugal engine available.

What it lacks in power and performance – 0-60 in just under 12 seconds and a top speed of 113mph –it makes up in economy, posting startling figures of 85mpg with a mixture of town and long-distance driving.

Although not a hot hatch the 1.3 SRI is a sprightly and agile little car – it’s nippy around town, with light steering to make manoeuvring in and out easy.

There’s a good turning circle for quick parking and visibility is decent, although the small rear windows do hamper the view, especially if you’re glancing over your right-hand shoulder to check when overtaking – you can barely see anything.

The suspension is set to blend handling and comfort, and it does a good job. It’s comfortable on longer runs, soaking up the North East’s varied road imperfections, but it’s also happy on twisty roads.

There’s plenty of grip when cornering and body roll has been well handled, and although there’s a lack of outright power there’s plenty of fun to be had around bends and twists.

It makes the Corsa a good all-round performer, in town, country and on the motorway. The engine is hushed to a pleasant hum, while there’s little road noise and wind noise coming in to disrupt the peace.

The reduction in price will make this little hatchback even more attractive, especially as the drop hasn’t come at the expense of standard equipment.

Basic Sting and Life models get electric front windows and a heated wind-screen,but you have to pay a bit more for aircon, which comes in the Excite trim, along with a colour touch-screen, Bluetooth and USB connections, automatic lights and wipers, and alloy wheels.

The mid-spec SRi version adds sports seats, cruise control and heated door mirrors.

When considered as a whole it makes the little Corsa an attractive package.

Cheap to buy, well made, stylish, a decent drive and economical – 85mpg and emission figures that mean you won’t have to shell out for road tax - the little Vauxhall is a comfortable, practical everyday car that should be a serious consideration – and not just because of the badge.

Fact file

Vauxhall Corsa SRI

Engine: 1.3litre diesel

Transmission: Five speed manual

0-62mph:11.9 secs

Top speed: 113mph

Fuel economy: 85.6mpg avg

Price: £15,560