For the first time in what seems like forever, July 2020 saw the Ford Fiesta knocked off its spot as the UK’s best-selling car. And no doubt to Dagenham’s dismay the car to do it was its perennial rival the Vauxhall Corsa.
It might have been by a matter of just 34 cars, but it is a notable achievement for the Corsa which for many years has played second fiddle to the Fiesta in the monthly new registration figures.
What's more, after the Fiesta rallied in August, the Corsa was back on top in September, with a healthy 1,000-car lead on the Ford.
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A cringe-inducing badge declares that the Corsa is “Made for Britain” but aside from the position of the steering wheel and the badge on the grille this is the same Corsa that’s on sale around Europe as an Opel. And under the skin, it shares the CMP platform that underpins a variety of other Opel, Peugeot and Citroen cars.
That, frankly, is a very good thing. The old Corsa was small, cramped, badly laid out, unrefined and miserable to drive. The new one is far better in every regard thanks in large part to that new platform.
For a start, it’s noticeably bigger. That’s evident from the lower, wider and longer body but also from the more spacious interior. None of the cars in this class are overly generous but the Corsa is big enough in the back for a couple of kids and the boot is 309 litres, enough to beat the Fiesta if a little behind things like the Renault Clio and Seat Ibiza.
The benefits of the new platform are just as obvious out on the road, where the Corsa is vastly better than the old one. The Ford Fiesta is still a more engaging car on a good road but the Corsa is well balanced, controlled and rides better than its rival thanks to more complaint suspension.
The 1.0-litre petrol engine shared with the Peugeot 208 is a little noisy but with 99bhp and 151lb ft of torque it’s an effective unit with plenty of pull. Official figures put economy between 48 and 52mpg. Over 1,800 miles ours returned a respectable 44mpg, with a high of 50mpg on one trip.
Vauxhall Corsa SRi Nav
Price: £20,665 (£21,005 as tested)Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrolPower: 99bhpTorque: 151lb ftTransmission: Six-speed manualTop speed: 121mph0-60mph: 9.3 secondsEconomy: 47.9-52.3mpgCO2 emissions: 125-126g/km
Our test car was an SRi Nav spec in a neat black-over-white two-tone finish, with black alloys. Compared with the Fiesta the Vauxhall looks lower and wider and a little more mature from the outside. Inside, however, the SRi has a distinctly youthful feel thanks to a bold red strip that runs the width of the dashboard, plus some sporty seats that also feature a red and white contrast stripe.
SRi also offers most of the equipment you’ll ever need and is my pick of the range, with a seven-inch media/navigation touchscreen, climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist.
In recent years the Corsa has been in the shadow of the Fiesta but this all-new version is finally able to mount a credible challenge to its long-term rival.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site The Scotsman