Not too long ago, in the 90s, Opel was synonymous with Monzas and Kadetts that had the solidity of a Lego house assembled by a toddler. Quality levels did improve over the following years, but not too long ago Opel South Africa’s range, if you can call it that, consisted of a mere four models: the Astra, Meriva, Corsa and a Renault van. The Astra is an excellent car, but somewhat undiscovered by local buyers. The Meriva is a clever, versatile family car, but flies under the radar. The Corsa was a respectable but dull appliance that became rental car fodder.

Fast-forward to 2014/2015 and Opel is launching cars here as if their lives depended on it. First, the cute and quirky Adam "boutique hatch" arrived a few months ago and now their baby SUV, the Opel Mokka, is on its way.

Isn’t this article about the new Corsa?

Oh, it is. But I’m illustrating how superior the 2015-and-beyond Opel range is, with the Corsa as its cornerstone. We expected an improved car, but not something this good.

So what’s the best part about it?

Its 1-litre, 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It’s more refined than the Ford equivalent and though not as powerful on paper, it’s a right little firecracker that’s happy to chase the redline. It makes the new Corsa feels like it’s destined to be a hot hatch. It also seems slightly more fuel-efficient than the Fiesta and Polo. It features a start-stop system that (mostly) turns the engine off when waiting at a red robot and it’s teamed up with a slick six-speed manual that’s a joy to shift, unlike its predecessor.

It looks a lot like the outgoing Corsa. So it’s a face-lift and an engine/gearbox upgrade?

It’s far more than that. Opel also re-engineered the chassis and suspension to create a car that can confidently take on the benchmark cars: that Polo and Fiesta. The Corsa combines a rock-solid chassis with excellent road-holding and a comfortable ride. If you’re a car enthusiast this will delight you and if you’re just a point-A-to-B driver you’ll appreciate it’s refinement and the first-class way it deals with bumps and potholes. As in the smaller Opel Adam the steering is rather light, but feels less vague. With its quiet cabin and big-car feel the Corsa will certainly cover great distances with ease.

What about the interior?

The inside has gone all soft-touch premium and the cheap-looking grey plastic of old Corsa was banished. Well, not completely: There are some remnants at shin level, but it should only concern those downgrading from Audi A8s.

Because it’s a contemporary hatch, aimed at young people, connectivity is a big deal. The IntelliLink system with its 7" (18cm) screen allows integration with Android or Apple iOs phones and tablets, for easy music streaming from your device or from the web. The navigation app will use your smartphone’s GPS, but not its data connection. IntelliLink is standard issue on the top-spec Corsa Cosmo, but optional on the basic Essentia and mid-spec Enjoy.

What else impressed?

Some luxury items – like air-con for the Essentia – have to be added as optional extras, but the really important things are included across the range: six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control, seatbelt pretensioning and hill-start assist. Disc brakes at the front (vented) and rear provide good stopping power and advanced ABS with brake assist are part of the deal.
There’s an option on the Cosmo specially for Gauteng folk who move to Cape Town and now have to parallel park. It’s called Advanced Parking Assistant 2 (or APA2). It identifies potential parking spaces – most kinds – and then turns the steering wheel while the driver only works the accelerator and brake pedal. Within seconds you’re perfectly parked – stress free.

Anything you didn’t like?

When I didn’t drive the front passenger seat became uncomfortable.

What are the spec levels?

1.0T Essentia, R185 500: Front electric windows and side mirrors (folding), tinted glass, steel wheels, start/stop engine control, gear-shift indicator, halogen daytime running lights, remote locking, alarm/immobiliser, City Mode steering, hill-start assist, black cloth upholstery and a single-piece folding rear seat. The warranty and road-side assist lasts for 5 years or 120 000 km and the service plan 3 years or 60 000 km.

1.0T Enjoy, R216 200: Adds air-con, 16" alloy rims, sound system and steering-wheel sound controls, Bluetooth, trip data computer, accented gear knob and steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seat, height-adjustable driver’s seat, storage under passenger seat, LED daytime running lights and front fog lights 

1.0T Cosmo, R236 300: Adds bi-xenon headlights with cornering light control, cruise control with a speed limiter, IntelliLink, auto-dimming mirror, auto wipers and headlights, leather steering-wheel, chrome detailing, black upholstery with vinyl bolsters, silver highlights on the instrument cluster, interior ambient lighting, flexible cup holders and two seat-back pockets.

The option packages are as follows:
Essentia Option Pack 1: Radio with Bluetooth & USB, air-con – R12 200

Essentia Option Pack 2: IntelliLink, air-con, 15” alloy wheels – R15 600
Enjoy Option Pack 1: IntelliLink – R4000

Enjoy Option Pack 2: IntelliLink, Advanced Park Assist 2 – R8000
Cosmo Option Pack 1: Advanced Park Assist 2 – R5000

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