The Opel Corsa needs no introduction in South Africa, having been available for purchase here for several decades. Now, a tumultuous few years after General Motors’ demise in this country, a new brand champion has stepped up to the plate, carrying with it a sense of renewal for one of the country’s pioneer compact hatchbacks.
General Motor’s exit from South Africa in December 2017 left many casualties in its wake. Besides the 1,900 employees who lost employment, several decades-old motoring nameplates left the country for good.
Fortunately, Opel was not one of those brands, as importer/distributor Williams Hunt Motors rescued it and distributed it locally through their dealer network. The move saved Opel’s 86-year-old legacy from local demise, keeping its significant track record intact. Opel sold more than 500,000 cars here over the years, achieving a substantial 9% market share. Opel models claimed the SAGMJ South African Car of the Year title no fewer than four times, and cars like the ‘Superboss’ set hearts ablaze across the land.
Although Opel cars remained available and supported in the years since GM left, there has not been as significant a marketing push as car brands need in this day and age, and the brand’s presence has been somewhat lukewarm the last few years.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
Stellantis Group, now the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, recently acquired the brand operations of Peugeot and Citroën, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and now also, Opel South Africa (as a subsidiary). With significant new impetus to reignite the Opel brand here, the group recently introduced the new Corsa, bringing three models to market, with plans to introduce a fourth model later in 2021.
The sixth-generation Corsa is based on the Stellantis Group’s modular platform and uses two of the group’s latest combustion engines – a 1.2-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder that produces 55 kW at 5,750 r/min, and a turbocharged version generating 96 kW at 5,500 r/min.
The entry-level ‘Corsa’ derivative (R274,900) uses the normally aspirated powertrain, which wasn’t available to drive during the launch in Gauteng. The engine, which generates 118 Nm of torque at a relatively low peak of 2,750 r/min, is also applied to the mid-range Corsa Edition (R294,900). Both grade options get a five-speed manual transmission, while the range-topping ‘Elegance’ version (R386,900) uses a six-speed automatic to convert the car’s turbo power to inertia – 230 Nm of the stuff at a lovely 1,750 r/min.
This translates to a properly brisk driving experience on the road, which we experienced during the launch drive around the Cradle of Humankind. Although the road surfaces often leave much to be desired in this area, the Corsa’s nimble footing and agile performance make it a joy to pilot.
Given the opportunity, the 96 kW Elegance will roll on to a maximum speed of 208 km/h – its predecessor needed 15% more power (110kW) to get to 207 km/h. The new car is also 0.2 seconds faster to the 100 km/h mark than before, crossing the line at 8.7 seconds.
You would probably have noticed the rather large pricing gap between the Edition and Elegance versions of the car. It is unusual for a model line-up in the hotly-contested compact hatch segment to have such significant price discrepancies, as is the case here. Opel has confirmed to Driven that a fourth model – positioned as second-in-command to the Elegance – will be added later during the year once it becomes available for this market. The new model is likely to boast the same turbo engine as the Elegance, but with fewer spec points than the top model, to bring the price down.
WHAT SHE’S GOT
Entering the range, the Corsa derivative features 15″ steel rims with wheel covers and a few neat exterior appointments such as body-colour mirror caps, halogen headlights, and “Opel wing” daytime running lights. Inside the cabin, there is a manual air conditioner, electric windows upfront only, and an auto on/off switch for the lights. The driver’s seat is six-way adjustable. In-car entertainment is handled via a 5” touchscreen radio with Bluetooth and USB port.
Significantly, Opel has made its 7” IntelliLink infotainment system available from the Edition version and up. This comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, and gets an upgrade from a four-speaker, to a six-speaker sound system. Park assist and a rear camera are also part of the deal in these models, as are electric windows in the back.
Outside, the Edition gets 16” alloy rims, but the real enhancements happen for the Elegance, which boasts a black two-tone roof, chrome on the upper part of the grille and along the car’s beltline, and a gloss black roof spoiler and B-pillar embellishment. LED headlights also feature in the top derivative.
The Elegance cabin positively bristles with technology, with climate control, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, and high-beam assist, among the highlights. However, it also gets a laundry list of safety technology that is hard to beat in this segment. Active safety measures include lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition. Accident avoidance is high on the agenda, with driver drowsiness alert, pedestrian detection at the front, and front collision alert that warns of an impending collision when you’re too close to the car ahead of you. Should you activate one of these safety systems at low speed, emergency braking will also engage to avoid an unpleasant situation in a parking lot.
Given the Opel brand’s significant history in this country and Opel’s still mighty strong reputation, we believe that the new Corsa should impact the sales front for the visibly re-energized team at Stellantis South Africa. The new Corsa stands out in terms of design, build quality, price sobriety and general appeal. The few quirks that don’t get us excited – the uninspiring LCD screen in favour of a traditional dial set-up, for example – are not of such consequence that buyers will avoid the car because of them. On the contrary, the new Corsa is a proud torchbearer for the Opel heritage. If you’ve been a fan before, the chances are good that you’ll fall in love with it all over again.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © OPEL SOUTH AFRICA