Opel's stylists wanted the new Corsa to look like a mature version of last year's bug-eyed model
Frisky and fun? But of Corsa! Opel Corsa 1.4

TOMORROW, Singapore Technologies Automotive is launching the new Opel Corsa, an entry-level model that rolls into the 1.4-litre European hatchback segment.

Unless you squint, you might have trouble telling this third-generation model apart from the previous one. Opel says that its stylists wanted it to look like a mature version of it.

Thus, the cutesy, bug-eyed look of the last model has been replaced by sharper lines, tauter surfaces and more severe angles.

It is easily more distinguished from its predecessor from behind, where it has gained tail-lamps mounted so high up that they frame the rear windshield.

Beyond that, it offers a frisky driving experience packaged within a compact, five-door body.

The Corsa comes only as a 1.4-litre five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic will be available in the later part of the year.

The 16-valve, 90 horsepower Ecotec engine already meets tough Euro 4 emissions standards that come into effect five years from now. It accelerates from zero to 100kmh in a brisk 11.5 seconds.

In fact, as long as you select the gears judiciously and keep the engine on the boil (and it starts to boil at around 3,000 rpm), the Corsa never feels underpowered or sluggish.

It picks up speed with verve, and because the gear change is decently precise, the pedals are well laid-out and the engine is smooth, the driver is seldom discouraged from giving the drive train the necessary work-out in order to keep ahead of traffic.

Although the engine is smooth and willing, it could do with singing lessons. From outside, the Corsa we drove clattered like a taxi at idle, which probably helps to explain the small "Comfort" badge on the side of its body.

Inside the car, the engine's low-rev gruffness also made itself heard, and in terms of sound insulation, the Corsa still has some way to go.

The car's handling is also a mixed bag. Although the Corsa grips well and is both forgiving and balanced, the power steering system could do with a bit of tweaking, as it offers little feel.

In the front half of the cabin, occupants sit high so that body roll around corners is exaggerated, but the little hatch does not lurch around bends and resists understeer gamely.

It will nip eagerly into bends with the merest flick on the steering wheel, but the price to pay for that is a car that wanders around, even on straight roads.

For the most part, the Corsa offers an acceptable ride for a small car, but at low speeds, the body can feel hyperactive over ragged tarmac.

On the whole, it feels more satisfying to drive when you press along hard than when you trundle about in Sunday drive mode.

What cannot be faulted, though, is the quality of the car's interior, which impresses more than those of its French competitors.

The Corsa's interior is screwed together carefully, and although the dashboard is simple, it is functional and easy on the eye.

The Corsa also has a generous cabin. Headroom is plentiful and legroom is adequate. But if you want to fit three adults into the back, none of them should be built like Norleena Salim, or you might have trouble closing the rear doors.

Corsa buyers get ABS, two airbags, three-point seat belts for all rear passengers, and a theft-deterring factory-fitted sound system.

So how does the Corsa stack up against the other 1.4-litre Euro-hatches on sale? In terms of equipment, it falls somewhere between the Peugeot 206 and the Renault Clio.

Whichever car eventually tops the sales charts though, the new Corsa is well-executed enough to serve as a reminder that good things do come in small packages.

FAST FACTS

Corsa 1.4 Comfort

Price: $59,988 with COE

Engine: 1,398 cc, DOHC 16-valve in-line four

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Max power: 90 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Max torque: 125 Nm at 4,000 rpm

0 - 100 kmh: 11.5 seconds

Top speed: 180 kmh

For enquiries: Contact Singapore Technologies Automotive on 842-2866