Corsa GSI review: a hot hatch that will leave you cold 

Corsa GSI
We had high hopes for this hatch, but under testing it proved a little short of its extremely proficient rivals 

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It’s the reason we have, once again, a Vauxhall Corsa GSI gracing UK roads. This nameplate first appeared in the early 1990s, on the rump of a Corsa endowed with a 109bhp 1.6-litre 16v engine and a rather pretty bodykit, such things being enough to qualify a car as a hot hatch back then. Now, Vauxhall’s hoping that nostalgia for old hot hatches of its ilk will help it lure buyers into buying its new one – hence the revival of the GSI badge.

The thing is, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. And while there are plenty of iconic performance brands out there, Vauxhall’s GSI models were often underwhelming in their day, usually losing out to French rivals on poise and German ones on pace. The Corsa, in particular, despite its pert engine and handsome looks, was let down by its flaccid chassis and so-so build quality.

So this reborn Corsa GSI had best be better than the original. Particularly given that the current cabal of junior hot hatches is bristling with talent and headed up by the terrific new Ford Fiesta ST. And at first glance, it starts well, with the same likeably pugilistic styling as the now-defunct Corsa VXR (although, in case you’re wondering, Vauxhall is keen to point out that the GSI doesn’t replace the VXR, but sits a rung down from it in the range).

The trouble is, the GSI is rather outgunned. Its headline power figure is 148bhp – 49bhp shy of the Fiesta ST’s, which costs just £55 more, and just 10bhp up on that of the Suzuki Swift Sport, which costs more than £1400 less. That doesn’t sound like terrific bang for your buck.

Perhaps the high price is because the GSI comes fully loaded. Well, you do get a colour touchscreen with a digital radio, sports seats, cruise control and air conditioning, but then all these features come as standard on the entry-level Fiesta ST-1. In fact, the Fiesta actually gives you a little more, with pukka Recaro sports seats as standard – a £1055 option on the Corsa.

It looks alright, especially in yellow, but we think Ford's brilliant Fiesta St is a better buy – not to mention cheaper

Still, power isn’t everything, and an engine that makes good use of its power with verve and vim might yet make the case for the GSI. Trouble is, the 1.4-litre turbo is anything but. In fact, it feels desperately ordinary, as though it had been pulled out of the larger Astra from whence it came and dumped with very little further thought beneath the Corsa’s bonnet.

Put your foot down and what happens is notable only by its absence. There’s no zing, no snick in the back that communicates a lust for life; merely a gentle and unremarkable gain in momentum. Fine in a family hatchback; not so much here.

Wind things right up and matters improve somewhat – you’ll find the top end to be perky, if not lightning quick – but the muted exhaust note won’t encourage you on, and when you do get there, you’ll find the next ratio up drops you back out of this sweet spot so that you have to wind the GSI up all over again.

Unlike most modern hot hatches, the GSI can be a bit of a chore to keep going 

It is a masterclass in how not to do a hot hatch engine, which is doubly disappointing when you realise how good the chassis is. Large parts are carried over from the VXR, which means it shares that car’s snazzy Koni-sourced dampers and consequently, the same firm-ish ride. But turn-in is good and there’s plenty of front-end grip; you don’t get quite the same level of feedback or fluidity that you do inthe Fiesta ST, but the Corsa GSI is still a decently entertaining little thing to chuck around.

Inside, the dashboard is pretty much standard Corsa fayre, with some slivers of gloss black plastic in an attempt to liven things up. It all looks fine, if not particularly special, and while it’s solid enough to feel a little more upmarket than the Fiesta, it’s a way behind the smart – albeit more expensive – Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Space in both the front and rear seats is OK, if not terrific, though happily, the infotainment system is better. Its graphics are a little dated, but it’s quick to respond and easy to use, with large icons and an intuitive menu system. It’s the one area, in fact, in which the GSI proves resoundingly better than the ST.

We do like the interior, but for a baby performance car the excitement just isn't really there Credit: STUART COLLINS

On the whole, though, this Corsa GSI shares much in common with its namesake. It’s pretty on the outside, but unremarkable within, and hampered dynamically in a way that means it can’t hope to contend with the best in the class. The irony is that where the old Corsa GSI’s cracking engine was let down by its chassis, here it’s the other way around.

This wouldn’t be so much of an issue were the new model being pitched as a warm-ish top end Corsa; a rival to all-show, less-go Fiesta ST-Line, maybe, or the Swift Sport, with a price to match. The engine’s comparative lack of low-down verve would still be a handicap, but by nowhere near as much, and the GSI’s sporty looks and hardcore chassis would give it a real edge.

But with the terrific Fiesta ST breathing down its neck and other rivals barely more than a grand away, it’s far too costly. The GSI simply isn’t the hot hatch Vauxhall purports it to be, and it doesn’t have enough going on elsewhere to justify its cost. This is one pair of rose-tinted specs, then, that you can probably do without.

*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 17/01/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.

Vauxhall Corsa GSI – facts and specifications

TESTED 1,364cc four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £19,440/now

POWER/TORQUE 148bhp @ 5,000rpm, 162lb ft @ x,xxxrpm

TOP SPEED 129mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.9sec

FUEL ECONOMY 49.6mpg/38.2mpg (EU Combined/Urban)

CO2 EMISSIONS 139g/km

VED £205 first year, then £140 per year

VERDICT The Corsa GSI is reborn, but this latest version is even more underwhelming than the original. Its chassis is decent enough, but the rest of the car is too ordinary to justify a price that flies this close to the greatness of the Ford Fiesta ST.

TELEGRAPH RATING Two stars out of five

Vauxhall Corsa GSI – main rivals

Ford Fiesta ST, from £19,495

Currently the best of the pocket hot hatch breed, the ST is the real deal, with an engine that’s as chock full of life as the Corsa’s isn’t. Yet as it’s barely any more expensive it’s impossible to envision a circumstance in which you’d pass it up in favour of the GSI.

Suzuki Swift Sport, from £17,999

Its chassis is less edgy than the Corsa’s, but the Swift Sport is still a hoot to drive, and despite being 10bhp down on the Corsa, feels markedly more engaging. All this, and yet it’s considerably cheaper – even more so with the £1000 discount being offered at the moment.

Mini Cooper, from £17,630

The Cooper is a blast to drive, even with only 134bhp to play with, with a willing engine, a zingy chassis and delightful styling both inside and out. Basic Classic isn’t that much to look at, but the Sport – from £20,230 – gets a shoutier bodykit.