I think the time has come for me to buy my very first brand new car. This decision was prompted by recent purchase of a 2005 Renault Clio Sport, a great car when it first drove out of the factory over 10 years ago but today – it is feeling its age. The dashboard in my Clio has recently decided it no longer wishes to be a dashboard, instead embarking on a new career as a set of disco lights.
I really should not have bought one with an aftermarket boy racer exhaust either. It does sound good when you feel like a good drive but I’m nearly 30 now and sometimes I just want to travel to work in peace. Plus every time I start it up at 7am I can feel my neighbours hate me as the deep exhaust burble vibrates their windows.
Being over 10 years old and no doubt driven harshly every single one of those years, the car has developed some noises that shouldn’t be there. I don’t know what the noises are but to my untrained ear it sounds remarkably like the last remaining bolt holding the car together is loose. It’s time to buy a new car.
I have decided not to grow up completely however and chose to test drive the hottest hatches Vauxhall and Ford have to offer. Up first: the Vauxhall Corsa VXR.
For years the Corsa has been visually challenged to put it politely but its makeover in recent years has gone someway in combating this. Don’t expect to be turning many heads however; the revamped looks have merely turned it from ugly to inoffensive. The VXR version of the Corsa fashions a rear spoiler, twin exhausts and a mock rear diffuser letting those who know that this car can punch above its weight.
Inside you have a big chunky steering wheel that has been cross-bred with a PlayStation controller, some rather fine hip gripping Recaro seats and a set of alloy pedals that any driver will tell you – you must have. The centre console is a pretty touch screen unit controlling all your music and navigational needs that the salesman assured me would also ring the authorities should I ever find myself upside down in a ditch and unconscious. The only thing spoiling the interior is the set of heater switches I’d expect to find in the year 2001.
The engine is a 1.6 litre turbo which pulls well delivering its 205PS smoothly, utilising a 6-speed gearbox which will come in handy for long motorway journeys. On paper the Corsa VXR is quick and will dispatch the commute boxes on the road easily but it is not quite as exciting as the brochure would have you believe.
As you would expect the VXR has an uprated suspension system making the car very capable when you start putting it through some corners enthusiastically. This makes the ride rather firm but not uncomfortable. Passengers who are not fellow driving enthusiast, however, might not agree.
The steering for me lets the whole thing down though. It is too light and combined with the size of the car makes the whole thing feel like an over-powered city run-around and not like the meaty powered urban whippet I was expecting.
Many options are available for the Corsa. A Pricey VXR Leather Pack including heated seats for the leather fetishists among you. A “Sight and Light” pack is available for £230 that will operate the wipers and lights for you should it get dark or rain. Personally I’d save my £230 and use the more reliable levers supplied.
For anyone who is a useless driver there is the Technical Pack which will provide annoying bongs and alarms every time you are about to crash for just £1300, or you could spend it on some advanced driving lessons.
For £2400 the more committed driver can have the Performance Pack which offers bigger wheels, Brembo brakes, Drexler LSD and other things only Lewis Hamilton can understand. Or you can let Vauxhall keep all of that and just take the big wheels for an extra £500. The choice is yours.
I’ve always thought the Fiesta was a handsome little hatchback and the current model is the best looking yet. Clearly I am not alone in thinking this since the Ford Fiesta was the best-selling car last year. The ST version of the Fiesta is subtle in its styling offering only small clues to its sportiness with its big wheels, lower stance and rear spoiler. The mesh radiator grill really does it for me. It looks like one big snarling nostril ready to snort air into the engine.
The interior doesn’t quite do it for me however. The quality seems fine, the materials durable and they have not forgotten the essentials like the aluminium topped gear knob and alloy pedals. But the centre console is a mass of buttons I know will make me eventually resort to reading a manual; something that I personally deem unacceptable.
The steering wheel is nice and chunky and also covered in a mass of annoying buttons, but I know they will at some point become useful and not get in the way when there are not. The Recaro sport seats do their job of keeping you in place when the road gets twisty, the problem with them is when you are not sat in them and you notice that they look like two enormous children’s booster seats.
Ford have done away with the old 2 litre engine unit and instead gone for a 1.6 Turbo unit which is more powerful than the old one and should be more economical too. It’s not quite as powerful as the VXR but unless you happen to be competing in a standing quarter mile with one you’re hardly likely to notice.
The ride, like the Corsa is firm but not uncomfortable and transfers less road noise into the car than the Corsa. The ST is much lighter that the VXR and it shows in the handling (as well as fuel economy). Unlike the VXR the steering is a lot better giving you a greater feel and confidence when sticking the nose into the apex of a corner. The steering is still too light for my liking but it is a healthy compromise between day to day driving and hair on fire driving. The first generation of ST felt a little wimpy but Ford have added a meatier feel to this current instalment of ST.
The options are made simple for you which is much better than looking through a big long receipt of stuff trying to decipher what is important and what isn’t. The basic ST-1 is perfectly good enough if you’re on a tight budget. If heated seats, a Sony stereo and tinted windows are important to you then for an extra £1000 you can have the ST-2. Finally for those who need all the electronic gimmicks in their car like power-foldable door mirrors with puddle lights an extra £2000 will get you the ST-3.
The standard Corsa VXR is the more expensive of the two and given that you’ll likely want to add a few options to that you’ll probably be paying a considerable amount more if you don’t push for a good deal. Without any pushing, Ford offered me a ST-2 for £17,500 whereas Vauxhall wanted an extra £900 for the equivalent Corsa.
Overall the Fiesta ST is the better car; it is certainly the more mature choice. But if you are 21 years old you might just succumb to the Corsa’s allure of 23 more horse powers and those twin exhausts.
Personally, I’d go for the ST. But just to let the world know I am not yet in my 30’s I am going to get mine in bright Orange.