Can a few spicy ingredients transform the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring from an ordinary hot hatch into really hot stuff? I spent a few hours with Vauxhall’s fastest Corsa in an effort to find out.
The Corsa VXR has been around since 2007 and has remained largely untouched, apart from a mild facelift last year. With 189bhp it can hit 60mph in 6.8 seconds, one of the quicker times in the supermini sector, but the VXR has dropped from favour as newer rivals have arrived on the scene. So what’s a manufacturer to do? Bring on a new ‘special edition’, of course.
In the Corsa’s case this is much more than a bright paint job with a set of stickers and new alloys. What Vauxhall have done is invest some serious effort into creating a very special ‘special edition’. The Corsa VXR Nurburgring has been treated to a host of mechanical revisions that promise to revitalise this junior hot hatch.
So what are the spicy ingredients that have been added to the Corsa VXR? The upgrades start with a new chassis setup, where Vauxhall have worked with Bilstein to produce a bespoke set of springs and dampers. The new setup was honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, hence this model’s name, and it promises even more control and faster responses than before. Another outcome is a lower ride height, dropped by 20mm at the front and 15mm at the rear.
Next we have the brakes and wheels. Brembo stepped in to fit a new set of stoppers, consisting of four-piston calipers, bigger discs and bigger pads for improved braking performance. The new brake setup is 30% lighter than standard and, when combined with lighter 18-inch forged alloy wheels (200g lighter per wheel) it means that the VXR is carrying less unsprung weight. That in turn improves grip and steering response.
Finally, and most significantly, we get to the limited-slip differential. Designed by Drexler, this is a proper mechanical device that helps to shuffle torque to whichever of the front wheels has most grip. A mechanical LSD may be more expensive than the electronic systems favoured on other hot hatches, but it gives superior response and a much more natural feel.
The extra power is liberated by reprogramming the ECU, running on 98-Ron unleaded fuel, and fitting a new stainless steel exhaust system that reduces back pressure. The result is an extra 13bhp and 15lb/ft of torque.
It Won’t Blend Into A Crowd
You shouldn’t find it too hard to spot a Corsa VXR Nurburgring. Hunkered down on its lowered suspension, you could initially mistake it for a standard VXR that’s been treated to some aftermarket suspension, but look more closely and you’ll find Nurburgring logos all over. There’s a logo on the B pillar, the door sills feature special kick plates, the seats feature another Nordschleife logo and the dashboard holds the numbered plaque that denotes this as a true limited edition – there will only be 500 Nurburgrings sold, 250 of which are coming to the UK.
Having just mentioned the seats, I should point out that the front seats are a pair of hip hugging Recaros trimmed in black leather. They are supportive in all the right places and feature sizable bolsters on the sides. Those bolsters are not just there for decoration either as you really start to appreciate them once you start to tackle the corners.
There is a choice of four colours, starting with black and white as the more mundane options, but you’ll really want to choose either the metallic Chilli Orange of this car or the very bright pearlescent Lime Green.
The anthracite alloys are another key feature, as is the pair of exhaust pipes jutting out from beneath the rear bumper with its unique diffuser. Step around to the front and you will find a prominent splitter, so beware of low kerbs.
Adjust Your Benchmarks
If you’ve driven a normal Corsa VXR before, or most of the current crop of supermini-based hot hatches, then driving the Corsa Nurburgring will adjust most of your benchmarks. In every aspect of its performance the Nurburgring is right up there with the best in class. For a start it is quick in a straight line, with a 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mph.
The Nurburgring’s extra power means you can now launch the Corsa away from the lights and down straights with increased gusto, snapping through the closely stacked ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox. The new twin-pipe exhaust adds to the sense of occasion with a distinct bark. It’s a good system, not excessively loud and without the boominess of some aftermarket exhausts.
You will probably have seen the review of the Corsa Nurburgring on a well-known TV show, where the reviewer may (May, geddit?) have criticised the Corsa for its painfully stiff ride. Well, I wouldn’t want to question the experience of such a well known motoring journalist … oh, what the hell … he’s being a total drama queen. Yes, the Corsa does have a very stiff ride but it’s not much worse than a number of other hot hatches and it’s far from being unusable on the road. Has the development time on the Nordschleife ruined the car? No.
So you’re bombing down a straight and you spy a sharp corner ahead. Worry not, because that Brembo setup will scrub speed off faster than you can think ‘oh god, I’m going too fast.’ The Corsa’s nose dives towards the tarmac but it remains resolutely on course with no squirming, and now it’s time to turn in.
The steering is sharp, if a little over-assisted and short on feel, but there’s no sensation of slack as you steer the Corsa into the bend. It tucks in immediately with no discernible roll, the upside of that stiffer suspension. Grip levels are high thanks to the sticky low-profile 225/35 Continental rubber stretched around those 18-inch alloys.
Now you get to discover the true magic of the Corsa Nurburgring. Hit the accelerator early in the corner in a standard Corsa VXR and you’d be quickly washing wide of the apex, ESP light flickering as it cut the power to bring the nose back into line. In the Nurburgring you can feel the differential at work, shuffling the torque between the wheels, and the result is uncanny traction. Instead of running wide the nose pulls more tightly into the corner, speed building as it does so. The result is an almighty slingshot out of the corner and your internal organs re-arranged to one side of your rib cage.
I’m sure that if you were to lap an empty roundabout at ever-increasing speed then it would be your stomach that let go if its contents before the Corsa let go of the tarmac. I didn’t try it, but if you get a chance please do let me know how many laps you lasted.
So It’s Great To Drive, What About The Rest?
The asking price of the Corsa VXR Nurburgring is rather high at £22,305. You are getting a lot of special hardware from some well-known manufacturers included in the package, but £22k for a supermini is going to put some people off.
The price is even harder to justify when you look at the interior. There’s a lot of hard plastic on show in the cabin and the controls don’t have the nice, damped feeling of some of the more premium (and cheaper) rivals.
Standard kit levels are reasonable with air-con, electric windows, electrically powered and heated mirrors, and CD/MP3-compatible stereo as standard. Some of the nicer features fitted to this car were options, including the sat-nav, automatic lights and rain-sensing wipers. The Recaro seats are standard but it costs extra to upgrade from cloth to leather.
Running costs aren’t cheap either. Car tax will cost £315 in year one and £200 each year after, insurance is group 34D on the 50 group scale and your fuel bill will be high. Officially the Nurburgring can manage 37.2mpg on the combined cycle, but in my short encounter I only briefly saw the trip computer read over 30mpg and after 70 miles of enthusiastic driving it managed only 26mpg.
The Final Reckoning
If you want a lively, exciting and enormously entertaining hot hatch then you should seriously consider the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring. This is easily one of the best, if not the best, car to come out of Luton for some time.
Look more closely at the price tag and you’ll see that the Corsa isn’t too far from its main competitors, costing a bit more than a lower-specced Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup but cheaper than a Mini JCW. Head-to-head the Clio might win on outright handling but the turbo-assisted torque of the Corsa’s engine will claw back the deficit.
The stiff ride will not be to everyone’s taste and certainly won’t appeal to your passengers. If you’re unlucky enough to spend most of your time stuck in traffic then this really isn’t the right car for you. However, if you can get out on to the right roads on a quiet weekend morning, or even better dare to risk your pride and joy on a track day, then the Corsa Nurburgring won’t fail to bring a smile to your face.
To put it simply, the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring is brilliant.
Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring Specifications
|Engine:||1,598cc 4-cyl Turbo|
|Top Speed:||143 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||178 g/km (Band I)|
|Official MPG:||37.2 mpg|
|Price (as tested):||£25,100*|
Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Loves to rev, sharp throttle response||9|
|HANDLING||Very firm ride but simply devours corners||10|
|AFFORDABILITY||High price but almost justified by the big names involved||7|
|DESIRABILITY||Vauxhall badge may put off snobs, but they’re missing out||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Hot hatches don’t get much more entertaining than this||10|
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*Prices taken from Vauxhall website, May 2012