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Funky Corsa-e sparks zest for electrified life

It may be a bit small for him, but Campbell Spray says the well-priced new offering from Opel has star quality

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The Corsa-e is an excellent car for the urban motorist, with good technology on board and an affordable price tag

The Corsa-e is an excellent car for the urban motorist, with good technology on board and an affordable price tag

The Corsa-e is an excellent car for the urban motorist, with good technology on board and an affordable price tag

When a mass- appeal car like the Corsa is launched by Opel with a full electric option, you begin to understand that the EV revolution is beginning, however hesitantly, to take off.

Among the quite dire figures released last Tuesday for purchases of new cars last month, and the year to date, one of the few bright sparks (sorry for the pun) was that sales of electric vehicles have improved on a year-to-year basis - albeit from a very low base. However, that is likely to be further fuelled (sorry again) as the range of EVs expands quite rapidly, especially in the small car category.

Already this year we have seen the Corsa-e, its stablemate the Peugeot e-208, a new Renault Zoe, a funky little Honda, and the e-Mini. Of course, marques, like Tesla ,have made massive strides in building their sales, but Elon Musk's cars are still a long way from being a practical proposition for most buyers.

This brings me back to the Opel Corsa-e, which may become one of the real success stories of the EV market. For many years Opel was one of the big players in the Irish car market and mirrored the place in our hearts and wallet that its sister Vauxhall did across the Irish Sea. But things went seriously wrong, for Opel in particular.

Poor strategy, a lack of leadership and some rather sorry product saw the marque floundering. However, that has been arrested with the purchase of Opel by PSA, the Peugeot/Citroen parent, who has now embarked on sweeping model and philosophy changes. Here the brand is being run in far more dynamic fashion alongside Peugeot at Gowan House on Dublin's Naas Road.

There is a very large cohort of people who were loyal to Opel over the years and many would have started their motoring journey in the marque. These people are among the target audience whom the new team in Ireland, headed by former Kia managing director James Brooks, hope to get back to the Opel brand with a very exciting schedule of new model launches this year and next.

Much of the strategy will be built around, as James says, "offering customers the option to choose their preferred model, then the powertrain that best suits them and their lifestyle - petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid or 100pc electric - without compromising on space, technology, looks or driving sensations".

So that means the Corsa-e, for instance, has exactly the same dimensions as its petrol and diesel sisters because the electric batteries are distributed around the floor pan. The extra weight of the batteries does give a lower sense of gravity which doesn't make the car as agile as its siblings but equally keeps it well grounded.

The Corsa is a small car and while on paper three people could get in the back, two are better; even I could get in pretty quickly, but I wouldn't want to be there for a long journey. But the Corsa-e excels as an urban roundabout and that's how people should see the majority of the smaller EVs. Their pricing and size militates against them having large powerful batteries which give the range of a Tesla.

The Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona do have impressive ranges of above 400km but they are substantially more expensive than cars like the Corsa-e, Zoe and e-208. The Hyundai Ioniq bridges the gap.

Sporting a 50-kWh battery, the Corsa-e claims to offer a range up to 337km (WLTP). However, I'd put it at more likely about 280km - and some of my colleagues who drove it fast on motorways don't believe they would get anything more than 230km. But that's the electric compromise. Drive it mainly around town and having your own wallbox makes it a real contender for people to use against conventionally powered cars. You also have the advantage of the electric acceleration which does the 0-100kmh in 8.1 seconds.

However, what surprised me about the Corsa-e was how attractive it was priced in terms of the spec on board and its pretty competent driving. I didn't expect to like it so much, but when I saw that with the new VAT rate the Corsa-e SC, (including VRT rebate and SEIA grant) is €26,814, plus delivery, I was fairly impressed.

The spec included a seven-inch colour touchscreen navigation; seven-inch digital driver information cluster; electronic climate control; keyless start; rain-sensitive windscreen wipers; automatic headlight control; automatic anti-dazzle rear-view mirror; electric parking brake; rear parking sensors; 16-inch bi-colour five-spoke alloy wheels; cruise control with speed limiter; lane departure warning with lane assist; speed sign recognition; driver drowsiness system; and automatic emergency city braking. That's not bad and the car came in a rather funky orange as well.

My wife thought the Corsa-e was "too small for the type of car you should be driving" but she is SUV mad. But I liked the ease with which I could zip around town and park so easily. The car is low so it will appeal to the younger cohort. They might also make more use of the drive mode feature which offers a choice between economy for maximum range, sporty mode for performance, and normal mode for a balance.

A full battery charge comes in 7.5 hours from a wallbox, or 80pc charge in just 30 minutes at a dedicated fast-charge terminal. The battery is guaranteed for eight years or 160,000 km, for up to 70pc retention, certifiable by the Opel Dealer Network. Customers are also covered with roadside assistance for eight years/160,000km.

Unlike its Peugeot sibling, the Opel doesn't have a five- year warranty, staying at just three. I was in the first level SC trim but you can spec up to the Elite for about €3.5k. From which the only thing I missed was a rear-view camera. There is good technology on board and you can have some fun by using the driving modes. A few of my colleagues say the Peugeot e-208 has more flair. Perhaps so, but the Opel has solid Teutonic sense.

The Corsa-e shows me that Opel has brought itself back to the table with its head up high. It's a well-priced choice for those who want to get electrified. Already the new Corsa range has picked up the prestigious Autobest "Best Buy Car of Europe 2020" accolade. It will get more.

Sunday Independent