The GSi badge returns to South Africa in the form of a tweaked Opel Corsa as a range-topping warm hatch...

Opel’s GSi badge is one which resonates with many South Africans. At the tail-end of the previous century, it represented everyday cars that had a little extra poke under the bonnet, examples of which included the Ascona, Monza and, most famously, the Kadett.

Fast-forward to today and the GSi badge has returned after an almost 15-year hiatus from our market. It finds its home on the tailgate of the current Opel Corsa, which will be phased out in the coming months as the sixth-generation version is introduced to world markets. Astute enthusiasts will notice that on paper, mechanically the GSi is the same car as the Corsa 1,4T Sport which featured in our long-term fleet during the course of 2016, with a power output of 110 kW and 220 N.m of torque. The GSi replaces this Sport model and ditches its extra set of doors, gains an inch in wheel size and incorporates a neat faux air vent positioned at the base of the bonnet.

Along with this, the brand’s updated climate controls and infotainment screen – both interfaces really simple to use on the move – are featured in the cabin. Spec changes include a set of comfortable heated Recaro bucket seats for the driver and passenger. That said, taller members of our editorial team noted the compromised headroom because the driver seat’s default lowest setting is a mite too high. Features such as lane-departure warning and front-collision detection are standard, adding to the Corsa’s safety appeal. Overall, the spec is generous (it even has a heated steering wheel, which proved surprisingly handy in the Cape’s winter). There are some odd omissions, though, such as keyless entry and a reversing camera.

However, what we’re most interested in is whether this GSi lives up to its heritage and delivers on a promise of strong performance, keeping in mind its “warm hatch” status one step below the discontinued 152 kW 1,6-litre turbocharged OPC.

The results of our performance tests could be viewed as mildly underwhelming. While fourth gear is strong enough from 40-140 km/h for effortless overtaking, we had expected a better 0-100 km/h sprint time than the 9,27 seconds the GSi posted. For reference, the Opel Adam S – using the same powertrain – achieved 8,43 seconds when we tested it in October 2016. What’s also frustrating is the 95 kW 2,0-litre Kadett GSi we ran in October 1987 posted a time of 8,02 seconds.

Thankfully, the Corsa GSi’s dynamic offering is leaps and bounds ahead of the Kadett. The modern-day Opel recorded a fantastic average 100-0 km/h braking time of 2,76 seconds. We accredit this to the 308 mm front ventilated brake discs coupled to a set of grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.

These Michelins are worth a second mention because they form part of a chassis that accentuates the Corsa GSi’s fun factor. Adopted straight from the OPC, the GSi’s firm suspension setup is the focal point, providing an engaging experience. There is oodles of grip and, somewhat surprisingly in a modern car, enjoyable levels of feel through the thick steering wheel’s rim. Could the six-speed manual transmission feel a bit more plugged in? Sure, but it’s still a pleasure to use and isn't much of a chore to use in day-to-day driving.



TEST SUMMARY

The GSi badge will always have a place in South African Opel fans’ hearts. However, if you’re expecting this generation of GSi to live up to the heightened expectations created by legacy models, you might be disappointed.

Nevertheless, if your expectations shift to a warm hatch with a decent turn of pace, a great chassis and a generous standard-specification list, the Corsa GSi makes much more sense ... if you find the price palatable, because R365 900 does put it on par with the Mini Cooper and just R29 000 adrift of the much faster and more dynamically balanced Volkswagen Polo GTI.