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CAPE TOWN – Buyers looking for a small hatchback are currently rather spoiled for choice. There’s the ubiquitous Volkswagen Polo, the dynamic Ford Fiesta and, for those who like to stand out, the stylish Mazda2. Of course, I’m sure you can think of a few more rivals from Japan and South Korea, but there's another forgotten option from Germany...

Yes, the Opel Corsa is often overlooked by buyers in South Africa. It isn’t a bad car by any means, yet it doesn’t enjoy the popularity the aforementioned rivals do in our market. So, when a special-edition Corsa dubbed the “120Y” made an appearance in our garage, I was keen to get behind the wheel in an attempt to work out why Corsa sales are sluggish when compared to its competitors.

Let’s start with the “120Y” bit. Launched to celebrate the German automaker producing cars for 120 years, the Corsa 120Y boasts a few subtle updates over the Enjoy counterpart on which it is based. A reverse camera, along with front and rear parking sensors, come as standard, as do a unique cloth interior, floor mats and door-sill strips.

Apart from that, the 120Y employs the same turbocharged 1,0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine the majority of the range uses, producing 66 kW and 170 N.m. While that peak power figure may not sound like much, it’s the torque produced by this three-pot that makes it feel unburstable, peaking at a low 1 800 r/min. The six-speed gearbox needs stirring to get the most out of the engine, and while easy to operate, can feel a tad notchy at times. Interestingly enough, the engine was detuned from 85 kW to the current figure with the intention of improving fuel economy and Cofigures. Despite this 19 kW deficit, the performance figures show the current model sprinted to 100 km/h in 12,70 seconds, just 1,23 seconds slower than the 85 kW Corsa tested in our May 2015 issue.

While that's by no means quick, it’s more than sufficient for daily driving. And, during the time I was behind the wheel, the Corsa sipped fuel modestly, averaging just 6,1 L/100 km, mainly in town and traffic driving.

At idle, there's a slight thrum, the only clue to the three cylinders living under the bonnet. Once up to speed, the engine is quiet. This should make for refined motorway travel, but the noise intrusion from the Corsa’s Continental EcoContact6 tyres is noticeable within the cabin at higher speeds. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with town driving.

Despite the eco tyres, the Corsa grips purposefully through corners, inspiring confidence as it dances from left to right. This is aided by its quick (if a bit light) steering that reacts instantly. Despite the Corsa feeling fairly dynamic and even slightly sporty, it delivers a comfortable and supple ride, dismissing potholes in a way that other similarly sized rivals aren’t able to do. 

However, the same cannot be said for the seats, especially the front ones. At 1,70 m tall, I don’t have particularly long legs, yet there is far too little thigh support for me, let alone the taller members on our team. The lower lumbar support is over-padded, which creates an awkward driving position. After 200 km of non-stop driving, lower back discomfort can be expected.

Indeed, the interior isn’t the Corsa’s strong suit. Compared with newer rivals like the VW Polo, the interior seems to lag behind a bit with regards to perceived quality. Some aesthetically pleasing granite-effect elements do, though, manage to lift the ambiance. Ergonomically, the trip computer could do with an upgrade; operated by buttons housed on the indicator stalk, simple tasks are made trickier due to the placement of the controls. A more conventional set-up with buttons on the steering wheel would be a better solution.

Where the Corsa does claw back a few points is with interior space. Rear passengers will enjoy ample leg-and-headroom. Don’t think this has impacted its load carrying abilities, though, as the Corsa 120Y is more than capable of accommodating the monthly shopping or two suitcases for a weekend away.

Another plus point is its generous equipment levels. On the safety front, the 120Y comes equipped with front and rear disc brakes, electronic stability control as well as driver, passenger, front seat and curtain airbags. A lack of electric rear windows appears to be the only glaring omission from the Corsa’s list of standard features, with air-conditioning, central locking and an adjustable steering wheel (with rake and reach) included in the price. Perhaps more importantly, the Corsa 120Y has a three-year/60 000 km service plan and a three-year/120 000 km warranty.

In summary, the Corsa 120Y is a competent package for someone looking for a well-specified hatchback in the R250 000 range. However, competent doesn’t really cut it these days, with really good examples such as the aforementioned Fiesta and Polo available for similar money. Still, there's good news for fans of Opel in the shape of the new-generation Corsa, which is expected in South Africa late in 2020. Perhaps the newcomer will give the established hatches a run for their money.

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