Vauxhall Corsa GSI
The Corsa GSi can't match the 1.6-litre turbocharged punch of its VXR predecessor but its 150PS 1.4-litre turbo engine still promises a spirited package. And of course it's far more efficient to run than that old VXR ever was. But you don't buy a sporting hatch for its efficiency figures. What else can this on offer?
Power comes from an entirely predictable source, namely a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, in this case sending 150PS through the front tyres via a short-ratio six-speed manual box. When it comes to performance figures, you can forget Fiesta ST comparisons, but a fairer pitch against Suzuki's similarly-priced 140PS Swift Sport makes more sense. This Vauxhall's sprint to 62mph time is 8.9s (0.8s slower than the Swift) but its top speed of 129mph is very similar.
The chassis that undergirds this GSi is borrowed from the old VXR - which is welcome news. With this warm hatch design though, there's no aggressive Drexler limited-slip differential, big Brembo brake discs or punchy damper settings though; it plays to a different, more conservative crowd. At least the 1.4-litre engine is a willing one, putting out 220Nm of torque. Between 2,750 to 4,500rpm, this helps the car to accelerate from 50-70mph in fifth gear in just 9.9 seconds.
The GSi comes only in three-door form and tries to set itself apart with 17-inch bi-colour cut alloy wheels, a bespoke rear roof spoiler, a sports front grille and more aggressive air dam, bumper and side sill treatment than you'll find on the lesser 'SRi' model. The GSi also gets dark tinted rear windows, carbon effect finishing for the exterior mirrors and grille bar, plus LED daytime running lights.
Inside, there are sports-style front seats and a leather-covered flat-bottom steering. Otherwise, it's like any other Corsa inside and what really impresses is the feeling of solidity. A driver control centre takes pride of place within the instrument panel, which is themed around horizontal lines. In the back, this Corsa is much as it always was, remaining one of the more spacious superminis you can buy with plenty of room for two fully-grown adults - or three children. Out back, there's a 285-litre boot.
In some ways, Vauxhall has done a solid job with this car. It's distinctive looking, its 1.4-litre turbo engine is torquey and willing and you'll probably get a great deal up front. The cabin looks good and the standard IntelliLink system is a very slick multimedia interface. All these things will be important to potential buyers. Perhaps more important than tyre-squealing handling heroics.
It's rare to find a manufacturer who really listens to customers. Most are arrogant enough to presume that they can lead and make a market, but the GSi shows that Vauxhall has really listened to what its buyers wanted. The issue of course is still that for not much more, other rivals offer more performance. But if you don't need that and have an eye on the bottom line though, this Vauxhall could still add up for you. Every underdog has its day.Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall Corsa GSI range
Suzuki Swift Sport
The Suzuki Swift Sport has long been a car embraced by serious drivers who know a great handling hot hatch when they see it. Though not especially powerful, it's agile, chuckable and brilliant fun for not a lot of money. Few potential buyers know this, so the idea with this third generation model is to widen its appeal with a smarter interior, lower running costs, a little more grunt and even sharper handling. For all that, it'll still be a well-kept secret in this segment, but one loyal buyers will enjoy hugely.
The Swift Sport has never been about pure power. Suzuki could easily shoehorn a 200bhp engine into the thing if it pleased, but that would just make it uninsurable for younger drivers. Instead, and rather sensibly, engine power has been modest, the latest car massaging peak horsepower up from the old car's 134bhp to a still distinctly manageable 138bhp. More important is the news that to achieve this, the old normally aspirated 1.6 has been replaced by a lighter and more efficient 1.4-litre Boosterjet turbo unit. Straight line performance improves marginally and there's 70Nm more torque (230Nm of it), but Suzuki has devoted much of their attention - and rightly so - to developing the Swift's chassis dynamics so it offers even more poise and control.
The suspension set-up has been completely revised in a bid to offer greater driving stability, optimized roll rigidity, and improved dynamic response. And it's all bolted to the much stiffer, lighter 'HEARTECT' platform that underpins the ordinary Swift model. There's a total kerb weight of just 970kgs. To give you some perspective on that, a rival Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC weighs over 200kgs. Which is why this Suzuki can match the performance of that Renault, despite offering considerably less power. Have cake; eat it. Simple.
This Swift Sport features an exclusive frontal design. The front grille and bumper project the nose beyond that of the standard Swift, conveying what the brand hopes is a sense of tautness and imminent action. Muscular shoulders, blacked-out A-pillars and vertically arranged front and rear lamps are brought into vivid relief in this top variant, with black aerodynamic under spoilers spanning the front, sides and rear, and a roof-end spoiler at the back.
Inside, the Japanese designers have tried to create an immersive, interactive sports driving environment, starting with red interior accents and a driver-oriented instrument panel. The main gauges feature contrasting colours, while evocative boost and oil temperature gauges aim to enhance the sports driving experience. Cabin quality can't hope to match that of pricier supermini hot hatch rivals, but it's a big improvement on the previous generation model and the semi-bucket-shaped front seats look good, while the D-shaped steering wheel with dimpled leather gives a secure grip. The chrome-finished shift knob and sports alloy pedals add a final classy touch.
Like many hot hatch buyers at the affordable end of this sector, I'd forgotten about Suzuki's Swift Sport before I checked out this one. Big mistake. Here, you get old-school GTi fun without old-school crudeness. You even get relatively old-school pricing. You won't be moved to buy one after looking at the specs in the brochure but take a test drive down your favourite back road and I guarantee you'll see this car a whole lot differently.
I don't think we should under-estimate the scale of this Japanese brand's achievement here. Bringing a hot hatch up to date usually means increasing its weight, price and complexity. None of which has happened here. Leaving the Swift Sport as a car you buy if you've nothing to prove as a driver but everything to gain from driving it. Please don't change this car Suzuki. Don't make it faster or more hi-tech. It's already the way every real shopping rocket should be.Click here to find out more about our Suzuki Swift Sport range
The DS3 supermini has proved to be a popular success story over recent years for customers in search of an affordable, sporty and well-finished three-door hatch. It's now a key model for the newly-created DS brand that Citroen has created - and has been regularly improved, most recently in the facelifted guise we're going to look at here.
The basic recipe though, is much as before, with a three-door-only range of hard-top or Cabrio models, striking practical design both inside and out, a range of proven engines and a huge variety of personalisation options.
Aesthetically, the key change with this facelifted DS3 is the introduction of the DS brand's corporate front end, with the so-called 'DS Wings' sculpted around a vertically-orientated chromed front grille that wears the DS emblem and is flanked by smarter LED headlamps. There are now more personalisation possibilities too, including options for the roof, the bodywork and the mirror housings.
Inside, the cabin is much as before, but benefits from the addition of a freshly-added 7-inch colour infotainment screen that incorporates the latest smartphone-compatible technology. There are smarter trim choices too and the option of classic DS 'watchstrap leather' seating and laser engraving on the dashboard trim and the door mirrors. The DS designers claim there's room for five adults, with legroom in the rear enhanced by the slender backs of the driver and front passenger seats. In the tail, the boot of the hard-top version is 285-litres which is large for the supermini class and 60:40 split rear seats give options for extending that capacity. The Cabrio version of course has less space to offer - 245-litres - but that's not bad for a car of this kind.
So what's it like to drive? Well, you get in and settle into a sculpted seat that's set sporty and low. Ahead of you, the compact steering wheel feels just right and all the vital dials are set in a deeply-cowled, chrome-edged triple pod. Turn the key and both speedo and rev counter zip around their dials and return to zero. You're ready to go.
Under the bonnet, the key changes with this revised model centre on the introduction of a more efficient EAT6 automatic gearbox and a pokier 130bhp three cylinder 1.2-litre PureTech petrol powerplant. In all, seven engines are on offer, including an entry-level 110bhp PureTech petrol unit. There are also two THP four-cylinder petrol units, with the top 'Performance' model putting out 208bhp. Plus, as before, there are two 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesels.
On the move, it's hard to believe that all the underpinnings of this car are basically borrowed from a conventional Citroen C3 supermini. The lower body and stiffer suspension set-up give this model a very different feel, as does the precisely-weighted electric power steering, offering assistance when you need it and plenty of road feel when you don't. The damping also offers the best of both worlds, making you aware of bumpy surfaces, but spiriting away the aftershock you could do without. It makes a MINI feel about as subtly sprung as a go-kart. Only the rather long-throw gearchange could be slicker.
And in summary? Well, the DS3 has always embodied everything that's good about its brand - and still does in this improved guise. Full of original ideas and delightful details, it's a design icon for the modern world.
The sporty looks are backed up by an involving drive and, best of all, it's a car you don't have to shed the family to enjoy. It's very individual, very chic and very fashionable: a car of its time.Click here to find out more about our DS3 range