IN EVOLUNTIONARY terms, the internal combustion engine is taking its last few gasps of life before a new era of emerging technologies makes its way under the bonnets of our daily runabouts.
The battery-powered electric motor seems to be winning the race to make it into the mainstream but it’s a marathon, rather than a sprint, which means there’s still plenty of time for us petrolheads to enjoy our dirty, pulsating glorified vaccuum pumps that hail from the dark ages of the 19th Century.
That’s not to say there’s no room for improving and refining the technology that goes into our fossil fuel-burning powerplants, however, and recently, designing an engine fit for the environment-conscious 21st Century buyers has become something of a numbers game.
And in the numbers-obsessed motoring industry there has been a major shift in the figures that matter. Many of us have moved away from bragging about our 0-60 times or brake horsepower figures. We’ve even grown out of comparing our miles per gallon, to some extent. To the manufacturer, at least, the grams per kilometre is the number that really matters.
It’s the buyer’s indication of how much carbon dioxide a car is officially acknowledged to produce and the lower the number, the cleaner your car is.
There’s a magic benchmark to meet here in the UK. If your car emits less than 100g/km then the government will not charge you any vehicle excise duty. Manufacturers use this to their advantage by going to great lengths to produce a ‘tax-free’ car.
But while some go to great lengths, others try to take it to the extreme. Take Vauxhall for instance, with its big-selling supermini the Corsa. While fuel economy is still extremely important, more on that later, the Luton-based firm has found a way of building a diesel that emits just 88g/km of CO2. Sounds impressive? It is, of course, a bold claim for any car but, sadly for Vauxhall, they’re not the only ones in on the act.
Ford has its ‘ECOnetic’ Fiesta which has pipped Vauxhall to the post by 1g/km, with an output of 87g/km and Hyundai has them both licked with its i10’s record low of 86g/km.
But all this matters very little in the grand scheme of things. Vauxhall’s Corsa, as with the Ford, is powered by a diesel engine which makes it more suitable for those doing regular long journeys or motorway jaunts and it’s comfortable enough to be a capable mile-muncher too.
It’s also good around town. A great chassis coupled with light, responsive steering and a lovely gear change makes for a very nippy little hatchback that’s a pleasure to thread between parked cars and in and out of spaces.
The 1.3 diesel engine helps with this. It’s nice and responsive and the characteristic low-down grunt of an oil-burner means that - if you time it correctly - it feels very quick and punchy on the city streets.
Visibility lets it down somewhat. It’s always been a complaint of the current generation Corsa but the only thing not to like when navigating a town centre or a series of junctions is the huge A pillar. Vauxhall has popped in a small triangular window to help you see around it but it does little to help.
The engine is also rather noisy, especially under load which is a shame because, other than that, it’s an immensely likeable unit with a generous 95PS on tap and 190NM of torque.
Other than that, it’s generally good news. The ECOflex model, as it’s called, isn’t cheap but some savings can be clawed back in its fuel economy which, for most buyers, will be enough to seal the deal.
Although not a million miles clear of its rivals, the Corsa ECOflex is capable of a claimed 85.6MPG on the combined cycle. Ordinarily I’d love to produce a figure to the contrary based on a week driving the car but I never managed to empty its 40 litre fuel tank so I can’t confirm or deny it in the real world.
Having said that, to not have exhausted such a small supply of diesel in my average motoring week suggests there is plenty of weight to Vauxhall’s claims.
My test car came pre-loaded with a Touch and Connect multi-media unit - a £750 option that comes loaded with sat nav, Bluetooth and an auxillary socket. It’s perhaps not as good as it sounds. The system works fine - in fact, it’s very good, but the small screen is far too low in the dashboard. Better instead to save the £750 for a Bluetooth stereo upgrade and a standalone sat nav to mount on top of the dash. It’s a shame, the thought was there.
There’s plenty of space in the current Corsa, with enough for two adults in the back seats and a spacious cabin.
For the driver there’s pleny of adjustment in the steering wheel and both front seats are comfortable.
For a small car, it doesn’t feel tiny in the cabin and the latest generation of the current Corsa should be showing its age but isn’t. Some smart silver trim and chunky buttons keep it looking fresh.
There are some cheap bits of plastic if you really hunt for them but they’re few and far between. The Corsa, it’s fair to say, has evolved nicely over the years.
But it’s the engine that’s the big news and, although it’s noisy, it’s punchy and very economical.
It might not win the numbers game but it comes out with its head held high.