Give the gift of freedom: Vauxhall Corsa

December 01 2020
Give the gift of freedom: Vauxhall Corsa

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

LET’S not mention 2020 and instead look forward to 2021: specifically, what that might mean for motoring. 

The Sunday Times reported recently that fewer youngsters are learning to drive (let alone buying cars) and that only in rural areas that are poorly served by public transport is car ownership growing. I wonder if this trend might stall or reverse, given current fears over using buses and trains.

The Times article quotes designer and journalist Stephen Bayley, and I will too: “It ceased to be rational to own a car in the capital a generation ago…it was a glorious adventure but now it’s over."

Back up there, Mr Bayley. I ran a car when I lived in central London and then Redland in Bristol, and it felt necessary, and certainly never like an ‘adventure’. The Elephant & Castle roundabout was always more like a bar fight on wheels.

For many, driving remains imperative. In the currently fragile jobs market, the ability to drive to work opens up your options. For the younger generation driving is now more, not less important: remember, it is their employment opportunities that have been hit hardest.

So how best to aid under-25s with their motoring future, and by extension their employability? Get your teenager to take and pass the driving test for starters. The proper one, not the cop-out automatic gearbox version.

This means adding a nervy 17 year old as a named driver to your insurance (or even worse, an over-confident one). Despite doubling or trebling the premium, this is your cheapest option.

The alternative is buying them a car, or at least advising them on what they should buy themselves. Big rite of passage stuff. Try and keep an open mind.

The decision, unless you are very wealthy, is likely to be all about balancing a series of tricky compromises. I’m talking about cost, safety, cost, reliability, cost and a vanishingly small chance of anything approaching what kids probably no longer call ‘street cred’.

Enter the Vauxhall Corsa. This is the perennial driving school car, so at least it’ll be familiar. Small hatchbacks are no longer the death traps they used to be, but I still wouldn’t want to roll one into a ditch. It’s a consideration.

The Corsa is reliable, plentiful, cheap and under some bright lights, cheerful. I drove the 1.4 petrol with a throbbing 99hp. This felt like just enough performance, which, for a new driver, means plenty. My own date with the ditch was in a flighty Peugeot that weighed the same as a Corsa but eagerly pumped out 130hp. Too much power, a touch of ice and crunch.

At the bottom end of the performance scale, you risk your precious child attempting an overtaking manoeuvre in something tragically underpowered. That’s almost as dangerous as having too much power. As I say, it’s all about balance. If I was in the market for a Corsa, I’d go for the 1.4, which from 2010 onwards benefited from a more efficient ‘VVT’ engine.

There’s nothing really wrong with this car, other than heavy steering and wooden brakes (possibly just this example). You should consider it, along with the Fiesta and a slew of other ‘first’ cars. Take a look at the Fiat 500 (smaller, less reliable, infinitely more character), the Renault Clio (more engaging, French build quality) and so on.

My pick, however, is the VW Polo. Yes, it is significantly more expensive than a Corsa, and the image has always been a bit Sloaney. But it is reliable and superbly well built. I also like how VW tune their engines for torque rather than power, which makes them learner-friendly. Missed a gear? Don’t worry, the Polo’s flexible little 85hp 1.4 will manage.

In the meantime, if you can, hold off buying a used car until February. The government moratorium on repossessions ends on January 31, and the backlog coming onto the used market will reverse some of the current pandemic-induced rise in values.

What to pay: Vauxhall Corsa 2010 – 2014; £3k for a 2010 model with 50k miles or VW Polo of the same year and mileage for £5k.