First drive: 2016 Opel Corsa OPC

Opel's track-honed, 207-hp Corsa OPC is a go kart for grown-ups

The Opel Corsa OPC is faster and more hardcore than Ford’s vaunted Fiesta ST, but it’s a less practical daily driver.

I’ve recently become a disciple of OPC. No, I’m not obsessed with tracking storms via the Ocean Prediction Center, and I’m not taking history classes to learn more about the short-lived Office of Policy Coordination. Nope, I’ve fallen in love with the Corsa OPC, a hot hatch built by General Motors’ Germany-based Opel division.

Good things, small packages

The Corsa OPC is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out 207 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 181 pound-feet of torque over a broad range that stretches from 1,900 to 5,800 rpm, though an overboost function bumps torque up to 207 pound-feet for five-second bursts. Bolted to a quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission that spins the front wheels, the turbo four pelts the Corsa from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and, given enough tarmac, on to a top speed of 143 mph.

It’s easy to get carried away with power figures because they get tossed around so much in the auto industry. 200, 230, 190, 210; it’s all theoretical until you have your butt in the driver’s seat and your foot buried in the throttle. Behind the wheel, 207 is about spot on for the Corsa OPC. Remember, it’s the size of a Honda Fit and it tips the scale at 2,851 pounds. Any more power would make the Corsa overwhelming to drive on the street, and any less would make it feel sluggish.

The turbo four is what makes the fire-breathing OPC stand out from its rivals, including the Ford Fiesta ST and the Volkswagen Polo GTI. In many pocket-sized hot hatches, the engine lacks a pulse until the turbocharger kicks in, it spins itself dizzy in the middle of the torque band, and it wheezes to the rev limiter. The OPC is quick off the line because the torque comes on relatively early, the engine pulls hard and steady right through the middle of the torque band, and it becomes downright explosive once the tach needle passes the 5,000-rpm mark. It’s like if the four-banger just drank a Big Gulp’s worth of Red Bull after shooting three espressos.

Above 5,000 rpm, the Corsa’s turbo four goes like it drank a Big Gulp’s worth of Red Bull after shooting three espressos.

The engine is just part of the story. The OPC is gifted with the most direct and communicative steering system in its segment. It’s perfectly weighted, and it provides the right amount of feedback to create a connection between the driver and the car. Torque steer is noticeable but it’s not as colossal as you’d expect, you’re not wrestling with the flat-bottomed steering wheel under heavy acceleration.

The Brembo brakes – included along with a mechanical limited-slip differential in the optional Performance Pack – are strong enough to bring the OPC down to a stop from triple-digit speeds with no fuss, and the track-honed suspension helps it corner flat, although there’s a hint of understeer that takes a few bends to get used to. The Koni shocks have a trick bypass valve but the suspension isn’t adjustable, OPC got it right without resorting to electronic wizardry. That keeps the Corsa from being too complex, but the down side is that the ride is firm even when you don’t want it to be. There’s no mother-in-law-friendly comfort mode to soften it up.

2016 Opel Corsa
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The basic Corsa is an econobox designed for Europe’s famously crowded urban centers, so it’s not surprising that the OPC is a pretty good city car, too. The steering is light at low speeds which makes navigating tight, crowded parking garages a breeze. It’ll seat four adults provided the two sitting in the back aren’t NBA players, and it can carry 38 feet of cargo – or four rims shod with racing tires – with the rear seats folded flat.

Jekyll and Hyde

The Corsa OPC is certainly not without drawbacks. For starters, the interior is a quantum leap forward over the last-generation Corsa OPC but it’s still average at best. The build quality is hit or miss – the center console in my test car was loose – and the materials used aren’t exactly top notch, even for the segment. In all fairness, the OPC is so fun to drive that I didn’t notice anything about the interior until half an hour into the drive.

2016 Opel Corsa
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Additionally, at this price point I’d expect to find certain niceties like a push-button ignition, a rear-view camera, and a more modern infotainment system. The one fitted to the OPC is straight-forward to use and it responds to input immediately but it looks and feels dated, especially compared to the software that Opel is baking into its newer models like the Golf-sized Astra.

The Recaro bucket seats are surprisingly finicky to slide forward. That’s acceptable if you occasionally take a few friends along for the ride, but I imagine having a catfight with the seatbacks quickly becomes irksome if you have to do it on a regular basis. The OPC is exclusively offered as a two-door hatchback, so there are no two ways around it.

Conclusion

207 horsepower. That really doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? Not when your neighbor takes her kids to school in a Nissan minivan that has a big ol’ six with 266 ponies, and the guy across the street has been religiously repeating the number seven-oh-seven since Dodge unleashed the Hellcat.

In regards to its competitors, the Polo GTI is better built inside than the Corsa OPC, and it ships with a more modern infotainment system, but it’s a warm hatch at best. The Ford Fiesta ST is slower than the OPC in a straight line, but it makes up for it by offering razor-sharp handling. Ultimately, shoppers who want an extra dose of practicality and day-to-day drivability should spring for the ST because it’s altogether less brash and available as a four-door hatchback. Those who put an unabashed focus on performance will drive home in the OPC, likely after having paid extra for the Performance Pack.

Statistics don’t always paint the whole picture. There’s no quantifiable way to sum up the OPC’s direct steering and go kart-like handling. As performance cars get bigger, heavier, and more complex, the Corsa OPC is a refreshingly pure hot hatch designed to be light, nimble, and affordable. If you liked the Golf GTI from a few generations back, you’ll love the Corsa OPC.

Highs

  • Responsive, rev-happy engine
  • Best-in-class steering
  • Go kart-like handling
  • Available limited-slip differential

Lows

  • Not sold in the US
  • Outdated infotainment system
  • Build quality needs improvement
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