Conventional wisdom dictates that to carry up to four people comfortably and achieve more than 50mpg you need either a good economical diesel or a petrol/electric hybrid. Peugeot's HDi engines and the Volkswagen Group TDI engines are among those that achieve 50mpg or more in lower-medium cars and more than 60mpg in superminis. Meanwhile, the Toyota Prius records a figure of 55.4mpg on the combined cycle, according to the Vehicle Certification Agency, while the Honda Insight does even better on 83.1mpg, although it offers just two seats.
However, Vauxhall now says you can get close to 60mpg from a conventional petrol car with no funny batteries or electric motors. The Corsa Eco uses the standard 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine offered in other entry-level Corsas but adds subtle aerodynamic enhancements and a sequential Easytronic transmission programmed to optimise fuel economy.
We have chosen to compare costs against some other economical superminis, which although match the Corsa on list price, appear to offer a safer resale prospect with stronger predicted residual values. The Corsa's trump card will be its remarkable fuel consumption.
The Easytronic transmission has already won friends when mated to the 1.2-litre Corsa, offering the convenience of an automatic gearchange without the traditional fuel consumption and emissions penalty. Based on the Club model, the Eco develops 57bhp and will accelerate from rest to 60mph in a leisurely 18 seconds, and theoretically would be knocking on the door of 100mph given enough time and space. In automatic mode, the transmission changes up early, resulting in the Corsa slowly gathering momentum rather than accelerating.
However, it can behave in a more sprightly manner when required. It senses when things are beginning to go awry when climbing hills and speed begins to drop, and kicks down a gear or two to keep things moving.
In manual mode the Corsa behaves more like a conventional manual than other vehicles fitted with this type of transmission.
It is reluctant to 'nanny' the driver and change down as the car slows down, meaning anyone used to a conventional automatic or a 'stepped' CVT needs to keep on their toes and select the right gear.
The Corsa is the long-forgotten car of the supermini sector. Two years ago it was the newest car in this class and, in our opinion, it still holds its own.
While the interior might not be as accommodating as the new Fiesta, Polo or Jazz, it is reasonably roomy and the dashboard is designed with the sort of no-nonsense clarity you find in larger cars.
It turns in sweetly and holds things together well enough in corners, and shrugs off most minor bumps in the road. It is difficult to reach and maintain the sort of speeds where the car's limits would be found and to drive the Eco like that would be to miss the point.
If, when you drive, you are happy to accelerate from 0-60mph in 18 seconds then the Corsa Eco is a car which allows you to achieve 55-plus mpg without resorting to off-beat looking hybrids which hold their value less well and cost more than £15,000 to put on the road.
Three rivals to consider
IT is the Corsa that has the highest P11D price of our quartet and if you compare it with the Honda, which has an identical price of £8,995, you see that the Corsa's ultra-low emissions mean it qualifies for the super-clean VED rate of just £70 compared with £100 for the other cars. The entry-level Volkswagen Polo is the least expensive car here, while the Toyota Yaris, which comes in GS spec, is a little more expensive and has a few extra goodies as standard over the S model.
Volkswagen - £8,370
Toyota - £8,570
Honda - £8,870
Vauxhall - £8,900
In the servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR) sector, the Honda and Toyota tie for first place, costing 1.83 pence per mile over three years and 60,000 miles. That the Honda is the cheapest here is a surprise, because Honda has a reputation for being pricey, and it is backed by a three-year/90,000-mile warranty while the others offer three-year/60,000-mile cover. There is quite a jump back to the Vauxhall, which costs 2.04ppm, and the Volkswagen on 2.12ppm.
Honda - 1.83ppm
Toyota - 1.83ppm
Vauxhall - 2.04ppm
Volkswagen - 2.12ppm
THANKS to its clever lean-burn technology and fuel- saving semi-automatic gearbox, the Vauxhall records the highest combined fuel economy figure of this quarter at 57.6mpg – putting it amonst the new generation of diesel-engined superminis. As a result, its fuel cost over three-years/60,000-miles is 6.62ppm, more than a penny per mile cheaper than the second placed Toyota (7.57ppm) and Honda (7.69ppm). The Volkswagen is outclassed here, costing 8.10ppm.
Vauxhall - 6.62ppm
Toyota - 7.57ppm
Honda - 7.69ppm
Volkswagen - 8.10ppm
OH, to have a brand like Volkswagen – you can sell cars in serious numbers but you are still seen as being a cut above the rest of the volume pack. However, the Polo only has the second highest predicted residual value after three-years/60,000-miles of £3,400 or 41% of its cost new, but its lower front-end price sees it beat the Honda, even though the Jazz is predicted to retain 42%. The Toyota is predicted to retain 37% with the Vauxhall well behind on 31%.
Volkswagen - 7.88ppm
Honda - 8.19ppm
Toyota - 8.57ppm
Vauxhall - 9.32ppm
THIS is a close-fought battle, with all four cars doing their best to cost drivers and fleets as little money as possible to run over three-years/ 60,000-miles. The Honda wins in outright terms on 17.71ppm thanks to low depreciation costs, the lowest SMR costs and competitive fuel costs. Close behind is the Toyota on 17.97ppm and the Vauxhall a fraction of a penny further behind. However, even the fourth-placed Volkswagen is less than half a penny per mile behind the Honda.
Honda - 17.71ppm
Toyota - 17.97ppm
Vauxhall - 17.98ppm
Volkswagen - 18.10ppm
Emissions and BIK tax ratesp> OVER the next three years any advantage in benefit-in-kind tax will be directly linked to list price, with the 15% band reducing to 145g/km by 2004/05. In this case the Corsa driver might feel hard done by as is it the cleanest car here by some margin. The silver lining is its ultra-low VED rate of £70, and if the Treasury decides to make the BIK rules ever more stringent after 2005, Corsa Eco drivers will be well placed to take advantage.
Vauxhall - 118g/km/15%
Honda - 134g/km/15%
Toyota - 137g/km/15%
Volkswagen - 144g/km/15%
Vauxhall Corsa Eco Easytronic
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £8,900
CO2 emissions (g/km): 118
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £70
Insurance group: 1E
Combined mpg: 57.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £2,800/31%
Depreciation (9.32 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,559
Maintenance (2.04 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,224
Fuel (6.62 pence per mile x 60,000): £3,972
Wholelife cost (17.98 pence per mile x 60,000) £10,788
Typical contract hire rate: £198 per month
WITH a strong residual value forecast, resonable fuel economy, competitive benefit-in-kind tax bills and better performance and looks than the Corsa, the Honda Jazz is the winner here. The Corsa offers drivers the chance to limit their costs to the minimum, but as an everyday car it is too slow to live with. However, this is possibly the closest-fought test for a long time, with even the fourth-placed Polo being remarkably frugal on costs.