Opel Corsa 120Y: Goodbye GM, hello PSA

In 1929 General Motors (GM) acquired Opel; a mass-volume car manufacturer from Germany. It was ironic and funny, almost, as an American company invested in a European brand. But it happened and, as we’re sure, GM had high hopes for its newest acquisition. However, the last two decades Opel had about $1-billion in losses per annum. That’s a lot of money and could GM simply not sustain Opel any longer.

Cue the music, raise the French flag and enter Peugeot Société Anonyme. Or PSA, as it’s more commonly known. Consisting of French automotive giants Peugeot and Citroën, PSA acquired Opel in March 2017 to the tune of $1.5-billion. Under new management, Opel quickly found its feet; albeit at the cost of 3700 retrenchments and other cost-cutting measures. The cost-cutting worked as Opel, for the first in a very long time, returned to profit in 2018. PSA’s approach and marketing tactics paid off.

Though under new management, Opel’s vehicles are still underpinned by GM’s architecture. As word would have it, the first Opel to benefit from the PSA takeover will be the Corsa; which, in 2019, was awarded the honour of donning the badge celebrating Opel’s 120th year of vehicle production.

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Image: Charlen Raymond

Opel Corsa 120Y

Founded by Adam Opel in 1862, Opel started out as a sewing company before adding bicycles to their portfolio in 1886. Thirteen years later Opel made its first car and in 1902 Opel officially debuted at the Hamburg Motor Show. Bad luck hit a few years later when a fire engulfed the factory and, in the rebuild, Opel decided to focus solely on automobiles.

In 1913 Opel was the biggest automaker in Germany and in 1930 the biggest in Europe.

It’s stories like these that formed part of Opel’s history and part of the reason for celebrating 120 years. The Corsa, chosen to be the flag-bearer for the last century, has very little aesthetic giveaways that this is a special edition. In fact, apart from the ‘120’ badge on the front fenders, you would not know that you’re looking at something special. Opel did, however, add a few bits and pieces to let you know that you’ve bought into something unique.

The cloth the seats are covered with has been upgraded, ‘Opel’ badging has been brought on the door sills, and the floor mats have ‘120Y’ embroidered on them. A rear-view camera is fitted as standard, as well as front and rear park-assist. Other features include heated exterior mirrors, and front electric windows.

If the interior seems awfully familiar it’s because it still carries the GM genes. The cockpit feels dated and many of the controls and dials are still very much sourced from the GM parts bin. Can we blame Opel for it? Absolutely not! It would unfair to point the finger at a manufacturer who’s undergone so much change the last 24 months and finding too much fault with the car would not be justified. Given Opel’s financial turmoil the last few years there simply wasn’t cash laying around, but the Corsa might sing a different tune within the next couple of months…

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Image: Charlen Raymond

The drive

Riding on 16-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels, the 120Y retains the ride quality the Corsa became known for over the years. It’s not as sturdy and sure-footed as the new Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, but it’s not detrimental to the car’s overall feel.

The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine has a nice off-beat thrum and the 66kW/170Nm it delivers has adequate shove to keep the momentum going. A smooth-shifting six-speed manual gearbox sends drive to the front wheels, and an Eco mode helps to modulate how much power is sent at any given moment. It also helps to keep Opel’s claim of a 4.1 L/100km fuel economy in check. Over the test tenure, the Corsa 120Y returned just under 7.0 L/100km; which seems a bit closer to real-world conditions.

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Image: Charlen Raymond

New Corsa coming?

Now that Opel is under new management, talks have already begun on which of Peugeot’s cars it will share an architecture with. In the Corsa’s case, it’s a no-brainer and will the car share many elements with the next Peugeot 208. This means that engines, gearboxes, suspension, and the multimedia system will be shared with the little Pug. There are rumours that both cars will still be unveiled in 2019, but if it does not happen it will surely take place in 2020.

The Corsa 120Y is a bittersweet car for Opel in many regards. On the one hand, it’s a celebration of a rich history, but on the other it’s parting from a lifelong partnership and the dawn of a new era. It’s the full stop of a phase in Opel’s hundred-year story.

Price: Opel Corsa 1.0T Enjoy 120Y Special Edition – R267 720

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Image: Charlen Raymond