Hire car report; Vauxhall Corsa 1.4

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First of all, I am not in any way competition for Sebastian Vettel, or even Jeremy Clarkson, so for exciting revelations of handling and high speed, please look elsewhere. I am a very ordinary driver, not possessed of any particular skills. My brother (an MX-5 driver and a tester for the IAM in Northern Ireland to boot) would fully endorse that. This is a very ordinary driver's view of a very ordinary car. Well matched, perhaps.

In fact, when I visit my mother in Belfast, I usually spend the first few days (and especially the trip from the airport) babbling with fright, as I try to cope with an unfamiliar car on narrow Northern Irish country roads with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and a gearstick in the middle (ours is an automatic). I also have a propensity for hitting things mildly. Last time, I misjudged a kerb and ripped the sidewall out of a tyre, the time before it was a wing mirror. Problem (apart from me, of course) is that cars are so much wider these days - our 1994 Astra is a skinny 1688mm wide.

Anyway, the vehicle that Europcar gave me was the abovementioned Corsa, a stumpy little car with a truncated back end and a windscreen that appeared to be almost horizontal. The effect of the latter was to present the driver with an acreage of grey plastic that appeared to extend to the horizon. The interior controls were well laid out, but the matching heater fan and radio knobs were dreadful-looking little white translucent discs with radial black lines, which reminded me of the jellyfish we used to see on the rocks at Bangor (the one at the end of Belfast Lough). Once I got used to it, the five-speed gearchange was very smooth and the clutch nice and progressive. The brakes were also very good. The little engine hummed happily to itself, and was virtually inaudible, even at idle. On a trip down the M1 (ours, not yours), there was a disappointing level of road and wind noise, but then that could be a combination of the road surface/tyre interaction and my expecting too much of a small car at the economy end of the market. Handling and ride were perfectly satisfactory for my purposes. And it was certainly nippy away from the lights and for overtaking.

The one thing that did worry me, when I saw what car it was, was the seat. I never got on with our Astra seat, so much so that I replaced it with a König, which adjusts all sorts of ways. While the Corsa seat was nothing to write home about, the fact that the steering was adjustable for reach made it possible to get a tolerably comfortable driving position. The actual fabric was probably designed for children with muddy feet, hard-wearing and easily cleaned, but not particularly comfortable.

One of the more amusing features was a digital display, giving a read-out of instant fuel consumption. I've never driven a car with such a thing. On that trip down the M1 to Dungannon, this yo-yoed wildly from high 20s to low 70s mpg. even though I wasn't doing anything strange or startling, and there were no hills. Speaking of hills, going down one with no acceleration, I achieved the extraordinary 999.9mpg. This must surely be Guinness Book-worthy.

I got it back without hitting anything this time, and was disappointed that Europcar didn't recognise this achievement (apparently very few customers hit anything, so that says a lot about me, I guess).

The most revealing thing of all was getting back into my own this morning. There is always the initial tendency, as the revs rise, to press a clutch pedal that isn't actually there, and to try to change gear with the door handle. However, this time, the Astra felt heavy and soggy and the brakes were poor in comparison. I had to learn to drive the thing all over again. OK, the Astra is old (nearly 18 years and approaching 309,000 Km), but clearly small car design at the bottom end of the market has taken another jump forward in that time. Perhaps I really do need something new(er)...

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Super Mod

LOL, don't buy a newer Astra. It will still be heavy and soggy, with poor brakes. ;-)

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