Their cars, although still reliable, were boring and outscored in the looks department by the likes of German rival Volkswagen, as well as a host of excellent Korean rivals from the Hyundai and Kia stables.
Wisely, the Port Elizabeth-based motoring giant seems to have realised that the iconic Opel name was worthy of support, since sales numbers built on one Japanese bakkie(Isuzu) and a plethora of Korean sedans and hatchbacks alone would not do the trick.
The fight back
Led by a number of brand new - and stylish - new models such as Adam, Mokka and the performance derivates under the OPC badging, Opel has returned with a bang. Selling on average, more than 600 vehicles a month, the very latest Opel Corsa Sport is a far cry from the days when the Sport derivative featured 76kW, two airbags, no ABS, and a cramped interior that was certainly not suitable for tall people.
The new Corsa Sport
As top dog in a five model line-up, the 110kW/220Nm Sport is light years ahead of its predecessors and on more than equal terms with its rivals. Suddenly, and thankfully, there's enough power to go around and this is reflected in the 0-100 km/h sprint figure of 9.6 seconds and the top speed of 204km/h. Linked to this power output is a smooth 6-speed gearbox with ratios chosen for zippy acceleration as well as great fuel economy. The manufacturer claims 5.9 litres/100 km (average) and, for once, I am inclined to believe them.
Ride and handling
With the launch event based at the 5-star Fancourt golf estate in George, GMSA bravely chose two significant passes to show off their latest offering's capabilities. The Robinson Pass between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, as well as the equally daunting Outeniqua Pass between Oudtshoorn and George was the Corsa's playground.
With its redesigned front suspension, the Corsa Sport has vastly improved steering response and understeer behaviour. A lower centre of gravity enables high speed driving through tight corners without that scary white knuckle feeling one gets when pushing too hard in vehicles not quite up to the task.
Does it look good?
The exterior certainly looks the sporty part with graceful flowing lines and some rather subtle OPC-lookalike kit added to show the world that this newcomer has some serious sporty ambitions.
The interior takes this sporty theme even further with visually delicious must-haves such as alloy sports pedals, a flat-bottomed leather-covered sports steering wheel, while the sports seats (cloth) provide adequate support during spirited driving.
The host of safety features in the new Corsa Sport is indicative of the fact that the car should find favour in the hands of the younger generation. For this reason, Opel engineers have added electronic stability control, traction control, straight line stability control, and a brake assist system, and the result is a (fairly) hot hatch that goes to great lengths to keep the occupants safe - even when the driver runs out of talent. A compliment of six airbags and a full 5-star Euro NCAP rating round off the safety specifications.
As an Opel fan, I feared for the survival of the nameplate. Thankfully, GM has wisely taken a decision to actively promote the Opel brand (currently at four models) and the sales figures are beginning to show that this decision had been a wise one.
Not only will the Corsa Sport be a more than useful substitute for those buyers who cannot (financially) make the step up to more expensive hot hatches, but it also comes to market at a keen price.
Starting with the Corsa 1.0T Essentia at R185 500, our launch drive (1.4T Sport) represents fairly decent value for money at R255 200.