MANY years ago in a rare moment of generosity I bought her indoors a brand new car… a very small and very basic Vauxhall Corsa.

Now the key word there is small – because I discovered when a new Corsa test car arrived at Howarth Towers recently things appear to have got bigger.

The latest version is more Astra-sized (although Vauxhall say it is only 39mm longer than the outgoing car and even 48mm lower) and also gone is the very basic spec because this was a mid-range Elite Nav Premium model with the 1.2 Turbo three cylinder petrol engine.

The first thing to say is you can see the influence of new owners Peugeot Citroen on Vauxhall as the latest Corsa is a move away from models of the past.

The styling is very European – no surprise as the basic underpinnings are the same as the Peugeot 208 and Citroen DS. Also the Corsa has been built in Spain since 1982 and that continues with this fifth generation model.

Customers currently have a choice of two petrol engines and a diesel recently joined by an all-electric version. The entry-level 1.2-litre three-cylinder develops 74bhp but, with the addition of a turbocharger, this increases to 99bhp on our car.

There’s a fairly wide selection of spec to choose from with 11 different versions from the entry-level SE up to the range-topping Ultimate Nav model.

Our test car is the Elite Nav Premium 1.2 and although the Corsa range starts from £15,550 this ‘Power Orange’ version is £20,350.

For that you get what would have been considered luxuries on Corsas of the past (as I remember our 1990s model did not even have a radio as standard!). The list includes multimedia infotainment and sat nav on a 10-inch touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple Car Play/Android Auto.

Then there are air con, heated front seats, auto wipers and lights, LED ambient lighting, rear view camera, parking sensors all round, keyless entry and start, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring and a raft of the latest safety systems including emergency braking, active lane-keep assist and a feature called Flank Guard, which uses sensors that warn if the side of the car is about to hit an object at speeds below 6mph.

Even the entry level car comes with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system that features smartphone-mirroring functionality as standard.

Design wise the new Corsa is elegant and attractive and stands out from previous versions. Our 1.2 turbo is likely to be the best seller with a combined economy figure of around 50mpg (slightly less with the optional eight-speed automatic). However the 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel can manage closer to 70mpg if you are a higher mileage driver.

Despite being bigger the new car is lighter thanks to the use of aluminium panels including the bonnet and boot space has grown to just over 300 litres.

Inside there is a lot of high-gloss black and satin chrome trim which gives a more upmarket look, but some of the plastics used are still a little less high end.

The upper-level Multimedia Navi Pro system is neat and easy to use with physical shortcut buttons for the heater and volume controls. The factory navigation system also has good detail and readability with its mapping and is easily programmed by either voice or fingertip input.

So the fifth-generation Corsa certainly is smarter, more refined and has better styling than its predecessor, although I suspect the more basic models will be the ones we see the most on our roads as many drivers may be put off higher spec cars which cross the £20k line.

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By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth