Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but probably not for the Holden faithful. Even the dumb kid in class could’ve predicted that re-tuning and re-branding cheap, crappy Daewoos was a stupid idea, even before the latest oil shock.

Replacing a soundly-engineered car (the XC Barina) with a blatantly inferior product (the current heap parading under the same name) was a brave move – especially when the logical follow-up, Opel’s Mk4 Corsa, is such a quality effort.

So it’s both delightful and depressing to announce that what could’ve been Holden’s (or HSV’s) entry-level hot-hatch is a cracking little car. Having just spent a week hammering one across Europe – through the Alps and on unrestricted German autobahns – I can confirm that only Renault’s Clio 197 decisively out-corners Opel’s Corsa OPC, and that you’d need to stretch to a range-topping JCW Mini to find a little’un with as much lag-free poke and rock-star personality.

The engine in question is a high-boost version of GM’s turbocharged 1.6-litre Ecotec four that services a range of European Opel/Vauxhall models. It produces the most power in the Corsa OPC, however – cranking out 141kW at 5850rpm and 230Nm from just under two grand all the way to peak power. There’s also a 15-second overboost function that bumps torque to 266Nm across the same 3800-rev mountain, endowing the short-geared Corsa OPC with unrivalled flexibility and scorching in-gear response.

Third gear hits the 6700rpm rev limiter at just 128km/h, making the punchy Corsa close to perfect for Aussie country-road overtaking. On faster European freeways, even sixth gear is muscly enough to gather speed quickly, but drop down to fourth and the Corsa rewards you with its real party trick – a bark from its central exhaust pipe following a high-rev upshift. It’s there on overrun after throttle-blipped downchanges, too.

The exhaust bark is accompanied by a purposeful whooshing during hard acceleration and some unexpected induction growl. Power delivery is beautifully progressive with virtually no turbo lag and low-rev throttle response is excellent. In every area, the Corsa’s drivetrain is noticeably more finessed than an OPC/VXR Astra’s.

This polish carries over to its dynamics and its interior. Where the Astra positions its driver strangely high, the Corsa’s exceptionally comfortable side-airbagged Recaros are mounted low. On standard 215/45R17 Continentals (225/35R18s are optional), the Corsa rides well, too, and its handling is well-balanced and very planted – if perhaps too composed for those into lift-off oversteer.

The Corsa’s variable-ratio steering is a bit disappointing, though – dull at straight ahead, then very reactive either side, and even more so as you add more lock. It’s good in really tight stuff, but lacks connection on fast straights. And the roof spoiler creates plenty of wind noise, even at 120km/h.
So while the Corsa OPC doesn’t hit a Clio 197’s dynamic highs, it’s still a very likeable thing – fast, upmarket, and sexy, with a truly cracking engine. Everything Holden’s Korean pretender isn’t, in other words.