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Though it has been eclipsed by the new cars that flank its position in the Chevrolet lineup - Cavalier and Lumina - the '95 Corsica will offer something you won't find on other General Motors passenger cars. Something you won't find on any car from Ford or Chrysler, either.
Like the Chevy S-Series pickup, the Corsica - and its sporty cousin, the Beretta - roll into 1995 with Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) as standard equipment.
Promoted as a safety feature, GM wants to make DRLs standard on all of its vehicles by the 1997 model year. That's the official position. Unofficially, however, we detect a little bit of wait-and-see on the part of some insiders. They may want to test market acceptance before going ahead with a wholesale DRL commitment.
If that's the case, the Corsica makes a perfect test vehicle because it's going to be phased out at the end of the '95 model year.
The DRL principle is simple. When you switch on the ignition, the headlights come on, though at a lower intensity than nighttime illumination (this reduces electrical drain, which affects fuel economy).
The theory behind DRLs is equally simple. Having your headlights on all the time makes you more visible to other drivers; GM supports its DRL position with statistics from Canada, where lights-on driving is required.
Like some folks at GM, we're not so sure this feature will be perceived as positively by consumers as it is by its promoters. We think gauging the distance from an oncoming car is more difficult when its headlights are on, which makes passing tricky. Also, having your headlights on compromises the flash-to-pass function.
There's also a styling side effect. If the headlights have to be on, pop-up headlights, like those on the Chevy Corvette and Pontiac Firebird, will become obsolete.
You'll obviously make up your own mind about the Corsica's new DRL function. Aside from that, we think this car can be viewed as bargain transportation, with reasonable roominess and a fair level of standard equipment - including anti-lock brakes - for the price.
The Corsica is a compact car by EPA definition, but it really falls into the lower fringes of the somewhat amorphous midsize class. It's a little bigger than the Cavalier - though the redesigned Cavalier has just about as much interior room - and it's just a smidge smaller than the new Ford Contour.
Chevrolet has simplified the Corsica lineup for '95. Though only available in one model, the Corsica offers a fairly long list of available options.
The standard powertrain is a 2.2-liter
4-cylinder with a 3-speed automatic. If you're considering the Corsica for basic transportation, this combination will get you where you're going with reasonable economy. It's also the powertrain we had on our test car.
A 155-hp 3.1-liter V6 with a 4-speed automatic transmission is available as a Corsica upgrade option, and this engine will certainly lend a little more vitality to the car's progress without too much negative impact on fuel economy.
Although in its final year, the Corsica does get a couple of improvements for '95. Most significant is a revised rear suspension system that's similar to the setup used in the new Cavalier, yielding a small but noticeable improvement in ride comfort and noise isolation.
The Corsica's optional cruise control also has been refined, tire size has been increased slightly for improved traction and, like all GM vehicles, the new Dexron III automatic transmission oil is good for the life of the car.
There are also three new metallic colors: Cayenne Red, Light Adriatic Blue and Raspberry.
The Corsica's basic transportation role is reinforced by its interior, which is a couple clicks above no-frills thanks to standard air conditioning and cloth upholstery.
The seats are fair enough - though we think they would become uncomfortable during long-distance driving - and front legroom is plentiful. There's also adequate rear legroom, considering the Corisca's size, and there's more room in the trunk than in the Honda Accord's.
However, the Corsica gets low marks for its passive safety arrangements. There's only one airbag, and this car retains GM's old arrangement of passive front seat belts. Designed as a response to federal passive safety regulations, these belts have their outer anchors in the doors rather than in the central pillar. An inertia reel allows the door to open for entry with the belt's center anchor latched.
The idea is that the driver and/or front-seat passenger wriggles under the belt, closes the door and is automatically belted up, thus meeting the letter of the law.
However, even though this system is less annoying than motorized belts, it's not as effective as a standard 3-point belt system that anchors in a fixed pillar. And, together with the single airbag, it makes an odd juxtaposition with the supposed safety advance of DRLs.
Elsewhere, the Corsica features a fair amount of storage for odds and ends: a standard center console, door-panel map pockets and a couple of cup-holders. And there are rear-seat heat ducts, something you don't find on all small cars.
Thanks to its quick steering - just 2.3 turns of the steering wheel from full right to full left - the Corsica has a sporty feel, particularly in quick maneuvers such as dodging potholes or neighborhood cats.
It's also tuned to deliver a fairly soft ride, thanks to the rear suspension revisions for '95.
However, even with the extra traction that goes with its slightly fatter tires, we think the Corsica's handling doesn't compare very favorably with its key competitors, the Contour and the Nissan Altima.
Though the steering is quick, response time is relatively slow, accompanied by pronounced body roll.
Engine performance with the standard 2.2-liter 4-cylinder is adequate in terms of getting from point A to point B; subpar when it comes to passing or any other driving situation that demands a burst of acceleration.
Reaching for this engine's maximum power also provokes quite a bit of noise. This is true of almost any 4-cylinder engine, but the Corsica makes more full-throttle noise than most.
Although a 4-speed automatic would help smooth out the engine's performance, Chevrolet uses a 3-speed to help keep costs down. A 5-speed manual would really be preferable here, but low buyer demand eliminated the self-shifter from the Corsica inventory a couple of years back.
On the plus side, the standard engine is reasonably fuel thrifty, even with a 3-speed automatic. Driven at a moderate pace, we think you could expect to see an average of 27 mpg in all-around use.
Although it has enjoyed good sales success in years past, the Corsica's popularity has declined thanks to an indifferent quality record and the arrival of more up-to-date competitors.
Chevrolet lists the Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique, Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus and the Altima as the Corsica's main competition. Car for car, the Corsica doesn't measure up to any of them - until you factor pricing into the equation. Then this small sedan becomes more attractive, with a manufacturer's suggested retail price that's the lowest of the bunch.
Also, both Corsica engines are tough, with a respectable capacity for the abuse most of us dish out from time to time.
Add Chevy's 24-hour roadside assistance program and you have a car that should satisfy your basic transportation needs at minimal cost.
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