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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.
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.