Merely a year ago it looked as if Volkswagen’s iconic Citi would soldier on, so well had the Uitenhage-based car maker managed to keep the lid on the development of its successor, the Polo-based Vivo. But now it’s here, and seeing as it is highly unlikely that VWSA will be able to source a more affordable entry level car from overseas any time soon, it may be with us for a very, very long time. But the Volkswagen Polo Vivo is a significantly more modern product than the Citi, and consequently can depend neither on that model’s olde-worlde charm, nor its low price, to win over the hearts of South Africans. And then there is also some serious competition from Korea to contend with this time round. Can the Volkswagen Polo Vivo continue the Citi legend?
Upmarket, but not funkyBased on the recently replaced previous-generation Polo, the Vivo’s shape will be familiar to everyone. Surprisingly, Volkswagen has managed to do its cost-cutting without hurting the upmarket style of that model too severely. In fact, some people may prefer the cleaner, less fussy detailing of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo. The grille is the major change, and brings the Vivo in line with more modern new-generation Volkswagens. You’ll also notice that the side indictors are no longer located in the side mirror housings, but have moved to the car’s flanks. The lights, front and rear, have darkened sections similar to what was used on the previous Polo GTI. Riding on 14-inch alloy wheels, the Volkswagen Vivo 1,6 Trendline looks neither old, nor cheap.
The same is true of the interior, where the design and execution of the facia remain competitive with newer rivals. In fact, even in terms of perceived quality, the Volkswagen Vivo is more impressive than most cars at this price level, or even slightly higher. This has much to do with the soft-touch moulding of the facia, and the cool blue backlighting that characterised previous-generation Volkswagens. You have to look carefully to spot where the money has been saved – the pop-out cup holder of the Polo has disappeared, and the so has the digital trip computer between the dials.
One of the most admirable qualities of the previous-generation Polo was its driver comfort. While the Volkswagen Polo Vivo doesn’t offer a height-adjustable driver’s seat, the steering retains its generous rake/reach adjustment function, so the driving position remains excellent for most. And the seats, upholstered in a classy cloth material, are superbly comfortable too – no surprise, as VW tends to do seating very well.
Unfortunately the occupants of the rear seats are less well catered for. The backrest is fairly upright and legroom is certainly no better than average for this class. But the boot is bigger than is the case with most competitors and can swallow 270-litres of luggage. The backrest can fold forward but it can’t split.
The Volkswagen Polo Vivo Trendline specification is relatively meagre, but does include air-conditioning, electric (front) windows, a radio with USB/SD card support, two airbags, power steering and ABS/EBD. The side mirrors are however adjusted by hand, and there are no remote audio controls on the steering wheel.
Comfortable and refinedIf you’ve ever driven a previous-generation Polo, you’ll feel right at home in the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, as the driving experience is very similar. It does, however, benefit from the newer 1,6-litre petrol engine, which delivers 77 kW and 155 Nm of torque. The performance is good, with the VW pulling eagerly from rest, and the engine seems well-matched to the ratios of the pleasant five-speed transmission. Consequently, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo is an easy, nice car to drive around town. The engine also delivers good fuel economy, but you’ll struggle to match the 6,6 L/100 km figure, especially around town. An average of 7,5 L/100 km is both achievable and very impressive.
The Polo has always been a refined, comfortable car, and these characteristics have not been lost in the translation into Vivo. The suspension is set up for comfort, and the Vivo indeed manages to iron out bumps like a bigger car. Seeing as the Volkswagen Polo Vivo has been the subject of intensive cost cutting, this seemingly hasn’t come at the expensive of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) refinement, because the VW is a quiet, relaxing car with little noise intruding into the cabin. The downside is that if you’re looking for an agile, fun car, the Vivo doesn’t really fit the bill as understeer and body roll are pronounced. For most consumers, however, this will not be a problem.
Volkswagen Polo Vivo - VerdictVolkswagen South Africa needs to be applauded for the achievement here. While the Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1,6 Trendline is possibly not as cheap as it should be given the competition and its lack of a standard service plan, it feels like a more grown-up product than most of the vehicles priced around it. This does mean that it lacks the youthful appeal of its forebear, but we don’t think this will hurt its likely sales performance. In fact, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo appears to be very much a no-compromise product. It’s nice to drive, economical, exceptionally refined and comfortable and of course comes with the backing of a large VW support network. It looks like another winner.
- Quality interior
- Modern engine
- Lacks some features
- Rear space
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 77 kW @ 5 250 rpm
Torque: 155 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 14-inch alloy
Top speed: 187 km/h
0-100 km/h: 10,6 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,6 litres/100 km
- Toyota Yaris Zen3 1,3 S 5-dr : The ageing Yaris line-up was recently shaken up and the Zen moniker added. This model’s specification is broadly similar to the Volkswagen Polo Vivo and it is both cheaper and offers a standard service plan. Can’t match the Vivo’s refinement and more upmarket appeal, however.
- Hyundai i20 1,4 GL: Not much more expensive than the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, and offers significantly more equipment as well as a standard service plan. The i20 is a good package all-round, but lags most vehicles in this class for NVH refinement – road noise is quite high.
- Kia Rio 1,4 5-dr HS: Often overlooked in the local market, the Kia Rio is a stronger competitor than you may think. In its latest guise it offers a comprehensive features package and a standard service plan. Neat cabin, too.