"The king is dead, long live the king" is the saying that comes to mind when one thinks of the changeover from the old Volkswagen Polo Vivo to the new one. We drive the newcomer to see if it could carry on being South Africa's most popular passenger vehicle in the new car market.
With a staggering sales figure of almost 200 000 units since its market introduction back in March 2010, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo has been a runaway success. The numbers make for impressive reading. If you consider the passenger market for 2017 sitting around the 368 000 unit figure, the Volkswagen Polo accounted for almost 51 000 sales. If the Polo was a standalone brand, it would outsell many manufacturers combined.
With this total market domination in mind, it's absolutely critical that Volkswagen nails the brief when it comes to a replacement Polo Vivo. As for the brief, well it was a reasonably straightforward one. Value for money was imperative, as was the insistence on making use of local component suppliers. Given the fact that the car was aimed at the budget segment of the market, modifications to the existing Polo base were inevitable, but without impacting on safety and reliability.
Visually, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo blends in with other cars and you'd have to tell people that this a brand-new car. It's only when you examine a new Polo Vivo next to an outgoing Polo that can you spot the differences. At the front there are new headlights, a new upper and lower grille and the side mirrors lose their indicators (they're moved just aft of the wheel arch), while the rear receives new tail lights.
There's new material in the cabin and there are new alloy wheels to round off the package. We suspect that some of the sound deadening and insulation has been taken out to cut costs. Given South Africa's poor road safety record, we're delighted to see that modern features, such as Electronic Stability Control, Tyre Pressure Monitor and Hill Hold Assist have made their way into the Volkswagen Polo Vivo lineup. The airbag count, however, has been reduced to just 2 (driver and front passenger).
While our readers have expressed shock and dismay that the Vivo looks the same as the outgoing previous-generation Polo, it's unreasonable to expect Volkswagen SA to develop a budget-friendly car replete with a complete redesign. There's also so much more to the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, both inside and out, so jokes about current Polo owners facing recalls and the TSI badge will be replaced with a Vivo badge are not only ridiculous, but unfounded.
The cabin of the new Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT.
The Polo Vivo lineup
The model is offered in 3 levels of trim including Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. There's also a flagship GT model. There are three 4-cylinder petrol engines on offer, including a 1.0-litre, 1.4-litre and a 1.6-litre. The 2 naturally-aspirated motors are the 1.4 and 1.6 while the 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine is turbocharged. 5-speed manual gearboxes are available for the naturally-aspirated Vivos, while a Tiptronic auto is available in the 77 kW 1.6 model. The top-of-the-range GT comes with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Kicking off the range is a 55 kW/130 Nm 1.4-litre Trendline, followed by the same engine albeit with a tad more power. It's called the Comfortline and it features 63 kW and 132 Nm. The next step up is the 1.6-litre 77 kW and 153 Nm, which is available in both manual and automatic. Finally, a turbocharged engine makes its debut in the Volkswagen Polo Vivo range, with a 1.0-litre turbocharged mill boasting outputs of 81 kW and 200 Nm. This is the GT model, which also features decals and unique alloy wheels.
What's it like to drive?
With a heritage based on the outgoing Volkswagen Polo, the new Vivo impresses in terms of ride quality.
On the launch, we had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the 63 kW Comfortline, 1.6 77 kW Highline and the top-of-the-range GT model. The naturally-aspirated motors are units we've experienced before, but these have been revised for improved efficiency. Of course, the GT model with its force-fed mill grabbed our attention so let's talk about that first. With 81 kW and 200 Nm driving the front wheels through a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, it looks like a bit of a performance car. Yes, there's a touch of lag from the compact motor, but with such an easy transmission to stir, it's effortless to get it back onto the boil. We found the newcomer tractable, able to coast along with ease, yet eager to accelerate when the accelerator is fully depressed.
In terms of ride quality, it's hard to fault at this price point and the Vivo feels as smooth as, say a Volkswagen Golf. By utilising the previous generation Polo as a base, itself a benchmark in ride quality and fit and finish, the Vivo has really imbued the segment with an upmarket feel. Budget A0 cars don't have to feel like a compromise and settling for second best, and the new Vivo is a big leap forward for the segment as a whole.
Usually, when it comes to car launches, the flagship model steals all the limelight and the cheaper derivatives are shunned. However, we'd suggest it's the other way around in the case of the Polo Vivo. While we'd happily recommend a Vivo GT all day and every day as it's a Jack-of-all-trades car, its price puts it in a precarious spot. With the brand-new Polo range starting from R235 900 (February 2018), it's a tough sell recommending a budget flagship when you can comfortably have an all-new car for less money.
Where would our money go then? At R214 900, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo 77 kW Highline has all the makings of a champ. Sure it breaches the critical R200 000 barrier, but it delivers so much. If you're price-sensitive, then you can opt for the 63 kW Comfortline at R192 000. In both cases, you don't really feel the power and torque deficit compared to the lively turbo motor, and the five-speed manual gearbox does a sterling job of keeping the engine in the sweet spot. Both have commendable road holding and ride quality, with fair levels of noise/vibration/harshness dialled out. We liked the steering, which was still appreciably light in the confines of the urban environment, yet pleasant enough when powering through a section of curvy road.
The Polo Vivo GT is perched at the top of the range and is powered by a 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder turbocharged engine for the first time.
By using existing platforms and technology, Volkswagen South Africa has managed to pull off, what we imagine, to be an extraordinarily difficult challenge of balancing the accountants' books while offering a quality and affordable product. Yes, the price of the GT is a little on the high side and it closes the chasm between Vivo and the all-new Polo to just a hop, but few will care. The Volkswagen Polo Vivo still retains excellent build quality, resale values and affordability; things that customers in that segment really care about. It's great to see that Volkswagen SA has also paid attention to the voices of the smartphone generation who require Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Will the humble Volkswagen Polo Vivo be a massive sales success?
With both the buying public and rental fleets clamouring to get their orders in, we'll see the new Vivo climb the sales charts yet again. For the best value, we'd recommend sticking to one of the naturally-aspirated Polo Vivo models. There are a few extras worth considering, so when you're speccing your Vivo, think about the uprated audio system and cruise control.
Volkswagen Polo Vivo (2018) Price in South Africa
The Volkswagen Polo Vivo Hatch comes standard with a 3 year/120 000km warranty and a 6-year Anti Corrosion warranty. A Volkswagen Automotion Maintenance Plan, as well as a Volkswagen Automotion Service Plan, are available as options. The service interval is 15 000 km. There are a choice of 6 colours: Pure White, Flash Red, Deep Black Pearlescent, Reflex Silver Metallic, Reef Blue Metallic and Limestone Grey Metallic.
1.4 55kW Trendline R179 900
1.4 63kW Comfortline R192 000
1.6 77kW Comfortline Tiptronic R221 900
1.6 77kW Highline R214 900
1.0 TSI 81kW GT R245 000