THERE’S one important aspect of car buying that seems to get overlooked and that is the make-up of buyers. Sure, numbers are what matter at the end of the day, but it’s of more than passing interest to delve into who is doing the buying.
In the case of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, my research suggests that government departments have been decidedly important, but even more significantly, the car hire companies have bought huge numbers of VW’s locally-manufactured Vivo model.
The reason is simple. It’s because car hire clients at the economy end of the scale specifically request the Vivo as they feel comfortable with the car’s characteristics. It feels solid but drives easily and offers a high level of comfort with the feel of a bigger car.
And those are just the characteristics sought out by actual purchasers of the model, a point proven by the fact that they are prepared to pay a little more for what they see are the inherent values behind the VW roundel – values I might add that include lower than average depreciation rates and easy onward saleability.
The icing on the cake as far as the manufacturer is concerned is the fact that right at the end of its life cycle, the car that’s topped the sales charts for an unprecedented seven years continued to drive off sales floors. Indeed, a lack of stock was a much bigger problem.
Now comes a new Vivo (hatchback only) based on the hugely successful fifth generation Polo which itself has just morphed into its next life cycle. Styling tweaks, front and rear, give the Vivo a sharper look as does a range of new paint colours and alloy wheels.
Three equipment lines – Trendline, Comfortline and Highline – are supplemented by a GT derivative. Motive power comes from the familiar 55kw (Trendline) and 63kW (Comfortline) 1.4 units while the 77Kw 1.6 powers the Comfortline Tiptronic auto or the 5-speed Highline manual.
At the top of the Vivo pile sits the most interesting model of all and one that’s sure to shake the establishment, the boldly-named (6-speed manual) GT powered by a turbo 1.0 three-cylinder mill that generates an apparently effortless 81kW which puts it up with gen. one and gen. two 1.8 Golf GTIs.
Equipment levels rather obviously vary according to model designation and while I suggest a visit to www.volkswagen.co.za will assist in establishing absolute detail, the primary points will be revealed as we go along.
The entry-level 1.4 Trendline was not in evidence on the launch event nor was the 1.6 Comfortline Tiptronic, so we started out with the 1.4 Comfortline sitting on optional 15-inch alloy wheels. It took just a matter of seconds to confirm that VW’s assembly standards are top notch. Smooth and exceptionally glossy paintwork is a stand-out feature but so too are amazingly tight and even panel gaps that set the standard not just in this class but in any class.
Inside, the soft-touch dashboard is enhanced by new instruments and a 4-speaker SD/USB/Bluetooth sound system. While the lower regions and doors are clad in hard plastic, the graining and texture is such that visually, the cabin looks good for the class and the fit and general detailing is nothing less than very good. The overall effect is a step up on the previous model and the benefits extend to increased luggage (280/952l) and passenger space.
And the driver gets a height adjustable seat, enjoys electric windows along with the front passenger and everyone sits on well-bolstered seats swathed in decent quality cloth. Dual air bags, ISOFIX mountings, ABS, alarm and remote central locking, air con, power steering, a fully adjustable steering wheel, tinted windows and a full-size spare are also on board all models while Comfortline buyers also benefit from front fogs and a multi-function display with steering wheel controls.
Important options include cruise control, an upgraded radio package, leather seats, ESC and tyre pressure monitoring among others.
Out on the road, the Vivo Comfortline quickly established just why it’s been a local favourite for so long. The clutch has a light, smooth action as does the gearshift and the power steering is delightfully fluid and linear. Isolation from extraneous noises is very good for the class albeit that the 1.4 motor can be heard when pushed hard, but overall refinement and a feeling of inherent solidity are class-leading.
The Vivo is also an easy car to drive smoothly in stop/start traffic and considering its engine displacement, it performs better on the open road than its 63kW max output might suggest. That’s probably because peak torque is available from 3 750 rpm rather than the 4 000 plus of many rivals. It’s easy enough to maintain 120 or more clicks on the motorway but regaining momentum on gradients after being baulked is hardly a momentous occupation. I’d also suggest that four-up at altitude will test the engine’s mettle.
The Highline 77kW 1.6, driven here with 5-speed manual box, is decked out with smarter “Cable” cloth trim and a 3-spoke multi-function steering wheel wrapped in leather. It also boasts a standard Safety Package, 16-inch alloys and an upgraded 340G radio with six speakers, and most importantly, App Connect.
Should you have an Apple phone and mobile Wi-Fi, you’ll enjoy access to all sorts of practical and fun items from the dashboard unit, not least excellent mapping. My own long-term experience of this set-up is most positive.
As for dynamics, the slightly heavier engine has no ill effects on the slick and easy driving characteristics nor on the composed ride, but it does offer markedly more fizz and in my book is worth the extra outlay. In fact, it is willing to run at well over the national speed limit on the open road and would be further improved by having a sixth gear or a longer fifth gear as the engine telegraphs its rate of rotation rather more than necessary at higher speeds. Perhaps at altitude though, the lower gearing might be beneficial.
Now for the star performer – the 1.0TSI 81kW GT to give this Vivo its full title. Perhaps the gleaming red paint of the test unit laid the groundwork for a positive response to this model, but it’s no exaggeration to say this Vivo is a revelation and should find lots of eager young buyers lined up to take ownership.
Sure, the interior was enhanced thanks to the fitment of stylishly-tailored leather-clad sports seats (cloth sports seats are standard), and lazy drivers will appreciate the standard-fit cruise control, but those youngsters would definitely like the sports pedal cluster, the lowered stance, the black GT lettering and side mouldings, the alloy wheels and the rear spoiler.
The add-ons are nicely judged in terms of differentiating the GT from the rest of the pack so forget about a visual over-kill. The primary talking point though is that amazing three- cylinder engine. It’s got enough oats hidden away to allow for an effortless cruise at – dare I admit it – well north of the open road limit and even at 140 clicks, a stab of the gas pedal is rewarded with a fair bit of get up and go.
Quite substantial gradients are dismissed with disdain, at least when the vehicle is relatively lightly laden, but thanks to the use in this instance of a slick manual box with six gears rotating within, there’s a complete absence of mechanical fuss on the cruise. For sure, you can thank the lofty torque peak of 200Nm produced at a mere 2 000 rpm for the willing thrust. When pressed though, the triple emits are rather charming off-beat thrum that’s entirely in keeping with the GT badging adorning the flanks.
From now, you can forget the tired old adage about there being “no replacement for displacement” as this little motor with a big heart proves. And thanks to the lowered stance, the GT exhibits less roll when pushed into bends and also feels far more planted than a light car has the right to.
If the last generation Polo Vivo attracted so many buyers, this new home-grown version is going to wow a fair few more, production capacity permitting. In this class, there’s no competitor that feels so reassuringly solid and grown up. Don’t take that to mean it’s stolid and boring though. All the models tested (remember the 55kW entry model was absent) were nice to drive with light controls, positive responses and a genuine feel-good factor that is rare at this price level. But the GT really is the eye-opener in a range that’s even better value than before thanks to raised equipment levels outpacing the small additional monetary outlay required.
(All information herein applies to the South African market. Zimbabwe residents should consult the official VW importer, CFAO Volkswagen, for information on model availability in your market)