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PORT ELIZABETH – Back in 2010, with the ink barely dry on the venerable Mk1 Golf-derived Citi Golf’s farewell card, VWSA’s announcement that it would carry out a similar repositioning exercise with the outgoing Polo range kept that spirit of the much-loved Citi alive.
It also meant VW could continue its dominating presence in this key entry-level segment and it could do so with tooling that had been – like the Citi Golf’s – long since paid off at its Uitenhage facility.
One immediate advantage this new Vivo enjoyed over its Golf Mk1-based forebear was that it was built on a relatively modern platform that, unlike the red, yellow and blue cars, offered contemporary fit and finishes, as well as up-to-date safety features. That it was also based on a model that topped local monthly passenger car sales charts throughout its lifecycle (and boasted 70% locally sourced materials) all but guaranteed its success.
Eight years on and with more than 230 000 sales recorded, the introduction of the locally built sixth-generation Polo (scoop tested in the February 2018 issue of CAR and driven here and here) conveniently creates yet another opportunity for VWSA to supplement sales of the new car with a repackaged, more affordable version of the hugely popular outgoing model.
The new Vivo range will consist of six models, four engine options and three transmission variants, in Trendline, Comfortline and Highline spec, plus Maxx and this top-spec GT.
So, what’s the new Vivo like in the flesh?
It’s rare that we drive a first-of-its-type test unit round town without so much as a second glance from fellow road users; despite this flagship GT model’s bright-red paintwork, 17-inch alloys, a tailgate spoiler and GT decals, the Vivo managed to blend into everyday Port Elizabeth traffic. Perhaps VW will add a Citi-like range of colourful derivatives at some later point, but for the moment, the Vivo does err on the bland side. Then again, the argument for the trimmed-down version to maintain more than a passing semblance of the classy model on which it’s based is also a strong one. Certainly, aside from a slightly altered taillamp configuration and front-spoiler treatment, compared with the outgoing Mk5-generation Polo, it’s only the sticker on the tailgate and the lack of indicators in the side mirrors that give the new Vivo away.
It’s more familiar fare inside, where thankfully any inevitable cost-cutting is not immediately obvious. While a closer inspection reveals the absence of items such as a driver’s side vanity mirror and padded roof lining (anthracite-coloured on GT versions), the carry-over of the Polo’s soft-touch dash is a noteworthy inclusion, as is a Bluetooth-enabled audio system that’s standard throughout the range (Highline, Maxx and GT models sport a 340G touchscreen arrangement replete with App Connect system). Also welcome in all but entry-level Trendline spec is height adjustment on the cloth-covered driver’s seat. This, together with wide-ranging rake and reach adjustment on the steering column, should deliver an optimal driving position for most drivers. Adjusting the front seats too far rearwards, however, does impact on the somewhat cramped rear legroom associated with this generation of Polo.
Also featured throughout the range is air-con, with all but the entry-level Trendline gaining a multifunction steering wheel. GT line variants also added leather on that wheel, cruise control and sports seats.
While Vivo specification makes do with a single-piece (as opposed to 60:40-split) folding rear backrest, complete with an exposed metal backing, it nevertheless still serves as convenient access to a class-competitive (808-litre) amount of utility space. That said, housing a full-size spare wheel below the boot board sees the boot measure 216 litres, which might be too cramped for some users’ needs.
And how does it drive?
At launch, the new Polo Vivo portfolio includes everything from the aforementioned (55 kW) Trendline model, through to a raised-ride-height Maxx version and this range-topping GT offering. It’s the only model to offer modern turbocharged TSI tech, with the rest of the range making do with Volkswagen’s tried and tested naturally aspirated 1,4- or 1,6-litre petrol engines.
The 1,0-litre triple is a familiar unit from the outgoing and current Polo (albeit here in slightly detuned 81 kW form rather than the new model’s 85 kW in Highline trim). It sends 200 N.m to the front wheels via a slick six-speed manual gearbox with well-chosen ratios. VWSA does not list a 0-100 km/h sprint time, but it feels sprightly and I’d be surprised if it didn’t dip under 10 seconds for that benchmark run. More impressive is the amount of urge in-gear – the GT does a passable impression of a warm hatch. Only some turbo lag below 2 000 r/min irks.
Based on the fifth-generation Polo that drew consistently high praise for both solid build quality and impressive comfort throughout its lifecycle, it’s no surprise that the latest-generation Vivo exudes similarly high levels of on-road composure. If the new MQB-based Polo has subsequently moved the game on in terms of ride quality and compliance for this segment, this is off a high standard set by the outgoing model. Any corresponding body roll associated with the Vivo’s generally soft setup is still neatly kept in check by confidence-inspiring levels of grip. That said, on 40-profile tyres, there’s notable bump-thump on rough tar surfaces, and a back-to-back drive with a new Polo showed the latter’s body to be better tied down at speed.
Somewhat surprisingly, VW has ditched the Polo’s rear disc brakes in favour of drums, but they have no noticeable effect on braking performance. It is also worth noting that, in Vivo spec, the total airbag count has been reduced to just two up front. Isofix anchorage points for infant seats have been carried over, and most models boast electronic stability control and a tyre-pressure monitor.
So it’s business as usual, then?
With such a deep knowledge of the highly accomplished fifth-generation Polo to work with, the planning round the new Vivo range was always going to be one of costing rather than reinvention. While it was unavoidable that certain Vivo-spec materials have been downgraded to fit a manufacturing price point, the solid underpinnings on to which these are fitted remained unchanged, resulting in a package that was surely almost impossible to get wrong.
While we’d recommend one of the less expensive models to truly enhance the value proposition and widen the gap to the new Polo, this flagship GT line model makes a strong case for itself compared with the Polo 1,0 TSI Highline, which costs a not-insubstantial R286 200. Add a three-year/45 000 km service plan to the Vivo at R4 779, and the difference in cost between the two nudges R40 000.
Based on our first impression of the new Polo and now the new Polo Vivo offerings, it’s difficult to imagine these two models won’t continue their impressive respective runs of form at the summit of monthly local passenger-car sales. If anything, sales of the newer car may suffer at the hand of a very accomplished, and suitably more affordable, Vivo offering.
Additional reporting by Ian McLaren
Fast factsModel: Volkswagen Polo 1,0 TSI Comfortline
Price: R245 000
Engine: 1,0-litre, 3-cyl, turbopetrol
Power: 81 kW @ 5 000 r/min
Torque: 200 N.m @ 2 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top Speed: 196 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 4,6 L/100 km
CO2: 109 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: optional