Does the sportily styled GTS at the summit of the popular Polo Vivo hatchback range deserve its badge?
There’s no shying away from the fact that the GTS insignia affixed to the rump of this particular Polo Vivo is ambitious at best. The priciest of Polo Vivo hatchbacks does, after all, boast no added grunt from its 1,6-litre, four-pot heart. Of course, Volkswagen SA has followed this all-show-no-extra-go recipe before with the Vivo GT – with a fair amount of sales success, too and it’s this vehicle that the GTS replaces. While the engine is carried over, however, the difference between the two amounts to slightly more than the addition of an “S” to the badge. This locally built newcomer now comes in a practical five-door flavour only, whereas its predecessor was initially also available in the sportier three-door body style.
So, is the GTS sporty? Well, it clearly parades a racier persona than the 1,6 Comfortline derivative on which it is effectively based, thanks in no small part to the brash two-tone GTS stripes running along each side of the vehicle. The 16-inch gloss-grey alloys, meanwhile, are a little subtler and sit relatively snugly in the wheelarches thanks to a 15 mm drop in ride height.
Further performance-hinting exterior touches include a black-painted roof, gloss-black side-mirror covers, twin chrome tailpipes and a rather subtle rear spoiler. Interestingly, no Polo Vivo badging appears anywhere on the body.
The cabin has come in for similar visual fettling, but also includes a pair of supportive yet comfortable sports seats up front (with the driver’s perch featuring height adjustment), trimmed in nostalgic tartan upholstery. The three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in leather and adorned with aluminium inserts and red stitching, with the latter treatment extended to other areas of the cockpit, including the black-piped carpets. A set of alloy pedals and silver dashboard panels complete the makeover.
Well-chosen cabin enhancements aside, there’s no escaping the fact that, underneath, this is a penny-pinching Polo from a different time. The side-mirrors, for instance, require manual adjustment, while rear passengers have to make do with window winders and the door cards are fully clad in hard plastic. And, while the rear bench can fold down, it does so in one piece rather than in a handy 60:40-split. Isofix child-seat anchors are also conspicuous by their absence.
The untouched powertrain, too, is somewhat of a coarse blast from the past, but that does at least mean it is well proven in local conditions. Indeed, the 77 kW naturally aspirated engine and its smartly geared five-speed manual transmission found favour with the test team, who appreciated its old-school feel and free-revving nature.
In fact, the 155 N.m mill feels ever-so-slightly livelier than its humble outputs may suggest, a sensation confirmed by the fact that we were able to slice some three-10ths off the claimed 10,6-second 0-100 km/h sprint time. The ABS-equipped GTS also managed to return a “good” rating in our strenuous braking test, despite having to make do with drums at the rear, and proved surprisingly frugal on our fuel route, too.
On the road, the conservatively lowered Vivo displays predictable handling and steering, although the latter feels overly weighty at parking speeds, due perhaps to the wider tyres. The ride is somewhat stiffer than that exhibited by a standard Vivo, although not to the point of any real discomfort.
While there might not be any extra oomph on offer, the Polo Vivo GTS is nevertheless capable of serving up honest, wholesome driving fun. This enjoyment is to be had not because of the power, but rather due to the very lack of it. Whereas approaching the limit in a proper hot hatch can quickly result in dinged metal and repentant tears, the GTS is hardly likely to bite off its driver’s hand. And that, at the very least, should appeal to the parents of young drivers.
And it’s clearly the youthful motorist at which the Vivo GTS is aimed. From this point of view, a case can certainly be argued for its existence with tried-and-tested previous-generation Polo underpinnings delivering fairly fuss-free motoring (even with the vexing lack of a standard service plan), while the vehicle is likely to hold its value on the second-hand market, too.
The question is, does the country's bestselling passenger-car range really need a faux-GTI flagship? There's certainly merit to the idea, and we can see the appeal of a well-sorted hatchback (even in five-door configuration) crammed full of old-school charm. But gifting it a GTS badge is perhaps too much of a stretch.
Priced against the Comfortline derivative, the GTS – which commands a conservative R4 400 premium that puts it on par with the Vivo Maxx – may seem like acceptable value. The buyer does, after all, gain the sort of kit that would cost far more if they were to go the aftermarket route themselves.
However, when assessed against a throng of similarly powered B-segment hatches (such as the Mazda2 1,5 Active and Ford Figo 1,5 Titanium), it quite simply doesn't. In short, there are more polished, more modern options out there for the same money or, indeed, for even less ... GTS badge or not.
*From the October 2016 issue of CAR magazine