WITH the CitiGolf having reached the end of its lifespan in South Africa, other manufacturers of small, pocket-friendly hatchbacks should see this as an opportunity to get first-time buyers into their showrooms and behind the wheel of their bargain basement vehicles. Because, let’s be honest, the Citi was the biggest player in this market and many young buyers seeking their first set of wheels looked no further than this South African staple. But now that VW has launched its new Polo Vivo as a replacement for the Citi, do other small car manufacturers such as Tata have what it takes to win over local buyers? We put the Indica Vista Ini against the Vivo 1,4 55 kW to find out.

DESIGN AND PACKAGING

VW Polo Vivo       16/20
Tata Indica Vista 14/20

When it comes to appearances, the Volkswagen Vivo is a continuation of the previous-generation Polo rather than a brand new model altogether – a fact that is evident mainly from the rear with the carry-over round lights. The profile, too, is identical, but these shared traits are beneficial because the look of the out-going Polo is still modern enough to appeal to buyers: the number of these models currently on the road attest to the design’s popularity.

Tying in with the rest of the VW family, the front of the Vivo features the new corporate face that can also be seen on the Scirocco, Golf 6 and new Polo. As highlighted in the Vivo 1,6 road test in the May issue, the most notable change from the model it is based upon is that the single-frame drop-down grille is no longer used, replaced by a slatted intake that sits between the headlamps and clearly separated from the lower air dam. Being one of the base models, this Vivo comes standard with 14-inch steel wheels but the Sunrise Red metallic paint job adds an extra R840 to the price tag.

With its swept-back headlamps, mesh grille and central bonnet crease, the Tata Indica Vista doesn’t offend with its contemporary looks, and some testers were impressed with the “sporty” wheels although others felt they looked aftermarket despite the branding on the hub caps. Compared with the “premium” look that the front end conveys, the rear of the Indica Vista fails to impress much despite its sizeable stacked tail-light clusters.

As with all models that come through the CAR test garage, we tap here and give a bit of a pull there, never expecting anything to give way under such limited pressure. In the Indica’s case, however, a few of the exterior trim items felt quite loose. Inside, it is a similar story, with some of the trim pieces feeling flimsy and cheap to the touch. However, things have certainly improved since the days of the previous-shape Indica we tested in 2006.

Boot space in the Indica is 280 dm3, whereas the Vivo has a primary load volume of 232 dm3.

Overall, the Vivo beats the Indica in this category thanks to the better quality of the materials and more modern, commercially appealing appearance.

COMFORT AND FEATURES

VW Polo Vivo       14/20
Tata Indica Vista 13/20

From the moment you climb into the seat of the Vivo, it’s easy to find your way around if you are familiar with the latest products from Volkswagen. The interior is on par with newer VW models. Seating was felt by most to be lacking sufficient support – and the lack of height adjustment was missed by all testers – but the rake and reach adjustment available on the steering column helped with finding a comfortable driving position. Some of the plastics are a bit hard, but general quality appears good and the ambience is lifted by the softtouch materials dotted about the cabin as well as the blue instrument illumination.

This particular model comes with few features as standard, but, as usually happens, our test vehicle’s spec sheet had many of the option boxes ticked. The ABS, central locking, air-con and audio system with USB/MP3 compatibility fitted added a considerable R13 560 to the base price of R109 000. The two standard airbags do count in the Vivo’s favour in terms of safety. By comparison, the Indica Vista Ini has neither ABS nor the option of airbags.

Sitting behind the wheel of the Indica is very different to the position in the Vivo. Despite being more expensive in standard trim, the Indica feels considerably cheaper with its hard plastics, which creak and squeak with every movement of the driver. Most of the testers thought that the flimsy rear view mirror almost came off in their hands when they adjusted it.

In terms of comfort, many found the Indica’s seating to be a bit uncomfortable, remarking that it felt more like sitting on a chair than in a seat. The footwell is cramped and the pedals too close together so, as a result, there’s no place to rest your left foot. The centrally-mounted display on the facia isn’t very practical as one has to take one’s eyes almost completely off the road to check the speedometer, fuel guage and rev counter. We know it makes the change from left- to right-hand drive easier, but, as one tester remarked, it does come across as a case of “style over function”.

Central locking is standard on the Indica, activated by the key in the driver’s door lock. The audio system with USB plug-in is optional at the Ini specification level and looks very aftermarket. Both vehicles come with manually- adjustable side mirrors and manual window winders.

Although the Tata offers more standard features such as airconditioning and a threeyears/ 75 000 km service plan (for the Vivo, a 60 000 km service plan can be added to the package for R5 560), it’s difficult to overlook the poorer quality it offers when compared with the cheaper-priced Vivo.

RIDE, HANDLING & BRAKING

VW Polo Vivo       16/20
Tata Indica Vista 13/20

When these vehicles are driven one after the other, the difference in ride quality is easily felt. With its MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam with trailing arms at the rear, the Vivo’s ride is firm and, while it can feel slightly bumpy over uneven surfaces, it’s never too harsh or uncomfortable. The 14-inch wheels shod with 175/16 rubber keep the Vivo firmly planted on the road around tight corners and good feedback from the steering allows for easy manoeuvrability about town. Similar to the 1,6 Trendline model previously tested, the 1,4 Vivo’s clutch felt a bit light, with the “bite” coming in later than expected. However, the slick gearshift quality was applauded.

In our ten-stop brake test the Vivo recorded an average stopping time of 3,17 seconds, which just puts it in the “poor” range of CAR’s rating system, a disappointing result for this ABSequipped unit.

The Indica didn’t prove as composed as the Polo, but some testers found that, although there was a fair amount of body roll, it could hold its own even when pushed on curvy stretches of road. The steering felt too light, and there was almost no feel from the Indica’s clutch, which had lots of travel and also a very late engagement. Many testers experienced quite a bit of wheelspin. Also making use of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam with coil springs at the rear, the Vista’s suspension allowed a lot of the tar surfaces’ imperfections to filter into the cabin.

Without ABS the Indica stopped from 100 km/h in an average time of 3,36 seconds, giving it a “poor” rating in our assessment.

PERFORMANCE

VW Polo Vivo       16/20
Tata Indica Vista 13/20

The Vivo is powered by a 1,4-litre multi-valve engine with a peak power output of 55 kW at 5 000 r/min and 132 N.m of torque at 3 600 r/min. It is mated with a five-speed manual transmission. Our test car achieved a zero-to-100 km/h time of 13,22 seconds. Top speed is 171 km/h.

The Indica is powered by a 1,4-litre multi-point fuel-injected motor that, at low engine speeds, doesn’t pull well. Maximum power is claimed to be 55 kW at 6 000 r/min, and peak torque 114 N.m at 3 250 r/min, but our test results suggest these figures are optimistic. Performance is reasonable but not as quick as the Vivo’s. The engine is eager to respond in the mid range but fades out towards the red line, and it can get a bit noisy.

Zero-to-100 km/h acceleration was measured at 14,48 seconds and top speed at 154 km/h. It’s not a powerful unit, but is well suited to urban driving.

FUEL ECONOMY

VW Polo Vivo       15/20
Tata Indica Vista 12/20

The CAR Fuel Index shows the 1,4-litre engine in the Vivo is more economical, with a figure of 7,4 litres/100 km, realising approximately 600 km between fill-ups. The Tata has a consumption figure of 8,8 litres/100 km, which gives it a range of about 500 km on its 44-litre tank.

This disparity in consumption figures could be attributed to the fact that the Indica needs heavier use of the throttle to get decent forward momentum.

VALUE FOR MONEY

VW Polo Vivo       15/20
Tata Indica Vista 13/20

Even at the base price of R109 900, it is obvious that the Vivo is not a Citi replacement. The premium feel of this vehicle over the Citi confirms this. But, even without the added extras, it offers better value for money than the Indica Vista. The only advantage the Tata has over the VW is a standard service plan. But this model costs R119 900: add the basic service plan to this Vivo’s base price and you’ll still have change to perhaps add ABS for added peace of mind. So the Tata looks over-priced compared with the Vivo.

VERDICT

VW Polo Vivo       15/20
Tata Indica Vista 12/20

It doesn’t take much concentration to realise that the Indica is outdone from the word go. The Vivo immediately takes the lead in build quality, standard and optional specification, as well as on-road capability – all for R10 000 less than the Indica. Add to this that Volkswagen has a strong reputation with the local buying public, the fact that most of the Vivo’s parts are sourced locally making for quick delivery of spares, and you realise that Tata has major hurdles to overcome to be competitive.

(NOTE: It could be argued that the R119 900 1,4 Vivo Trendline would have been a better competitor for the Indica Vista Ini, but for the extra money you get just eight kW and ABS as standard, so we felt that when spec level and performance are taken into account, the Vivo featured in this test was well suited to this comparison.)