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By Jarryd Neves
Currently in its second generation, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo has enjoyed great success in South Africa. Since VW introduced their B-segment contender in 2018, it has consistently featured as one of the best selling cars in the country. It’s not hard to see why, either.
Let’s begin with the exterior. Aesthetically, the Vivo cuts a handsome (if conservative) figure. The sober, demure styling exudes a sophisticated and mature image that few competitors can rival. Starting at R218,100, the base model Trendline I drove makes do with black mirror caps and door handles, as well as 14-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Optional ‘Estrada’ alloy wheels are available, at R5,050. Those looking for more visual flair may be interested in the R246,900 ‘Mswenko’ derivative, with its 16-inch alloys, unique side decals and daring seat trim.
Climb aboard the Vivo and you’re greeted by clean, easy to read dials. The doors shut with a reassuring thud and everything feels solid, particularly the soft-touch dashboard – a rarity in this segment. While the door cards and lower bits of the facia are trimmed in harsher plastics, everything feels suitably well-screwed together. Besides, this is a criticism one can level at any of the Vivo’s rivals. Despite lacking height adjustment, the cloth-trimmed seats are supportive – although taller drivers may find them lacking in thigh support. The height and reach adjustable steering column is welcome, though.
The Vivo Trendline comes standard with all the essentials. Front electric windows, manual air-conditioning, an audio system with Bluetooth and USB functionality and remote central locking are all standard. The lack of a multi-function steering wheel is the only glaring omission. Anti-lock brakes, two airbags and rear ISOFIX mounts take care of things on the safety front. ESC (Electronic Stability Control) is an optional extra on the Trendline. Curiously, a service/maintenance plan is an optional extra on all Vivo models.
Interior space is on par for the segment, with sufficient space for four adults and their luggage. According to Volkswagen, the Vivo has a decidedly roomy boot, measuring 280 litres. This extends to a whopping 952 litres with the rear bench folded down.
The 1,4-litre, four cylinder powertrain develops 55 kW at 4 800 rpm and 130 Nm of torque at 3 750 rpm. This is sent to the front wheels via a smooth-shifting five-speed manual gearbox. The naturally aspirated engine is perfectly refined in town. Hushed and frugal at low speeds, while offering just enough pep to exploit gaps in traffic. The light clutch and slick gearbox certainly help, too. At motorway speeds, the Vivo is nicely civilised. There’s minimal aural intrusion, with wind noise kept to a minimum. Tyre roar only becomes noticeable when cruising at the national speed limit.
Happy to sit at 120 km/h all day long, the little Vivo takes the long road in its stride. It’s overtaking that sees the Vivo break a sweat, though. Passing slower traffic requires forward thinking and an empty stretch of road ahead. Still, at least it’s comfortable. The ride is well chosen and compliant, without being too soft. Through corners, the relatively skinny 175/70 R14 tyres provide surprising level of grip, while the steering is quick and direct. It does lack the alert, energetic feeling that rivals like the Suzuki Swift provide through a set of twists.
Volkswagen claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5,7 litres/100 km, but I managed a more realistic 6,5 litres/100 km during my 1 600 km stint behind the wheel. An impressive figure, nevertheless.
After spending a week with the base-model Vivo, it’s clear to see why this offering from Volkswagen SA enjoys such great popularity. The Polo Vivo – particularly the Trendline model – provides excellent value. While perhaps not lavishly equipped, it wraps the essentials up in a practical, well-built body with a competitive price tag. Lack of a standard service plan aside, the Vivo is that rare, unpretentious car that does what it says on the tin – and brilliantly, at that.
Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1,4 Trendline
- Price: R218 100
- Power: 55 kW/130 Nm
- Fuel consumption: 5,7 litres/ 100 km (claimed)
- Top speed: 171 km/h
- Rivals: Ford Figo, Toyota Starlet
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