ROAD TEST - VW Polo Vivo GT
It takes just one glance at any sales chart from the last two years to know that the Polo Vivo has done more than just fill the Citi Golf's shoes at the bottom end of VW's model hierarchy.
It may be more expensive but then it's also a lot more modern, practical and safe, yet it still sells for less than most contemporary hatchbacks of similar size, thanks to the tooling costs for this ten-year-old shape having been amortised while it was still the 'new' Polo.
Sensible, but where's the fizz? Remember all those Citi Golf special editions? They had names like Ritz, Dot.com, Blues, Sonic and so on and they were always flavoured up with a nice set of alloys and some racy garnishes inside and out.
Enter the Polo Vivo GT. In keeping with its wannabe-hot-hatch attitude, it only comes in three-door form and on the outside you'll tell it apart by five-spoke 15-inch alloys, pretentious twin chrome exhaust tips and GT badges on the grille, tailgate and even at the bottom of the rear doors - as if they were trying to induce Golf I GTS flashbacks.
Sink inside and there's a splash of 1980s Toyota Conquest in the red seatbelts but the rest of it is flashy in a modern way, with generously-bolstered and colourful sports seats and red stitching on the gear knob, handbrake lever and sports steering wheel. As a final stab at the blandness beast, VW's interior decorators bolted on some gunmetal grey dashboard panels.
So it has the show, and the badge, but where's the go? You'll find no Citi R Line nostalgia beneath the bonnet, the GT instead using the same 77kW/155Nm 1.6-litre 16-valve engine as its more vanilla Vivo siblings. At least they played with the chassis a bit - the GT sits lower to the ground and its suspension is stiffer.
Yet given that it's not very powerful, I wasn't expecting the Vivo GT to be much fun to drive. Now I have to eat those thoughts.
Don't get me wrong, the GT is far from hot hatch quick, but by everyday hatchback standards it's definitely satisfying and never feels short of steam. In fact it's one of those cars that you can enjoy without having to go too fast.
The engine note is raspy, even a little on the loud side, and you get the feeling that it really wants you put pedal to metal. The gearshift and steering feel solid - not too light nor too heavy. Grip is impressive and you can have some good safe fun in this car through fast sweeps, provided you're not put off by body roll. Despite the stiffening, the suspension still delivers a comfortable ride quality.
OLD AND NEW
Most compact hatches on the market today are comfortable, quiet and generally quite soft-feeling - that's what the masses wanted and that's what the masses got. The Vivo GT stands apart here. It still has some old-school charm about it yet unlike the hatches of yesteryear it's not uncomfortable or unsafe. It could very well be the ultimate compromise between old and new.
Besides the lack of back doors it's not impractical either. Rear legroom is impressive and the boot will devour as much luggage as you could expect from a hatch in this ballpark.
That said, the interior still feels a bit bare. Things that you found in the pre-Vivo Polo, like under-seat storage trays and flip-out cup holders are missing. Nor will you find audio controls on the steering wheel or electric mirrors and the power-operated windows don't have a one-touch function. These are things I'd expect at the price.
Which brings us to the fact that you need R152 500 to take one of these home.
I can't deny that this Polo, despite not living up to its GT badge, still offers good bang for the buck if we're talking outright performance and it could easily be the most fun-to-drive car at this price level. Yet I wouldn't feel right spending this kind of money on an older-generation car that's built right here in South Africa with around 70 percent local content.
The Vivo might have found its mojo in this form, but it has fallen short on that original promise of affordability. Bag a good discount and it could be well worth a shot though.
VW Polo Vivo GT (77kW) - R152 500
Chevrolet Sonic 1.4 LS 5dr (74kW) - R159 900
Hyundai i20 1.4 GL 5dr (74kW) - R159 900
Kia Rio 1.4 5dr (79kW) - R157 995
Nissan Micra 1.5 Tekna (73kW) - R150 900
Renault Clio 1.6 Yahoo ( 83kW) - R159 900
Suzuki Swift 1.4 GL (70kW) - R155 900