Port Elizabeth - Nobody was quite sure how the market would react in 2010 when the venerable Citigolf was discontinued after 25 years as VW’s budget car and replaced by the larger and more expensive Polo Vivo.

It turned out Volkswagen got its sums right and the Vivo, which was based on the then previous-generation Polo, has gone on to become South Africa’s best-selling car with nearly 195 000 units sold.

Now Polo Vivo version two has arrived and sticks to the same formula: take the last-generation Polo, delete a few features, slash the prices, and place it in the showroom as VW’s budget contender under the all-new sixth-generation Polo which was recently launched. Both cars are locally assembled at VW’s plant in Uitenhage.

The trick is to not hack too much out of the old Polo to achieve good pricing, and VW’s done a decent job here.

Though the new Polo Vivo is a larger and more sophisticated car than the previous Polo Vivo and comes with a number of new safety features, the price increases haven’t been excessive. The entry-level model at R179 900 costs just R600 more than the previous bottom-of-the-range version, though higher up in the range the price increases are more substantial.

At launch the new Polo Vivo is available in five models priced between R179 900 and R245 000 including a new turbocharged GT. In June the range will be extended with a Maxx version with a higher ground clearance, roof rails and ‘offroad’ styling, but still front-wheel driven like the rest of the range.

Local tweaks

There are some visual differences between yesterday’s Polo and today’s Polo Vivo, with some locally-developed changes to the grilles, lights, indicators, and wheels, along with revised interior trim. Some sound deadening has also been removed as a cost-saving measure along with more basic cloth for the seats, but in essence this is still the last-generation Polo which won SA’s Car of the Year title in 2011, and VW has achieved its good pricing without stripping it to bare-basic spec.

In fact some new safety features have been added, and all Polo Vivo derivatives for the first time get front seatbelt pretensioners and ISOFIX child seat fittings, in addition to the dual front airbags and ABS brakes that are standard across the range.

Also retained from the fifth-generation Polo is the classy soft-touch dashboard. Thankfully this has survived the cost-cutting as it gives the interior a more upmarket character than some cars in this budget segment.

The entry-level Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline gets a four-speaker SD/USB/Bluetooth audio system, air conditioning, remote central locking, front electric windows, and height and reach adjustable steering. With its basic cloth seats and 1.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine with outputs of 55kW and 130Nm, it’s likely destined to be a rental-car favourite.

The slightly more powerful and well-specced 1.4 Comfortline could become one of the most popular derivatives for its combination of useable power and a half-decent level of spec for R192 000. On top of what you get in the Trendline, the Comfortline adds a multi-function steering wheel, trip computer, height-adjustable driver’s seat, upgraded seat cloth, front fog lights as well as body-coloured door handles and side mirrors.

On the road

The Comfortline’s 1.4 is also tuned for slightly higher outputs of 63kW and 132Nm, and both models get five-speed manual transmissions. I drove the more powerful 1.4 version at the Eastern Cape media launch last week and at sea level it offered perfunctory commuting pace with the ability to also stray onto the freeway.

The car’s also available with a 77kW/153Nm 1.6-litre four cylinder engine in a choice of two versions: a Highline six-speed manual and a Comfortline six-speed Tiptronic auto. With sea-level claimed figures of 0-100km/h in 10.8 seconds and a top speed of 188km/h, this is a Polo Vivo with a bit more spring in its step.

Both 1.6 models get Electronic Stability Control and a tyre pressure monitor. The Comfortline’s audio system is a basic four-speaker unit with a monochrome screen while the Highline gets six speakers and a colour touchscreen with App Connect for iPhone users (it’s not compatible with South African Android phones for now). Both the 1.4 and 1.6 engines are carried over from the previous Polo Vivo but recalibrated for better fuel consumption.

GT is a charmer

The range topper is the 1.0 TSI GT, with the smallest but (by virtue of being turbocharged) most powerful engine. The 1-litre is a willing little engine with peppy performance and a charming three-cylinder sound. With its slightly lowered suspension and keen power-to-weight ratio, the Polo Vivo GT recalls the spirit of the original Golf GTi - in fact at 81kW it makes the same power as that iconic car.

It also has a generous 200Nm of torque which makes for a spirited ‘warm’ hatch that cruises the open road with little effort and will surprise a few cars at the traffic lights. Top speed is 196km/h but VW doesn’t quote a 0-100 figure.

The GT is externally vamped-up with a boot spoiler, black side moulding and 16” alloy wheels, and on the inside with sport pedals and sports seats with ‘space’ cloth trim. The GT is also the only version to come standard with cruise control, although this new feature is optionally available in all the other models. Leather seats and electronic stability control are also available across the range at extra cost.

Grown-up feel

The latest Polo Vivo continues the winning formula that made its predecessor a best seller. 

It’s not the cheapest car in its segment but it’s solidly built and pleasant to drive. It’s a small car with a grown-up feel and above-average refinement. It’s also neatly finished inside and comes with a reasonable specification package for the price. VW’s solid reputation and three-year/120 000km warranty (service and maintenance plans are optionally available) cement the deal.

As before, the Polo Vivo should sell by the thousands.

Find a used VW Polo in our Drive360 portal

PRICES:

1.4 55kW Trendline R179 900
1.4 63kW Comfortline R192 000
1.6 77kW Comfortline Tiptronic R221 900
1.6 77kW Highline R214 900
1.0 TSI 81kW GT R245 000