Johannesburg - The new Polo Vivo continues a tradition that’s been a winning formula for Volkswagen SA - and other carmakers for that matter - ever since the Citi Golf hit the streets back in the mid eighties, with its bright Mondrian colours that made it a must-have accessory alongside the leg warmers and mullets that we like to laugh about today - and with good reason.
The Citi went on to outlive all those fashion atrocities, sticking around until 2009 and featuring in many a young-and-stupid adventure or shenanigan (insert appropriate or not-so-appropriate story here). Fast forward to 2018 and we have the latest Polo Vivo flying the entry level flag for VWSA.
It might not be quite as funky, nor anywhere near as affordable as its spiritual ancestor - although it is significantly safer and more sophisticated - but its maker has stuck to the basic modus operandi of relaunching a recently-superseded product (whose tooling and development costs are now theoretically paid for) at a more affordable price.
Amortisation is your friend, and don’t you ever forget that.
While the previous Polo Vivo was based on the fourth-generation Polo, the ‘new’ Vivo is essentially a relaunched fifth-generation Polo - first introduced in 2010 - and it’s a fine platform to graduate to, given that it was SA’s Car of the Year in 2011 and even in its dying days was still widely regarded as the cream of its class.
But bear in mind that the reduced pricing (the new Vivo has a starting price of R179 900, versus R229 600 for the last-gen Polo) is down to a lot more than just paid-off plant machinery.
For starters the TSI engines that were standard across the Polo range have made way for older-generation normally aspirated 1.4- and 1.6-litre carry-overs from the previous Vivo, at least in all but the top-dog Vivo GT, which gets an 81kW 1-litre TSI.
Most buyers are likely to opt for the 1.4-litre models which cost under R200 000, and which produce 55kW in the entry Trendline model and 62kW in the Comfortline.
VWSA sent us a mid-range Highline, powered by the familiar 1.6-litre engine that’s rated at 77kW and 153Nm. It’s mated to a solid-feeling, smooth-shifting five-speed manual gearbox, although you can opt for a 1.6 Comfortline auto if you’re tired of clutch-in, clutch-out.
The 1.6 is a free-revving engine that has a pleasant, if slightly old-school throatiness about it that reminds me of some of the later Citi Golfs. Our test car drank 7.8 litres per 100km in mostly urban driving, which is not brilliant, but performance is certainly on the decent side, even at altitude.
On the flipside, it can be a bit noisy and at highway speeds there is a definite boominess penetrating the cabin, which brings us to another method VWSA has employed to save money - they’ve apparently removed some of the sound-deadening material. Exactly how much, they won’t say, but the car is a bit louder than is ideal at highway velocities. That’s said, it’s something I’d be willing to live with at this price point, and the same goes for all the other cost cutting measures.
None of the Vivos have electrically adjustable mirrors, for instance, so you now have to adjust them manually via stalks. The electric windows no longer have a one-touch function, the inner door armrests are now clad in hard plastic rather than cloth and gone are the large chrome-rimmed cowls that previously cloaked the speedo and rev counter. Open the boot and you’ll see exposed black-painted metal rather than carpeting on the rear seatbacks, which looks a bit tacky.
Thankfully VW has retained that beautifully crafted, slush-moulded soft-touch dash, and - in Highline and GT models at least - it still has plenty of satin chrome garnishing to break up the grey monotony.
It might be missing a few trimmings here and there, but the cabin is still a class act at this price point. VWSA hasn’t cut ergonomic corners either as the steering wheel on all models is still adjustable for both reach and height, while all but the base model feature steering controls and height adjustment for the driver’s seat.
Rear legroom is a little on the tight side, but the boot is decent by class standards, swallowing 280 litres according to VW.
All Vivos get an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity as standard, but the Highline and GT get the six-speaker ‘340G’ touch-screen interface complete with App Connect. The system pairs easily with modern phones, and displays the content in an easily legible manner.
As for safety, the Vivo loses the previous Polo’s side airbags, but retains the obligatory front bags and ABS brakes, while 1.6 and 1.0T models get traction control and tyre pressure monitoring as standard.
There’s little to tell it apart from the previous Polo in exterior design terms, apart from minor alterations to the front bumper, grille (now single-slat) and taillights, while the indicator repeater lights move from the mirrors to the front fenders and there are some new wheel designs.
Sure, VW has cut costs here and there, yet most of the good stuff that made the previous Polo a class act is still there and pricing is spot on. The latest Polo Vivo offers a comfy ride, smart cabin and, in 1.6-litre form at least, it’s actually quite fun to drive. All considered, this is easily the best value-for-money new car in its class right now.