Review: 2018 Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT

Review: 2018 Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT

VW’s Vivo GT will cause sleepless nights for contenders such as the Kia Picanto and Toyota Etios, says Thomas Falkiner

Nice to see you driving something most of us can afford for a change!

Touché. Priced just south of R250 000, the new Vivo GT certainly isn’t going to break the bank. A fairly new addition to the Volkswagen range, it’s here to bring sleepless nights to the likes of the Kia Picanto, Renault Sandero and Toyota Etios.

New? It seems suspiciously familiar.

This is because the new Vivo range is built upon the old fifth-generation Polo that was replaced earlier this year. To drive the sticker price down, however, Volkswagen South Africa stripped away some of the old features, the most obvious being the rear electric windows. Yep, slip into the aft chamber and you’ll find old-school manual winders that’ll do the ’90s proud.

It also does without electric side mirrors, chrome instrument bevels or plush cloth door inserts. Swing open the rear hatch and you’ll find seat backs that are finished in exposed, easy-to-scratch metal — not ideal for those who do a lot of loading. There’s apparently less sound-deadening material present too, which means the cabin of the new Vivo isn’t as well insulated from road/wind noise as in the old Polo. These are small things though: nitpicks that do little to detract from what is an extremely well-built and comfortable cabin.

Externally little has changed. On the right day and in the right light, hardened Volkswagen anoraks might notice new front and rear aprons plus a pair of redesigned taillights. Other than that it remains the same old fifth-generation Polo we know and love.

Please say the new Vivo inherits the old Polo’s turbo engines. Does it?

The bad news is that the bottom-rung Vivo models are still making do with naturally aspirated 1.4 and 1.6-litre motors. The good news is that the range-topping GT model comes armed with the excellent three-cylinder turbocharged engine that did duty in the old Polo R-Line — a machine that impressed me when I drove it last year.

It needs a bit of revving to get going but once in its sweet spot this three-pot gives the Vivo GT a handy turn of pace. It sounds great too with its gruff, hard-edged thrum. I also loved the lengthy gear ratios VW spliced into the six-speed manual transmission. Sixth gear is super low, which means you can cruise comfortably above the national speed limit at little over 3000rpm. This is good for both fuel consumption and one’s sanity on longer trips. Nobody likes a screamer after 100km.

Small cars are becoming more tech savvy and generous. Is the Vivo included?

If by “generous” you mean feature-packed, then yes, it is. Highlights include a leather multi-function steering wheel, cruise control plus a colour touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay functionality. Linked to six speakers, this makes the Vivo GT feel pleasingly premium. You also score a tyre-pressure monitor and a trip-computer for help keeping track of fuel economy, range and distance etc.

Would you say it’s a fun car to drive?

As far as small entry-level cars go, it is. Those fifth-generation Polo underpinnings make the Vivo GT a capable whip: one that isn’t afraid of attacking bends with gusto. It’s quite impressive through corners thanks to a lowered suspension setup and (due to that feathery three-cylinder engine) not much weight over the nose.

Push it hard and you’ll find it comically resistant to understeer too. One annoying thing is the car’s traction control system that seemed to kick in for no reason — like driving through a highway cloverleaf when it nearly brought the car to a standstill. Bizarre. Luckily, there was no traffic behind me otherwise it could have ended badly.

So it gets your stamp of approval?

Definitely. For the price, the Volkswagen Vivo GT represents good value what with its high level of specification and excellent turbocharged motor. Especially when you compare it against the competition and, dare I say, even its newer sixth-generation Polo sibling. You really are getting a lot of bang for your buck here. – Thomas Falkiner

Fast Facts: Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT

Engine: 999cc three-cylinder turbo
Power: 81kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 9.3-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 196km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.6l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 102g/km
Price: From R245 000