Review: 2018 VW Polo Vivo 1.6 Highline

Review: 2018 VW Polo Vivo 1.6 Highline

We have driven some rather nice machines in the past 12 months, from luxury SUVs to exotic supercars. They all have something different to offer and provide motoring enjoyment in different ways, but one of the cars that has provided the most driving pleasure is not a name you might expect — it’s the Volkswagen Polo Vivo.

Seriously, the Polo Vivo. The stripped-out version of the last generation Polo was so enjoyable to spend a week with I didn’t want to give it back. To give you more of an idea of how impressed I was with it, I had no hesitation in giving back the new Polo, as good as it might be.

Not everyone will understand my view. The new Polo offers quality, refinement, ride comfort and equipment. It even took the World Urban Car of the Year title recently.

In the Vivo, VW has ripped out a vast amount of the sound deadening material from the old Polo, given the rear doors window winders instead of electric windows (my five-year old was fascinated) and put in old halogen headlamps to replace the designer units of the old Polo.

Yes, it’s more basic, but it still has the shape of the old Polo and most people will need to see them parked side by side to spot the difference, especially if you take off the Polo Vivo sticker on the back (the old Polo had a proper badge). That is bad news for owners of the old Polo, who will be wondering about their resale values in a country where people like a new car but VW will argue that the specification levels are very different.

Back to why I found the Vivo so endearing though. It uses an old 1.6-litre petrol motor, but with about 10kg of equipment removed, you can hear the engine better. It never screams like a three-cylinder can and combined with a superb five-speed manual gearbox, the way it delivers its 77kW and 153Nm was incredible fun.

It’s all normally-aspirated fun, so no turbo and no front wheel spin. There’s no torque steer, just smooth effortless power until you get into the upper levels of the rev counter where it becomes a little strained. Again, not everyone will understand this but drop a gear and go and it just does exactly what you want it to.

I wanted to take the long way home every day, not along the highway even though it was great there too with its cruise control and good ride, but through the back roads. It’s no speedster — if you want that go for the GT. This is good, honest, involved and fun driving.

So it ticks the fun box, something we did not expect, but it also ticks the equipment box. It might have windy rear windows, a terrible middle seat lap belt and a boot that closes like a kitchen cupboard, but it has cruise control and a touchscreen infotainment system that can be linked to your phone and that can stream music.

The driving position is spot on, the ergonomics as well thought out as they were in the old Polo, and it all has a quality feel. The dash is covered in thick padded plastic — VW could have downgraded it but they didn’t. Even the materials surrounding the instrument cluster are better than the plastics around the instrument cluster of the new Range Rover Velar.

So the new Polo Vivo is a rather good package, but as the budget segment of the market continues to grow faster than any other, does it compete on price? Here things are not so good because at R214,900, it might have great materials and a fancy touchscreen infotainment system, but it is more expensive than competitors such as the Renault Sandero and Toyota Etios. The Etios is cheap and nasty and in no way comparable to the quality of the Vivo, but even the 1.5 Sprint undercuts the VW by nearly 30 grand. And you could get a Sandero Stepway and still have R5 000 change.

In the quality stakes, the Vivo is better than both of those main rivals, but the price difference is too much (the range starts at R179 900), especially as you get similar equipment in the Renault although not quite as good.

I would take the Vivo over the new Polo, not just because it is so much fun to drive, but because VW has left in everything that makes it better value for money, even at the price. – Mark Smyth

Fast Facts: Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1.6 Highline

Engine: 1598cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 77kW at 5 250rpm
Torque: 153Nm at 3 800rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
0-100km/h: 10.8-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 188km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 6.2l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 148g/km (claimed)
Price: From R214 900