Tested: 2011 Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT

The local mix

Previous, current and prospective Citi Golf owners should pay extra attention today as I’ve just tested the modern equivalent of their favourite urban runabout. That’s right; if you had/have/want that nippy little number from three decades ago, there’s now a fresher alternative.

We all know and love South Africa because it is so amazingly unique, which also spills over into its automotive market. Some manufacturers answered criticism of new car pricing with revitalised oldies – why spend money at the shops when you can cook up some tasty leftovers.

Unless I haven’t stated it before, let me do it now: I loved the Citi Golf. Just like European fans of the Golf Mk1, I couldn’t believe that such a legend was still available out-of-the-box and just like most of you, my memory banks are littered with Citi, Designa, CTi, Shuttle, Chico, Deco, VeloCiti and Rox.

The Citi Golf was a legendary SA creation; long after the beloved original disappeared, our Eastern Cape crew kept building the seventies relic. Bold colours, wild trim and zany marketing dragged the poor thing into the 21st century where its eventual demise was a lack of modern safety and convenience features.

After a tearful au-revoir, Volkswagen SA started work on its successor in the shape of the Vivo. Once the brand-new Polo arrived, VWSA continued previous Polo production with an alleged 70% of parts supplied by small local manufacturers that make the Polo Vivo another unique Mzanzi project.

And so we have a follow-up Citi in our midst. The previous and hugely popular Polo lives on with reduced pricing and reduced spec. It offers value for money, decent safety and convenience in a tried and trusted package with two or four doors, different trim levels and two petrol engines. Sound familiar?

It should. Modern cars (especially of the expensive variety) are getting increasingly numb and clinical, so the first thing that struck me about the Vivo was its no-nonsense technology and seat-of-your-pants driving characteristics. It’s not quiet and refined. It feels alive.

Probably even more so in this GT-specification: take the standard two-door shape and drop in the range-topping 1.6-litre motor, then add some go-faster bits. Lowered suspension, GT badges and stickers, roof spoiler, two chrome tailpipes, shiny dash inlay, bright red seatbelts, stitching and seat patterns distinguish this Vivo from an Avis car.

It also has two airbags, ABS brakes with emergency force distribution (EBD), adjustable leather steering wheel, power steering, electric front windows, air-con, alarm and immobiliser, remote central locking, 15-inch alloy wheels and a single-DIN CD/mp3/Aux/Bluetooth radio.

The manually adjusted exterior mirrors save money, the steering wheel doesn’t have satellite controls for radio & co., there’s no cruise control or dual window control, but you’ll get used to all that. The only other criticism is that the build quality isn’t on today’s high VW standards – also ok for a price of just N$155,320.

Driving the Polo Vivo GT pays homage to mildly warm Citi Golfs of days past. The sporty seats are supportive, the clutch takes high up, the five-speed gear lever is low down, handling is taut and lively, the engine growls, the exhaust hisses, and the instruments are hard to read during the day.

The ride is reasonably firm and predictable, performance isn’t amazing but I would happily call it adequate and fun. Just like oupa Citi, the Vivo GT happily burns rubber or under-steers wildly when provoked – no ESP will save you from explaining to Dad how you buckled three mags.

The 1598ccm 16-valve engine kicks out 77kW (105hp) or 155Nm in a linear, if somewhat coarse, fuel-injected manner. Average consumption is 6.6L/100km and CO2 output just 157g/km. Fuel tank size is 45L, boot size 270L (extending to 635L with the rear seats folded flat) and the Vivo GT weighs just 1089kg.

That means it sprints past 100km/h in 10.6 seconds and reaches a maximum of 187km/h – plenty, plenty for young, enthusiastic drivers. I’m sure a few Vivo GT’s will be modified for more, yet the standard package has a convincing mix of spec, price and driving appeal; including a 3-year/120,000km warranty.

It may be the most expensive Vivo to date and have a senseless badge, but I believe it’s worth the premium and spices up an otherwise mundane range of regurgitated cars. Where else can you buy an old favourite with trusted technology, local content and a dollop of fun? Man, I love South Africa.


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