Tested: 2023 Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT

Most people assume that a motoring journalist’s dream car list is made up of McLarens, Ferraris and M5’s but I’m here to tell you that mine contains obscure Kei cars, every Mercedes from the 1990’s and the Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT.

Yup, you read that right. I don’t lie awake at night sighing about some carbon-fibre Lamborghini or sobbing until I own a V10 M6, oh no, I keep my hands below the blanket in a desperate act of resisting midnight searches for Vivo GT’s on Autotrader. My favourite is the first generation with two doors; preferably in silver.

Why? Because I get my weekly fix of hybrid-turbo crossovers at work so I always yearn for the simplicity of a basic vehicle like Volkswagen’s locally-made and slightly warmed-up Vivo GT. The recipe is absolute genius. Re-use and improve a bland but great product, make it cheaper by building it locally, then add a few sporty bits to spice it up.

The Polo Vivo GT should be a complete runaway success but alas, our passenger car market and economy have split into two major factions: overpriced tech-laden crossovers and cheap-as-chips runabouts. And while the Vivo starts off in the latter camp, it loses ground to Korean- and Indian-made stuff when we factor in standard kit.

On top of that, at R342,000 this 1.0 TSi GT is priced well beyond the pain threshold of R5,000 per month (or about R250,000), so it occupies the slightly bizarre and rather empty niche of performance budget vehicles. And as mentioned above, those Polo-flavoured Hyundai ads about power windows and screen size weren’t just made for fun.

It’s unfortunately true. Even this range-topping GT derivative has rear windy-windows, manual air-conditioning and a comparatively small infotainment screen. Then again, I know quite a few people who prefer all these simple things to the extravagance or frustrating complication of their counterparts.

Speaking of simplicity, the previous Vivo GT’s wonderfully zesty 1.6L 4-cylinder power plant had to eventually make way for this more modern 1-litre turbo-petrol 3-cylinder unit, not only to improve its theoretical fuel consumption but also to give the little hatchback a fighting chance against high weight or altitude.

Power may only be 81kW but the torque figure of 200Nm is most welcome to anyone who carries plenty of cargo and/or lives in the mountains. VW thankfully gave the little car a six-speed manual gearbox, so there are plenty of ratios to get the most out of the 999cc motor’s peak torque band of 2,000 to about 5,000rpm.

Operated by a pleasingly light and responsive clutch, it’s one of two drawbacks to this drive train: you have to keep the rev counter above two grand at all times, and snappy shifts to second gear can sometimes end in the mechanical side tunnel of reverse. Other than that, this tiny turbo-charged three-pot is a wonderful upgrade to the Vivo GT theme!

Most of our testers were amused by its slightly lumpy three-cylinder sounds; which can easily be mistaken for a rough-running six pot. VW has no 0-100km/h claim so we did a few test runs, the best of which was 9.42 seconds. A single brake test from 100km/h was over in 2.73 seconds and 38.5 meters.

All of those are pretty impressive numbers, as is the claimed top speed of almost 200km/h.

To match the previously-mentioned light clutch and gear lever, both other pedals and the steering wheel are easy to use and modulate. Headlight intensity is most acceptable for halogen bulbs (optional LED’s), the standard audio system is also adequate, and the multi-level trip computer saved my usual rant about missing coolant gauges in modern vehicles.

It’s common knowledge that a Polo Vivo won’t win gymkhana events straight out of the box but rather shines with a pliant ride and predictable handling. I would like to congratulate VWSA for finding the perfect amount of suspension fettling and wheel size (214/40R17) to give this GT version a sportier yet tolerable ride.

The vehicle’s generous seat padding also adds to passenger comfort, especially at the front where you’ll find beefier sport-like seats. One of my personal highlights of these German budget cars is that they still feature an adjuster wheel for the front seat backrests; instead of the rudimentary release lever in Asian cars. Which can only be used at standstill.

At this point I’d like to lament the loss of the old GT’s red safety belts and GTi-inspired seat fabrics, plus the demise of the old 2-door model, although I will concede that it was not a huge sales hit. Interior space is commendable for a quartet of adults with a bit of luggage (280L), or reaches pleasing utility levels when you flatten the rear furniture to enjoy 950L of cargo room.

A few other noteworthy dimensions include the lowered ride height of just 128mm, a 10.6m turning radius, sub-4m length, and a claimed average of 4.6L/100km from the 45L tank. My personal best was at least 25% higher but I hasten to add that I was enjoying this car’s mid-range urgency a bit too much…

In closing, my time with the new Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1.0 TSi GT was just as enjoyable as my virgin outing with its 2010 ancestor. It’s nimble, practical, cheeky, fairly frugal, fun to drive and comes with an uncompetitive 3-year/120,000km warranty plus optional warranties at extra charge.

Despite that, I stand by my initial statement. I’ll happily buy a brand-new Vivo GT.

1 thought on “Tested: 2023 Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT”

Leave a Comment