16 March 2010 ~ 22 Comments

Viva la Vivo! Volkswagen South Africa launches affordable ‘budget’ Polo

We don’t mind admitting that this was a surprise. For 25 years, the entry point into Volkswagen South Africa’s (VWSA) range was the Citi Golf, a heavily revised version of the Series 1 Golf. With the original Golf’s lifespan running from 1974 to 1983, VWSA decided to keep building the car it had been manufacturing locally since 1978, turning it into an inexpensive locally-made affordable base model. The Citi Golf did extremely well and in January 2010, more than a quarter of a century since it was first launched, the final car went on sale. Last week its successor was unveiled and, to be honest, it wasn’t what we were expecting.

The Polo Vivo is the company’s new entry-level car in the affordable A0 segment. Based on a heavily-revised and facelifted Series 4 (9N3) Polo, the newcomer gets a new slimline front grille and sculpted bumpers, all bearing more than a passing resemblance to those fitted to the new fifth-generation (6R) Polo launched in 2009. Other changes include the removal of the side rubbing strips and relocated side repeaters which now sit in the headlamps, moved down from the door mirrors.

Of course, the basic body architecture and outline can be traced back to the original 9N Polo of 2001. Facelifted in 2005 to become the 9N3, the Polo Vivo is essentially a facelift of a facelifted car. Never mind though, Volkswagen South Africa have done this sort of thing before; the 1996-2002 Polo Playa was a Series 2 SEAT Ibiza, with VW roundels on the front grille and tailgate. The Playa name itself was even used as recently as 2006.

The Polo Vivo is not without merit, though, and let’s not forget, the 9N/9N3 Polo is a well-made and refined car, so VWSA’s new baby should be, too. Built at the Uitenhage factory and sharing production line space with the new Polo, 70% of the Vivo’s parts are provided by local suppliers, making the car more affordable to own and maintain. In theory at least. VW’s South African plant has undergone massive investment and is also the only Volkswagen factory to manufacture both right-hand drive five-door new Polo and CrossPolo models.

VWSA state that the cornerstones of the Polo Vivo brand are affordability, quality, safety, space and comfort. As well as three- and five-door hatchbacks, the Polo Vivo will be also be available as more traditional four-door saloon (sedan). In keeping with the car’s ‘basic’ nature, there’s only a choice of three petrol engines. Two 1.4-litre powerplants developing 74bhp and 84bhp are joined by a 1.6 unit with 104bhp (both the higher output engines are shared with the new Polo). Trim levels are even more restricted, with just Base and Trendline to choose between. All models are fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, and an auto is reportedly in the offing.

Prices start at R101,500 for the base-model three-door 1.4 with 74bhp, rising to R144,900 for the 1.6 Trendline with five-doors. The Vivo Sedan range kicks off at R115,800 for the 74bhp 1.4, while the top-of-the-tree 1.6 Trendline costs R150,800. Standard kit on all cars includes power steering, a rake-and-reach-adjustable steering column and dual airbags. Upgrade to a Trendline and get ABS on the 1.4s and 14” ‘Portland’ alloy wheels on all versions. All 1.6 cars come with ABS and remote central locking, while 1.6 Trendlines add a radio/CD/USB system and front electric windows. Air-conditioning is available as an option on all models.

The established brand equity of the Polo brand in South Africa encouraged Volkswagen to use the name on the new car as an extension of the well-known badge. VWSA say that the Polo Vivo is not a replacement for the Citi Golf, rather ‘an affordable Volkswagen mobility solution for first-time buyers looking to be introduced into the brand promise of “Das Auto”. It is a sensible package offering customers a no-compromise entry level car.’ Quite. But what owners of recent, standard, 9N/9N3 Polos will make of the newcomer remains to be seen – their cars were built in the same factory and no doubt cost more than the Vivo.

But, we welcome news of another new Polo in whatever form it takes here at PoloDriver, so were pleased and pleasantly surprised about the Vivo’s arrival. The car adds to the family of Series 4 Polo-derived variants still going strong in other parts of the world such as China and South America, and its ‘budget’ ethos is similar to that of those models. With the Vivo, VWSA has given the Series 4 Polo a new lease of life and it should provide strong competition to the upcoming Ford Figo (itself based on the 2002-2008 Fiesta), Kia Picanto, Hyundai i10, Peugeot 107 and Renault Sandero. Viva la Vivo! Click any picture below to see more.

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