Vauxhall revives an old favourite nameplate with the Viva, a citycar that's now the brand's entry level vehicle. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Vauxhall Viva is a city runabout that relies on substance to make sales. Is this a risky strategy? Not really. When it comes to the smallest cars, the most practical models make the biggest numbers and this 1.0-litre five-door hatch looks to have all the right objective figures sewn up.
You're probably going to have defining memories of your childhood. One of mine is the black vinyl rear seats of my father's Vauxhall Viva and how they would become hotter than the surface of Venus during summer road trips around Spain. No air con, a rattly old 1.3-litre engine and suspension that owed more to horse and cart tech, that old Viva never let us down. So, if you'll forgive a certain personal indulgence here, it's great to see Vauxhall revive the badge for a new generation. Clearly things have come on a long way since the last Viva rolled off the production line in 1979, after a sixteen-year run. Chevettes and Astras were then the way forward, but there's now space at the foot of Vauxhall's range for the Viva to be reborn as a five-door citycar. Let's take a look at what's in store.
The Viva has been built around Vauxhall's latest 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. In this guise, it makes 75PS worth of power, which is probably about adequate for a citycar. More engines may be announced in time, but the powerplant requirements for a small city scoot like this are usually quite simple. Models of this sort don't cover enough miles for a diesel engine to be worth fitting and lighter is better if you want the sort of jinky manoeuvrability delivered by the best urban runabouts. This ECOTEC 1.0-litre engine drives the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox and the suspension and steering has been optimised for comfort on the sort of pock-marked streets that typify most British cities. Like its bigger brother, the Adam, the Viva gets a 'City' mode that lightens the steering even further to help take the effort out of parking.
Design and Build
Vauxhall's previous citycar offering, the Agila, was a model that never really got the credit it deserved, but the Viva looks set to do better. The styling is neat and assured, with none of the overtly cutesy flourishes that make certain small cars very gender specific. The Viva could well appeal to lads as well as lasses, with its purposeful front end, signature Z-slash that runs through the door handles in the side swage line, plus some neat alloy wheel designs. It's available in ten exterior paint colours with a variety of 14- to 16-inch wheel choices. Designed by Mark Adams' team in Europe, the Viva is built at GM Korea's plant in Changwon and is a sister car to the new generation Chevrolet Spark model that Britain now won't get. The interior looks well built and maturity is again a dominating theme. There's a signal lack of over-design, with a simple but classy two-dial instrument cluster, plenty of headroom, a chunky steering wheel and clearly legible minor controls. If you'd prefer something a bit more outre and personalised, then it's simple to step up to the brand's trendier ADAM model, though you'd need a bigger budget to do that. At 3,700mm long, the Viva is marginally longer than a Fiat 500 but has space for five inside (just!) due to a wheelbase that's fully 100mm longer than that of a Peugeot 108.
Market and Model
There's only only a single five-door bodystyle and a single 1.0-litre 75PS petrol engine on offer with drive via a manual gearbox. Prices start at around £8,500, ranging up to around £10,000 - competitive figures for the citycar segment. Still, at least there's a reasonable choice of trim. The VIVA range consists of two main spec levels: SE, and SL which is a trim name carried over from the original Vauxhall Viva. There are Air Con and ecoFLEX versions of the SE trim, giving customers a choice of four decently-specified models (SE, SE Air Con, SE ecoFLEX and SL). Both VIVA trim levels feature a tyre pressure monitoring system, city mode steering, lane departure warning, cruise control with speed limiter and front fog lights with cornering function. Safety items include ESP with traction control, cornering brake control, emergency brake assist, straight line stability control and hill start assist. All VIVA models also feature six airbags, AM/FM radio with aux-in and steering wheel controls, electric front windows, electric/heated mirrors and remote central door locking. The green-minded VIVA SE ecoFLEX variant goes further, offering buyers a front lip spoiler, an extended rear spoiler with LED brake light and ultra-low rolling resistance tyres. At the top of the range, SL trim features electronic climate control, Morocanna seat trim, leather steering wheel and 15-inch alloy wheels. Other highlights include six speakers, USB audio connection, Bluetooth music streaming and mobile phone portal. Options available include a Winter Pack (heated seats and steering wheel), rear parking sensors and an electric glass sliding sunroof.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.0-litre engine makes some decent economy figures, with the ecoFLEX model recording 65.7mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle. Even if you don't go for that version, you'll still see 62.8mpg. Around town, that figure drops to 52.3mpg in the ecoFEX and 50.4mpg in non-ecoFLEX branded cars. Emissions range between 99g/km and 104g/km, so choose carefully if you want to minimise your bills. Residual values for the Viva have yet to be calculated, but any small car with an economical engine and a decent warranty tends to stack up well when it comes to retaining value.
The Vauxhall Viva is clearly taking the softly-softly approach to sales. It's relying on buyers to appreciate its common sense and its no nonsense approach to things. And it's hoping they'll value its maturity and quality over styling gimmicks and marketing stunts. Okay, so the Viva badge unashamedly plunders a bit of retro appeal, but Vauxhall needs this car to be noticed. Ultimately though, the basics just have to be right for a model in this segment. The nation's best-selling citycar is the Hyundai i10, a car that does all the important, sensible things really well. This Viva looks to have been designed to follow suit. Time will tell. The early signs look promising, Vauxhall having given this car every chance to succeed. A British badge with German heritage from an American company on a car that's screwed together in Korea? It just proves that even with tiny cars, manufacturers have to think big.