Vauxhall's little VIVA is at its most frugal in ecoFLEX guise. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
In a small car market headlining style over substance, the reality is that it's actually the most practical and affordable models that often sell most strongly. Models like this one, Vauxhall's VIVA, tested here in sensible ecoFLEX guise. Parallels with older Vauxhalls bearing that badge are few but one thing remains the same: you get a lot of car for the money.
It's about time Vauxhall brought us a really credible super-affordable five-door citycar - and this is it, the VIVA. The name might be familiar, but the car is very much of its time, pitching the Griffin brand into contention in a segment that's doubled in size in recent years. Here, we're looking at the cleanest and most economical ecoFLEX version which, thanks to a range of efficiency tweaks can return over 65mpg on the combined cycle and under 100g/km of CO2 from its tiny three cylinder 1.0-litre etrol engine.
As well as that, there's modern connectivity for the Facebook generation and a little extra size over the citycar norm means that it ought to be practical too. It'll need a bit more than that though, to make real headway in such a competitive segment. Does this Vauxhall have what it takes? Let's find out.
Power comes courtesy of a single 75PS 1.0-litre ECOTEC normally aspirated engine that's quiet, revvy - and faster than every other entry-level 1.0-litre petrol rival, making 62mph from rest in 13.1s. The ride is firm, but supple enough over all but the worst surfaces. There's quite a lot of noise at speed but bodyroll's well controlled and the slick gearchange means you can enjoy getting the most from the little three cylinder twin cam engine. In town, a light 'City' option on the steering makes parking easy too.
On to ride quality, which is also pretty good, perfected, says Vauxhall, over twelve months of development on UK roads. It's certainly firm and crashes a bit over deep potholes and speed humps but overall, deals with most of the poor and uneven urban surfaces you'll come across pretty well. Around town, you'll also appreciate the convenience of the 'City' button that lightens the steering for simpler parking and facilitation of quite a tight 10.4m turning circle.
Design and Build
Vauxhall doesn't need to make this model cutsey and cuddly. If that's the kind of thing you want from a citycar, then the brand has its endlessly-personalisable ADAM model to suit. Instead, British designer Mark Adams and his team have decided that this VIVA should be a more sensible proposition, though still a very smartly turned-out one in a practically stylish sort of way, with a neat, precise design philosophy that, unlike some rivals, isn't too gender-specific.
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
If you want your VIVA in entry-level guise or with air conditioning, you won't be able to specify it in ecoFLEXguise. This green-minded package costs a couple of hundred pounds more than the entry-level version would cost - which means a price pitched at just over £8,000. Still, that gives you a lot of car for the money.
Equipment includes daytime running lights, an alarm, powered door mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, a 'City' mode to lighten the steering when parking and driver's seat height adjustment. And impressively, all VIVA variants get features you'd have to do without on all but the most ridiculously-priced versions of rivals - things like heated mirrors, front foglights with a cornering function and cruise control with a speed limiter that'll help safeguard your licence in roadworks or urban areas. That's in addition to the standard stuff you'd now expect on a car in this class - 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a trip computer and a decent quality four-speaker stereo with aux-in connectivity.
Cost of Ownership
The advantage of choosing your VIVA with ecoFLEX trim is that your running costs improve from those offered by the standard version (61.8mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2). Thanks to low rolling resistance tyres and various aerodynamic improvements, an ecoFLEX VIVA will be able to return 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2. The latter figure gives you a low benefit in kind company car taxation rating of 14% and means you won't have to pay a penny in road tax. Doubtless Vauxhall could have improved further on these fuel and CO2 stats if they'd fitted this car with a six-speed manual gearbox and an engine stop/start system.
What else? There's the usual unremarkable three year/60,000 mile warranty. Residuals will probably be par for the course for mainstream-branded models in this class. And insurance is rated at group 3E. Finally, servicing is every year or 20,000 miles, whichever comes first and a fixed-price service plan is available.
Ultimately the basics just have to be right for a model in this segment - and here, most of them are, especially if you choose the frugal ecoFLEX variant we've been looking at here. True, the VIVA isn't the most economical or the most spacious citycar you can buy but it does enough in both of these areas to satisfy the needs of most buyers and does so at a price that makes many rivals look needlessly expensive.
Will all of that be enough to allow the brand to carve out a meaningful niche in this segment? Time will tell, but we'd suggest the signs to be promising, Vauxhall having given this VIVA every chance to succeed. They've delivered us a contender bearing a British badge with German heritage from an American company in a design that's screwed together in Korea. Proving beyond doubt that even with tiny cars, manufacturers have to think big.