Vauxhall's smallest car will make more of an impact than its predecessors. June Neary checks out the VIVA
Will It Suit Me?
Vauxhall urgently needs to make a splash in the small car sector. The public at large simply don't register that the British marque if they're looking for something smaller than a supermini. The company has long offered its Agila model in the citycar segment, but that was little more than a re-badged Suzuki Splash. If things were to change, the brand's management decided, then a more competitive car must be offered - and this is it, the VIVA.
The name might bring Vauxhalls of yesteryear to mind but in fact, this is very much a design of the General Motors present, built in Korea and designed to offer a more spacious, better-value alternative to the Volkswagen up! and Peugeot 108 models that dominate the citycar segment. I thought I'd try a VIVA for size.
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 profile is probably its best feature, as usual with modern Vauxhalls featuring this signature lower 'blade' crease that we first saw on the brand's sleek GTC coupe. Two other slashes define the sculpted flanks, running through front and rear door handles to give the shape some interest and attitude. I also like the way that the plastic wheeltrims on this base-spec model have been styled to look like proper alloys, though the real things do add an extra touch of style.
Time to take a seat inside. Upfront, the experience is unremarkable, but I was impressed by how much space there was in the rear for this class of car. The VIVA is 140mm longer than something comparable like a Volkswagen up and has over 100mm more wheelbase length than you'd get in a rival like Peugeot's 108. These are differences you notice here. The VIVA's back seat offers enough room for a six-footer to sit behind a similarly-sized driver. I'd want to specify the extra-cost 'FlexConnect' system that clips onto the front seatbacks and gives you attachments that'll hold a flask, a shopping bag or a jacket in place. Plus they'll hold a tablet too, so at minimal cost, you can get yourself what amounts to a rear seat infotainment system to keep the kids quiet if necessary.
Talking of kids, equally important for me as a family person is that you get three proper seatbelts in the back - most rivals in this class only provide two. No of course three adults wouldn't want to sit alongside each other for very long, though should that be necessary, the boxy shape's decent levels of headroom will help. The point here though is that a trio of kids could be accommodated if necessary. That feature alone would make me more likely to consider this car.
Behind the Wheel
Cars like this one belong in the city and should be fitted with an engine to match that remit. Not a diesel - buyers wouldn't like the pricier fuel and the more expensive asking price. Not an electric or hybrid unit either: the whole point is that a car of this kind should be really affordable. Instead, what's needed is a petrol engine fast enough to nip through gaps in the traffic, without being needlessly powerful. Given these criteria, I think Vauxhall has pitched things pretty much perfectly in equipping this car with a normally aspirated 75PS version of the high-tech three cylinder 1.0-litre ECOTEC petrol powerplant that's found in turbocharged guise in the brand's Corsa and ADAM models.
It doesn't need to be turbocharged here because that kind of performance simply isn't required at this price point. The normally aspirated configuration is quite sufficient and to be frank, I'm a bit fed up with reading copy from spoiled hacks complaining that it doesn't make this VIVA go very fast. The reality is that, as usual, they haven't done their homework. If you're comparing this Vauxhall against the entry-level 1.0-litre citycar models it undercuts on price, then it's actually the fastest car in its class, dealing with the rest to 62mph sprint in 13.1s, en route to 106mph. Yes, there are citycar contenders with more powerful engines that'll take you faster than that in this segment, but they'll cost you up to 30% more than Vauxhall is asking here.
Value For Money
Where once, Vauxhall had its Chevrolet sister brand to compete with the very cheapest offerings in the citycar segment, the company must now alone take on the most affordable models in this sector. Hence tight pricing for this VIVA in the £8,000 to £10,000 bracket, figures that see it offering a saving of around £1,800 over a directly comparable 70PS five-door version of Vauxhall's only slightly larger Corsa supermini.
Buying a VIVA should certainly be a pretty straightforward process. There's just one five-door bodystyle and the range was launched with a single 75PS 1.0-litre ECOTEC petrol engine with a choice of manual or 'Easytronic' automatic transmission. The trim structure's simple too. Most will want the base spec which comes in either 'Air Con' or 'ecoFLEX' guises, but if you'd like something a bit nicer, there's a plusher 'SL' option at the top of the range.
Could I Live With One?
This VIVA is the first Vauxhall citycar that I'd be comfortable buying and owning. Okay, so the VIVA badge unashamedly plunders a bit of retro appeal, but Vauxhall needs this car to be noticed. Unlike the company's flashier ADAM small runabout, there are no styling gimmicks or fashionable personalisation options to make it stand out in the showroom. Instead, the Griffin brand is relying on buyers to appreciate this car's common sense and no-nonsense approach to things. And the way that it's been equipped far beyond the level you'd expect it to be for the money. All the ingredients then, seem to be in place for success.