Your ultimate guide to the Volkswagen Polo Vivo Mk1

02 August 2021 - 09:35 By brenwin naidu
The Polo Vivo replaced the the aged Citi Golf.
The Polo Vivo replaced the the aged Citi Golf.
Image: Supplied

The storied history and social impact of the Volkswagen Citi Golf cannot be ignored.

But by the time it was put to pasture at the end of 2009 – more than 377,000 units later – the boxy anachronism, reheated tirelessly over decades, had nothing else to give.    

Especially on the safety front.

It can thank its lucky stars that the Global NCAP Safer Cars for Africa programme was not yet a thing. Yes, it gained a driver’s side airbag towards the end of its life, but that was unlikely to do much for a structure that was created in the 1970s.    

Bookmark a discussion about its birth and evolution for another time. Today we want to focus on its successor as the entry point into Volkswagen ownership: a model that was born from an identical ethos.    

That is, take an outgoing generation of a model line with which the public has an affinity, trim down the price by reducing content and rake in those sales.    

The Vivo name has its roots in Latin.
The Vivo name has its roots in Latin.
Image: Supplied

A new option

This time, Volkswagen South Africa took the fourth-generation Polo as its starting point. Like the Citi Golf, it would be built at the Eastern Cape facility in Kariega, formerly known as Uitenhage. The addition of a “Vivo” suffix denoted its budget-orientation, alongside the regular, fifth-generation Polo that was launched locally in January 2010.    

Vivo is of Latin etymology and directly translated means “the living” – cue imagery of life-loving, fresh-faced school-leavers nagging their parents for a new set of wheels. But like the Citi Golf, the premise of the Polo Vivo was not solely aimed at upstarts. Downsizing empty-nesters, fleet owners, basically anyone who needed thrifty, well-built compact transportation with the cachet of a trusted emblem.    

In March 2010 the first-generation Polo Vivo was launched. “[This] is a car born out of South African ingenuity and represents the can-do spirit of the South African nation,” the company said in its release. “Vivo is new and unexpected, Vivo is a positive and vibrant attitude towards life.”

The spartan interior of the 2010 Polo Vivo.
The spartan interior of the 2010 Polo Vivo.
Image: Supplied

Simple range   

It was initially launched in three formats. First up, a three-door hatchback, followed by a five-door. Then there was the four-door sedan. Kinship with the former fourth-generation Polo was strikingly evident in all aspects of design, inside and outside.    

The range of engines was simple, all normally-aspirated petrol choices with four cylinders. At the bottom, the 1.4 served up 55kW and 132Nm, a more powerful variation of the same mill delivered 63kW – and the same torque figure. Then you had a 1.6 with 77kW and 155Nm. All were mated to a five-speed manual.    

Base and Trendline were the only two model grades available at launch. And true to title, the former offering really was rather basic, especially if you went for the cheapest two-door. It had steel wheels, manual windows and a heater. Power-steering was included, thankfully, as well as dual front airbags and an immobiliser.   

If you wanted air-conditioning, a four-speaker radio system and an alarm with central locking, that would be extra. At least the five-door model threw in wheel covers, a rear windscreen wiper and a bee-sting aerial, while Trendline versions had anti-lock brakes.

Pricing started at R101,500 for the 55kW two-door. The five-door cost R109,900, while the Trendline with the 63kW motor cost R119,900. If you went for the 1.6 you would have paid R136,900 or R144,900 for the Trendline.

The sedan was a little more, pricing ranged from R115,800 to R150,800. A three-year/120,000km warranty and a six-year corrosion warranty were standard, with maintenance and service plans as options.

A raised ride height gave the Polo Vivo Maxx crossover appeal.
A raised ride height gave the Polo Vivo Maxx crossover appeal.
Image: Supplied

Warm reception   

Beyond the nostalgic, spiritual link with the old Citi, industry road testers had positive things to say about the new Vivo. It garnered praise for its confident on-road feel, soft-touch “slush material” dashboard and comfortable seats. But some criticisms were levelled at harder plastics elsewhere in the cabin, in addition to the intrusion of wind and road noise, plus the omission of features like air-conditioning.    

Trawling the new car sales figures for 2010, the Vivo became an instant hit. Take April, for example, after its official introduction a month before. They shifted 1,762 copies. Considerably more than the regular Polo (1,132) and trouncing its direct rival from Renault, the Sandero (490). So, the Vivo story took off where its square forebear left off, as a sales mainstay and top-seller for the German automaker.

Better specification   

In September 2010 Volkswagen heeded the cries from its customers and the press, by making air-conditioning standard in all models except the base two-door. In May the following year, after commemorating the achievement of 25,500 units, the company introduced an automatic transmission choice to the range. The six-speed Tiptronic was available with the 1.4 (63kW) engine, in both hatchback and sedan types, in Trendline guise. It cost between R140,965 and R146,865.

The two-door GT model bought sporty vibes to the Vivo recipe.
The two-door GT model bought sporty vibes to the Vivo recipe.
Image: Supplied

Expanding the range   

Those lusting after a sporting flavour were rewarded in October, when the spunky GT was released. At that point the brand was celebrating total sales of 40,000 units.

The GT was offered in the two-door body, powered by the 1.6-litre engine. And though outputs were unchanged, it made an appealing visual statement. For R155,320 you got a lower suspension, sport seats, red stitching for the steering wheel and handbrake boot, a tailgate spoiler, twin chrome tailpipes, red safety belts and 15-inch alloys.    

In February 2013 the Maxx variant of the Polo Vivo joined the range, taking its cue from the Cross Polo, with a more rugged aesthetic character. It had a price-tag of R160,300 new and was based on the five-door, 1.6 body, replete with 17-inch alloys and aluminium roof rails.    

The Vivo Street was certainly not a car for wallflowers.
The Vivo Street was certainly not a car for wallflowers.
Image: Supplied

Time for an update   

September 2014 saw a life-cycle refresh for the Vivo, with minor styling changes. New equipment lines were introduced: in addition to middle-range Trendline, buyers had Conceptline and Blueline towards the bottom, with Comfortline offering highest specification. Anti-lock brakes, an alarm and central locking were made standard across the board.

New options included cruise control, leather upholstery and alarm sensors. The engine range remained the same. Pricing had gone up notably since initial launch. Now the entry-level five-door (Conceptline; 55kW) model kicked off at R148,700 and the top-grade Comfortline would have set you back R177,500.     

The Vivo Eclipse was yet another special edition.
The Vivo Eclipse was yet another special edition.
Image: Supplied

Special editions   

June 2015 was the starting point for an assortment of special editions, marked first by the Eclipse. Available in hatchback or sedan, the Eclipse could be had in black or white paint, while upgrades comprised 16-inch wheels, lower suspension and chrome accents. It was based on the 63kW 1.4 and new prices ranged between R168,600 and R174,600.    

In November that year, the Vivo Street offered a meaner persona, dropping the ride height by 7mm, adding silver exterior string, 15-inch alloys and special seat trim. At this time the GT was also enhanced, sporting new wheels and upholstery.

Lastly, a Style package was introduced to Trendline and Comfortline derivatives, throwing in leather seats, cruise control and chrome interior garnishes. New shades were added to the Vivo range that month: Sunset Red, Blue Silk, Pepper Grey and a Honey Orange exclusive to the Maxx.    

The Xpress was a popular workhorse with small businesses.
The Xpress was a popular workhorse with small businesses.
Image: Supplied

What, a workhorse?!   

In an attempt to gain share in the commercial market, the half-ton Vivo Xpress was launched in March 2016. 

“The Xpress, the brainchild of chairman and MD of Volkswagen Group South Africa, Thomas Schaefer, was designed and developed locally by the engineering division in Uitenhage in response to requests from fleet owners for a small delivery vehicle from Volkswagen,” said the company.    

A 519kg payload and 1,060l loading volume was on offer, while specification was based on the 1.4 Conceptline. The suspension was raised by 15mm and it was homologated as an N1 commercial vehicle, allowing buyers to claim back on VAT. It cost R163,700.

The GTS replaced the GT.
The GTS replaced the GT.
Image: Supplied

Last hurrahs    

Also in March, the Vivo GT was replaced by the GTS. It still ran the 1.6 motor and styling accoutrements of the GT, but packed new decals and cost R197,200.

Then came the Vivo Storm in October, armed with front fog-lights sporting chrome surrounds, chrome-tipped tailpipes, special decals, a two-tone dashboard and three-tone seat trim, to name a few details. Based on the 1.4 (63kW), it cost R187,300.    

As a final hurrah before the new Polo Vivo would be launched, Volkswagen dropped one last special edition of the outgoing version. Enter the Citi Vivo, a throwback to the red, yellow and blue launch colours of the 1984 original. It was based on the 1.4 Conceptline (55kW) and cost R177,300 at launch in March 2017.

The Citi Vivo saluted the original Citi Golf.
The Citi Vivo saluted the original Citi Golf.
Image: Supplied

Running costs    

The simplicity of its makeup, basis on proven mechanicals and local origin mean that running costs for the Vivo are relatively low. We called up a local Volkswagen dealership and made enquiries. A minor oil service can cost upwards of R2,500. A major service might set you back upwards of R5,500. Service intervals are 15,000km.   

Replacing the four brake discs and pads may run into the region of R10,500 – or R4,500 if you opt for the brand’s in-house, generic parts, for which we were told not all model years are eligible. We were also told that the disparities in costs between the 1.4 and 1.6 are negligible or non-existent, depending on the job.

Of course, nothing stops you from foregoing the main dealer altogether and visiting your trusted, RMI-approved workshop. In the 2016 Kinsey Report, which compiles parts prices of vehicles sold in SA, the Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline had a total basket of R56,968.94, or 32.91% of its asking price (R173,100).

In its category it placed third overall, behind the Datsun Go 1.2 Lux and Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia + but ahead of cars like the Toyota Etios 1.5 Xs, Volkswagen Move Up 1.0, Honda Brio 1.2 Comfort, Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL, Hyundai i10 1.1 Motion, Kia Picanto 1.0 LS and Ford Figo 1.5 Trend.    

Red, yellow or blue – there's a Vivo for you.
Red, yellow or blue – there's a Vivo for you.
Image: Supplied

Used market options    

Because there are so many copies of the Vivo in existence, finding the right example ought not to be too difficult.    

We would cap spend at R150,000 however. Moving further north of that could make little sense, since, for upwards of R159,000 you could be getting into a second-generation Polo Vivo from 2018.

There are a lot of Mk1 Vivo specimens out there, as we saw on the classifieds. From dinged-up, battle-scarred ones with missing wheel covers, to seemingly pampered specimens that would fit the “grandmother going to church once weekly” descriptor.     We singled out the nicer ones, of course, from legitimate dealerships. If age doesn’t put you off, you could have a three-door from 2011, with 103,000km on the odometer for R79,900. From the same year, a five-door with 148,000km was going for R99,900.    

A 2016 Xpress with 91,537km was listed at R109,950. About R120,000 gets you into a 2016 1.4 Trendline with 60,500km. How about a GT then? Not very easy to find, but we saw one with 99,000km on, 2014 registration, with a going price of R124,995. A 2013 Maxx with 88,185km was seen listed for R129,900.   

There was also a 2017 Citi Vivo with 60,000km for R144,900. Stretching budget to the absolute maximum revealed a 2016 Vivo Street, with just under 70,000km, selling for R149,995 – and from a Volkswagen Master Cars section.


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