REVIEW | Why the VW Polo Vivo GT is more fun than you expect

13 October 2023 - 09:26
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The range-topping Polo Vivo was recently given a fresh new look.
The range-topping Polo Vivo was recently given a fresh new look.
Image: Denis Droppa

The Polo Vivo hatchback is South Africa's best selling car. As spiritual successor to the Volkswagen Citi Golf, it provides hundreds of thousands of South Africans with frugal motoring at relatively affordable, if not rock bottom prices.

In a competitive compact hatchback league, about 120,000 second-generation Volkswagen Polo Vivos have been sold since its launch in 2018.

A car in a budget league needn’t mean it’s all about utility, however, and the range-topping Polo Vivo 1.0TSI GT provides styling and driving appeal to the mix. For 2023, the GT has been enhanced with a fresh new look that struts a more trendy image than the cheaper Polo Vivo in Trendline, Comfortline and Highline guises.

Priced at R341,800, the Polo Vivo GT has a three-year/120,000km warranty but no service or maintenance plan come standard — you have to purchase one extra.

the GT is a beacon to young buyers with its stylish 17-inch Mirabeau alloy wheels, GT decals on the sides and tailgate, bee sting aerial and silver mirror caps. It rides 15mm lower than regular Polo Vivos while a black tailgate spoiler and LED daytime running lights complete its sassy image.

Inside, visual verve is provided by GT letters embroidered in the mats, aluminium-look pedals and anthracite headlining and sun visors. The cloth inserts and stitch colours have been changed from blue to red and the car has front sports seats. 

The soft dashboard is an unusually premium touch in this market segment and gives the Polo Vivo a pleasantly upmarket feel. For the level of spec the Polo Vivo GT is a little on the pricey side. However, it has a solid heft, without the tinny feel of some rivals. In that respect it feels like a more expensive car in a small body.

In terms of equipment levels it’s a mixed bag. The GT has exclusive features such as automatic headlight control, automatic wipers and cruise control. The leather-clad multifunction steering wheel adjusts for height and reach and ensures drivers of all sizes can find a comfortable position.

In other respects there are signs of cost-cutting, including manually adjustable mirrors, manual rear windows and the electric front windows don’t have a one-touch function. There is just one USB port in the car and no vents or charging ports for the back seats.

Aluminium-look pedals help create a sporting interior vibe.
Aluminium-look pedals help create a sporting interior vibe.
Image: Supplied

Electronic stability control and ABS brakes make up the GT’s safety repertoire and there are dual front airbags.

Seating space in the rear is tight, more suited to young children than adults. It’s not a spacious car and family buyers seeking more cabin space will be better served by a roomier crossovers such as the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser for similar money.

That said, the Polo Vivo’s boot is a useful 289l — expanding to 952l with the rear seats folded — and contains a full sized spare.

The infotainment screen is small by modern standards but its functionality garners no complaints. It’s generally non-distracting and there are physical buttons to quick access the main functions.

The ride quality is decent, if a tad choppy, on the sporty 40-profile tyres. It’s an agile car through the corners and fun to drive, with decent gusto once the engine wakes up.

The GT is the only Vivo in the line-up driven by a 1.0l turbo-petrol, producing 81kW and 200Nm, and it’s available only as a six-speed manual.

Once you get the car into its power zone it performs with gusto.
Once you get the car into its power zone it performs with gusto.
Image: Denis Droppa

The engine has significant lag and you have to apply revs to wake it. Sometimes it leaves you with a dead spot when jostling in traffic and you have to stir the six-speed gearbox. Once in its power band it pulls with good voema, however, and has a creditable top speed of 196km/h.

It is well geared for fuel economy and cruises at the national speed limit at low rpm. It leads to a fairly frugal fuel consumption average of 6.7l/100km, though we managed under 6l when driving with a light foot.

The fuel sipping nature is a drawcard, given soaring petrol prices, and adds to the Polo Vivo GT being a likable package.

Once you learn to keep the engine in its power band it’s a pleasant drive and more fun than you expect, and the styling flair will attract compact hatchback buyers who have a little more money to spend.

VW Polo Vivo vs the competition

Toyota Starlet 1.5 XR, 77kW/138Nm — R319,100

Peugeot 208 1.2 Active, 55kW/118Nm — R334,900

Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic, 85kW/148Nm — R335,500

VW Polo Vivo 1.0TSI GT, 81kW/200Nm — R341,800

Opel Corsa 1.2T Lite, 74kW/205Nm — R349,900

Kia Rio hatch 1.4 LX, 73kW/135Nm — R359,995

Citroën C3 1.2 Shine, 81kW/205Nm — R374,900

Hyundai i20 1.0T Fluid, 90kW/172Nm — R386,500

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