The name Viva was first introduced by Vauxhall in 1963 – and became a suburban synonym for practicality, affordability and good value motoring. The Viva name is now back, but this time as a car pitched for the crowded city car sector. I had one for a week to find out if it’s as cheerful (or as cheap?) as it makes out to be.
There is a certain amount of reverse psychology when it comes to driving a Vauxhall Viva. The car, it seems, is actually largely defined by what isn’t there, rather than what is. Once you can get over the laughably bare spec sheet, however, the car can actually do a lot more than some of its rivals and isn’t a bad drive at all. Here’s my full review of Vauxhall’s latest addition to the ‘very cheap, very small’ market.
True to Vauxhall’s general preference for styling at the moment, the Viva isn’t a bad looking car, but I could possibly have done with it in a slightly different colour. Despite this, it seems to have the right proportions, sits well on the road and doesn’t look too tin-can like. It is however pretty anonymous – file in the ‘it’s just a car’ section. There aren’t any customisation options like you’d get with the Adam or some of the Viva’s competitors, but I doubt many people buying this kind of car would require them. It’s a small city car, but it definitely doesn’t put personalisation at the top of its agenda.
The less you expect from the Viva the more impressed you’ll be, but that doesn’t mean the drive itself isn’t remarkably solid. It’s got a lot of oomph around town, enough to keep you alert, but don’t expect overtaking or handling wonders. Or much ability to climb hills in 4th or 5th. Actually, there’s a lot of talk about how noisy the car itself is on the motorway, but to be honest having driven it more than 400 miles (mainly in the fast lane, if I’m honest…) it was actually perfectly good. With small cars like this, if you can still hear the radio, they’re doing well, and the Viva more than did the job here. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at the end of a long journey at all – contrary to what you might read. I actually think it was almost on a par with the Adam or even the Corsa in this sense.
Handling is a bit vague, I must admit, and there’s a distinct lack of speed related feedback – in ‘city’ mode, the steering is so light you’ll have to guess where the wheels are most of the time, but it does make zooming around small spaces a doddle. It’s inspires confidence in small spaces.
The gearbox is silky as anything, but the clutch bites hard and you’ll probably stall it a couple of times with the little engine and zero nm of torque. Just something to note on hills….
Interior and Kit
The Viva will feel familiar on the inside to those who know Vauxhall, but it departs from the likes of the Adam, Corsa and Astra in a few departments. Primarily, the centre console is, as you would expect, a lot more minimal but manages to be incredibly easy to use, putting functionality at the top of its priority list. It’s worth paying extra for some additional bits of kit – A/C and Bluetooth (yes, A/C is a £500 extra) are really worth going for – the phone pairing is particularly easy to use and transforms the car into something that’s actually fairly well equipped. The SE model is up there with the best equipped city cars, even if you have to pay for it, and you still don’t get a touchscreen (which can be added at a cost). I’d argue that in a car like this though, you wouldn’t need it, and it would pitch the car elsewhere financially.
Space inside isn’t exactly class leading – the boot was a bit small for my liking – but space in the back is adequate and there would be room to fit three people there should you be so inclined.
Price and Economy
As price is the main talking point of the Viva, it seems worthy of its own section. OTR prices start at £8,395, and although there’s a not a whole host of configurable options, it’s easy to see the price rise above £10,000 once you’ve got everything you want.
Economy is a real talking point however – from empty it cost me £30 to fill up the tank – which took me nearly 300 miles. Although I was doing long journeys, I rarely saw the Viva dip under 45mpg, which is definitely to be praised.
So the Vauxhall Viva then is a bit like a budget airline. People who have never been in one complain – they’ll mock the absence of equipment and facilities, and the lack of legroom. People who know better however know that it does its job very well. It doesn’t give you what you ostensibly don’t need, and it gets you from A to B in a surprising amount of comfort given its price. You can also pay for extras, which although fairly priced puts the car slightly out of its comfort zone within the sector.
The Vauxhall Viva is a car to be commended. We need more cheap cars on the road – that are both cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and insure and don’t take up lots of room. It’s lightweight, slow and doesn’t come with really anything at all, but if you remind yourself that the people buying something like this will know exactly why they are buying it, it does its job very well indeed. Lowering your expectations can sometimes be a very good thing indeed.