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Car review: Vauxhall Viva is a winning combination of charm and simplicity

Carlton Boyce / 04 July 2016

Bold and cheeky, Vauxhall's Viva has an extraordinarily low price and is cheap to run and insure.

Saga Magazine reviews the Vauxhall Viva
Saga Magazine reviews the Vauxhall Viva




Car manufacturers are alive to the fact that nostalgia is a powerful and wonderful thing; most, if not all, now have a heritage fleet stuffed with models from their past and it’s not at all uncommon to have journalists making a beeline for the classics, much to the consternation of the PR people who would much prefer us to spend our day driving their latest release.

Customers find nostalgia as appealing as we do, hence the proliferation of evocative names of new cars. Vauxhall’s Adam, for example, was named after Adam Opel, the company’s founder, while Skoda took inspiration from its rich history, naming a limited-edition trim level after its two founders, Laurin and Klement.

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Fond memories

Another route is to rekindle fond memories by recycling familiar old names, so the revival of the Viva name isn’t a surprise. 

No matter what the reality, most of us recall the family Vauxhall Viva with affection, if for no other reason than we could roam its back seats as children unfettered by anything so bothersome as seat belts. And if the vinyl seats did become unfeasibly hot after mere minutes in the sun, we were too busy singing along to The Carpenters on the eight-track and trying to avoid inhaling too much of the cigarette smoke that was wafting back from the driver’s seat to notice…

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Cute, cheap and light

So the all-new Viva starts with a huge advantage in terms of pre-drive perceptions, an advantage it capitalises on by being a cute little thing to look at, not least because of the arresting bright green paint of my test car: 

It’s light, weighing just 864kgs, something that benefits its fuel economy, handling, ride, and performance. And cheap too, with prices starting at just £8,395. 

So it’s cute, cheap, light, and endowed with Farrow and Ball levels of nostalgia; that’s got to be a winning package, hasn’t it?

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Pleasant and ergonomic

Well, yes. It is, very much so. The interior, which is, let’s face it, the bit you’ll be spending the majority of your time looking at, is perfectly pleasant and as ergonomic as you have every right to expect. It certainly isn’t going to give the interior design folk at VW any sleepless nights but then you’re not paying VW money, either. 

It’s also a bit dull in there but there is room for five people and the five-door bodyshell comes as standard, making access to the rear seats much easier than having to clamber into the back of its three-door rivals. It also means that you aren’t fumbling behind you for the driver’s seat belt, something I’m starting to find increasingly irksome.

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Neat and precise handling

There is only one engine on offer, a 999cc, three-cylinder that has the distinctive offbeat note that we’re coming to know so well as more and more manufacturers are adopting similar units. 

It’s an engaging little thing, even if it feels a little breathless at times; a 0-60mph time of 13.1 seconds quite rightly means little to buyers in this class but the lack of decent mid-range torque does make overtaking more bothersome than I would have liked. 

Steep inclines also often mean dropping down a gear or two, although that isn’t too much of a chore as the gear change itself is light and accurate.

The handling is neat and precise, and that short, boxy shape with minimal overhangs makes parking in small spaces a doddle. 

The ride is good, with poor surfaces and potholes being smoothly absorbed by the relatively soft suspension. It is definitely more of a city car than a motorway cruiser, something you will need to bear in mind if you regularly travel long distances; if you do, the Suzuki Celerio might be a better choice.

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Low cost

If it is a bit slow, it should be relatively cheap to run, with owners reporting that 50mpg is easily achievable, and 57mpg is possible with only a modicum of care. 

The first year’s vehicle excise duty is free, while subsequent years will cost just £20. It also falls into car insurance group 3E, so the cost of insurance is unlikely to break the bank.

Speaking of costs, you wouldn’t expect huge savings to be had on a relatively new car that is so reasonably priced and for which demand is strong, and this does seem to be the case. Still, hard haggling should see you save a couple of hundred pounds, which is better than nothing.  

Overall, the Vauxhall Viva is a winning combination of charm and simplicity. While the interior is slightly uninspiring, the exterior is bold and cheeky, and there is no getting away from the extraordinarily low price. 

If you’re after a simple city car that’s cheap to buy and run, then the Viva has an awful lot going for it.

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Best-in-class – The Suzuki Celerio is a brilliant little thing that copes with long journeys better than the Viva, making it my choice in this class.

The best of the rest – The SEAT Mii/VW up!/Skoda Citigo triumvirate are all enormous fun to drive and feel far more premium than their modest purchase price suggests. If interior quality is more important to you than saving a few pounds then any of these three will be worth a look. If not, then the Viva will suit you just fine.

Left-field alternative – The Dacia Sandero is pocket money cheap, but rather basic. If you really want a new car at the lowest possible price point - and don’t mind skimping a bit on the creature comforts - you could do a lot worse. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.