Viva revival as Vauxhall targets Aygo, Up and Celerio
First-time buyers and younger drivers are among the customers Vauxhall is aiming at with its new Viva. William Scholes finds out if it hits the target
SUCH is the affection in which the originals were held, resuscitating the Mini and 500 badges must have been a no-brainer for the marketing folk at BMW and Fiat when it came to naming their latest small cars a few years ago.
The same thing happened at Volkswagen where, because the engineers were too busy working out how to cheat emissions tests, they decided to revive the Beetle badge, banking on the fact that sepia-tinted nostalgia would help people forget just what a vile contraption the hard-to-kill original was.
A less obvious candidate for a 21st century comeback is the Vauxhall Viva.
You may even have forgotten it ever existed.
To jog your memory, the Viva saw service between 1963 and 1979 and seems to have been distinguished by enormous rust problems, poor handling and ropey brakes.
It was phased out in favour of the Chevette, which you had probably managed to forget about too.
People tend to have positive memories of Minis and Beetles which they have either owned themselves or which passed through their childhoods; I have never heard of a Vauxhall Viva being described in the same way. Ever.
It all means the Viva ought to be an exceptionally unpromising prospect for a grand revival. Undeterred, Vauxhall has done just that, though it would like us to style the 2015 car's name as VIVA; we don't go in for that sort of unnecessary shouty capitalisation in the Irish News, so we'll stick with Viva.
The new, nothing-to-do-with-the-old-Viva Viva slots in at the bottom of the Vauxhall range as a small city car of the sort favoured by first-time drivers and older motorists.
Not to labour the point, but it makes the decision to resurrect the Viva name all the more puzzling: younger punters won't care for the heritage, while seasoned customers won't want to be reminded about the time when new cars corroded in front of your eyes. "Just like the old Viva, but completely different," as Vauxhall says; indeed...
It is a good time to be in the market for a small car, such is the quality of the competition.
The Viva goes up against the Suzuki Celerio - Drive's current class champ - and the excellent Hyundai i10 as well as the Volkswagen Up/Seat Mii/Skoda Citigo and Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 108 triumvirates.
Vauxhall is to be commended for doing a thorough job with the Viva.
It is an all-new car, designed around a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and a five-door-only bodyshell which majors on passenger space.
There is an admirable amount of room up-front and three passengers can fit across the back bench - albeit for only a short time if they are taller, but nonetheless this is a distinct advantage over the gnomic rear accommodation of most rivals.
The boot isn't the largest in the class, though it's ample for a week's shopping, and folding the rear seats does yield a sizeable void.
Outside, the Viva is an exercise in restraint - handsome enough in its own way, but unremarkable.
The interior is similarly low-key - not as funereal as a VW Up, perhaps, but devoid of the self-styled funkiness that you will find in something like a Toyota Aygo; in any case, Vauxhall has the wacky Adam to satisfy the whims of the crowd who like to personalise every aspect of their car.
The Viva does do a more convincing of being a premium car than most rivals - a flash of chrome here and there works wonders - and while, like all of these sorts of cars, you can spot where money has been saved, the Viva does not feel anywhere as cheap as its budget price might lead you to imagine.
A few weeks after my stint with the Viva, I drove a Fiat 500 which, despite a price tag more than double that of the Vauxhall, felt like it should be the cheaper car.
The Viva is available with two trim levels and even in base £8,395 SE specification it is well - if somewhat curiously - kitted out.
So you get electric front windows and mirrors, cornering lights, hill-start assist as well as cruise control - hardly a necessity in a city car - and lane departure warning as standard, but no Bluetooth or USB socket.
This can be addressed by visiting the options list or moving up to SL spec at £9,495.
Air conditioning, usually a good idea, costs £495, and next year you will also be able to specify Vauxhall's excellent IntelliLink infotainment system.
Naturally enough, perhaps, the Viva is happiest in urban driving. Light steering and a good view out help in this respect.
The engine is an enthusiastic, thrummy little thing, as is the way with the latest breed of three-cylinder units, though it quickly runs out of puff - if you do a lot of motorway-type driving and expect to carry passengers most of the time, you may want to look elsewhere.
Nor is the Viva as good fun to drive on a twisty, undulating road as the Suzuki Celerio.
Still, the handling is safe, tidy and predictable - which will suit the target audience just right.
As will the low insurance - the Viva sits in group three - and running costs. I achieved an average of just under 40mpg during my stewardship but this included more motorway driving than the typical Viva owner is likely to encounter; they are likely to get closer to the 62.8mpg EU combined average.
But the price is likely to be the clincher. Put down a £1,380 deposit and a new Viva SE can be yours for £115 per month.
Whether you go down the finance or straight-sale route, the Viva is keenly priced, making it excellent value for money.
It is also robustly built, roomy, safe and won't fall apart or rust before it needs a service.
All that means that the all-new, nothing-to-do-with-the-old-Viva Viva deserves the serious consideration of anyone seeking to buy a small city car. It's still an odd name to revive, though...