Joie de Viva: Vauxhall Viva Review

Vauxhall Viva 2015

Everyone seems to have a Vauxhall Viva somewhere in their family history. Maybe your dad had one, or an aunt, or a family friend. Maybe you learned to drive in a Viva, or had one as your first car, as many people did. The Viva was a stalwart of the Vauxhall range in the 1960s and ‘70s, and on the second-hand market long after then.

The car even crept into popular culture in a 1978 song by Elvis Costello. It included the words: “I’ve been a bad boy with the standard leader. My neighbour’s revving up his Vauxhall Viva.” This small family car was a British product, made in Cheshire at Ellesmere Port. There were three successive models, produced between 1963 and 1979. The Viva was very successful for Vauxhall, with over one and a half million made before it was consigned to the history books.

Now, after a 36 year gap, Vauxhall has just revived the Viva name for a new small car to kick off its model range. This one isn’t made in Britain, though. In the way of the modern motor industry, it is something of an international model, designed and made by a sister company in South Korea. Vauxhall is owned by General Motors, and the new Viva is based on the Korean built Chevrolet Spark, made in a factory once owned by Daewoo. Elsewhere in Europe it will be sold by another GM-owned company badged as the Opel Karl.

The new Viva is what the motor industry terms an ‘A’ car, going up against rivals like the Ford Ka, Peugeot 108, Toyota Aygo, Volkswagen Up!, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo. Cars this size are small fry in dimensions, but big business for car makers – they account for one in ten of all new cars sold in the UK.

It’s a very price sensitive part of the car scene, so the new Viva is keenly priced, starting at £7,995 and rising to £9,495 for the best-equipped, top-spec version. The engine is a one-litre, three-cylinder unit with a relatively modest 74 bhp power output. But it is a well-regarded modern engine also used in other smaller Vauxhalls, such as the Adam and Corsa. It has a four-valves-per-cylinder design and variable valve timing.

The gearbox is a five-speed manual, with an automatic version coming at the turn of the year. The car’s ride and handling development was carried out at Milbrook test track in Bedfordshire, to set it up for UK road conditions. Insurance is in band 3 or 4, depending on version.

So what’s it like to drive, this new baby in the Vauxhall range? I confess I settled into the driving seat with modest expectations. A low powered, Korean-built budget car is not the most exciting prospect for a lively drive. I quickly warmed to the Viva, though. It has a pleasant-sounding, willing little engine, and a slick gear-change. Steering feel is reasonable, and the car is easy to manoeuvre in tight urban spaces.

The engine likes to be revved, and you need to stir the gearbox to keep momentum going up a steep hill, but such is the nature of a modestly-powered small car, and the same is true of its rivals. It handles tidily, and where the Viva impresses is in its ride quality, which outshines some larger and much more expensive cars I have driven recently.

There’s something endearing about the new Viva, so forgive me if I mangle a popular expression and say that it has a ‘Joie de Viva’ about it.




Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.

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