It says something about my increasing decrepitude that the fact that I owned a Vauxhall Viva has a certain archeological interest.
The old Viva is the sort of car that comes under the heading of ‘they don’t make them like that any more,’ being a simple, rear wheel drive thing with a four-speed gearbox, cart spring suspension and a labouring, push rod engine. You could buy one with a boot, or as a rather hunched looking estate.
When I was growing up Vivas were everywhere, but the ones made in the 1960s were notorious rotters, in that they went rusty, and the 1970s variants have simply grown old and faded away.
Mine, bought in 1987, was a 12-year-old estate, being sold by a plumber friend because he hated it.
It wasn’t long before I hated it too, although it had a certain dogged reliability, which since I was very broke at the time was welcome. Everything else about the car was depressing. It was painted a faded matt yellow, enlivened by a tag someone had sprayed on a side window, like Alan Partridge’s Rover. The inside was a tatty, ugly mix of painted metal surfaces, hard plastics and squishy vinyls, all a horrid dog poo brown.
It had a strip speedo, glow worm headlamps, steering that was reluctant to self-centre and had the riding qualities of a wheel barrow.
When I decided I could stand it no longer and tried selling it, the ruddy thing was like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross. In one bizarre digression, I half sold it to a friend, but then had to buy my share back. It eventually moved on to a sub editor who worked on a lorry magazine, who loved it, for no good reason, and kept the thing for years.
We worked in the same building and whenever we shared a lift he’d enthuse.
‘That car you sold me, it’s brilliant. Got it through another MOT, you were mad to sell it.’
No I wasn’t. It was horrid and I’ve never hankered after repeating the experience. However, I’m currently driving a brand new Vauxhall Viva, but it’s a very different animal, and if the car doesn’t fill me with excitement, it’s something I could live with and quite enjoy.
Today’s Viva is a small, inoffensively styled five-door hatchback rival to things like the Kia Picanto and Volkswagen Up! It has front wheel drive and is powered by a lively little 1.0litre three-cylinder petrol engine.
Inside it comes with the standard issue modern car interior. Mine, which was painted a lurid metallic green outside, was a riot of black fabrics, and black hard plastics within. Unsexy, but well made and entirely practical. The instruments and dash are, aside from a few reflections, also entirely sensible. The car would seat four comfortably enough, and five with a bit of a squeeze. Like most of its rivals, the boot is small and has a high lip.
For a tiddler it’s ride isn’t at all bad, more pliant and comfortable than some of its competitors. It’s mechanically pretty refined, engine thrumming away quietly, with tyre roar being the only intrusive thing when travelling at speed. On motorways it feels less laboured than some competitors. Off them it rolls a bit on bends, but handles tidily and unremarkably.
Unlike my Viva, this one is unlikely to stick in the mind, but then, I remember that car rather like a bout of toothache. By comparison, the 2016 Viva is utterly delightful, and looked at objectively as something in its own right, this is a decent, pleasant little car.