Can a city car perform the long haul task if asked to? Take one little car, fill the boot with presents and luggage, point it to the nearest motorway and find out.
We did just so with the recently introduced Viva Rocks…
When the Viva was introduced a few years back, I was one of the many who sniggered and thought to myself “what’s the bloody point“. Folk tried to put me right on this including the in-laws who recently bought one. They adore theirs and wont have a cross word said against it – fair do’s I have to admit. Bringing back a name is always a gamble to be fair, especially when the current Viva has as much in common as the original HA / HB and HC models.
Suffice to say, brand aside, the current Viva bares as much similarity and bloodline to the original Viva as I do with Morgan Freeman. The standard SE and SL models remain to be cars that don’t excite me – if nothing more than for the plain fact I find them rather dull. For me, speaking as an ex salesman, a car is okay if it looks okay, has the right price and is generally accepted in the market place. Take the last few generations of Ford Escort for example – all dismal in terms of driving appeal but strong sellers regardless.
“This new Rocks model, even though in reality is little more than a styling exercise, has pretty much transformed in my opinion an also ran four seat umbrella into something jollier and smarter looking under the showroom spotlights“
Not that the Viva is dismal… far from it in fact. Its cheap, easy to drive, has little on board technology to confuse the owner or go wonky and has replaced the truly awful Agila as the entry level Vauxhall car. This new trim level, even though in reality is little more than a styling exercise, has pretty much transformed in my opinion an also-ran four seat umbrella into something jollier and smarter looking under the showroom spotlights. Its diamond cut alloy wheels, lifted ride height and faux skid plates look the business.
Under the bonnet lives the same Viva driveline of a 999cc tripple and five speed gearbox – there’s no other engine or transmission option. With just 75PS on offer a ball of fire it certainly isn’t, but where laws permit it will crack three figures flat out and reach sixty in well under 14 seconds. But it isn’t all about the speed, it has an addictive engine note in true off-beat style that made me smile when I pressed on harder than normal. Around town it has enough thrust to keep up with the flow… which is its ideal environment.
“It will whistle along at 70 with just under 3500rpm showing on the dial and providing its not too windy, quiet enough to hum along to the wireless or not find yourself lip reading with your passengers“
I did a good 700 miles in a week that was mainly motorway driving and in all honesty it put up on a good show. It will whistle along at 70 with just under 3500rpm showing on the dial and providing its not too windy, quiet enough to hum along to the wireless or not find yourself lip reading with your passengers. However, the power deficit compared to rivals is noticeable when long motorway hills are negotiated. It can run out of steam rather quickly and a down-change to 4th gear sees the engine spinning into the heavens.
Trundling along at the legal maximum is a fairly pleasant experience, so making too much fuss about a car with little more power than a food blender is perhaps too unfair. Everything else works just right, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning are fine and all round visibility is pretty good too. Seat comfort is okay for long journeys but the bolsters offer very little side support if you fancy some spirited corners on a country back lane. I often thought I was going to fall out of the seat.
Vivas compact dimensions mean you almost park it in your downstairs loo. Add that to its good visibility and steering that’s lighter than an arcade game turns the phrase effortless into an understatement. The downside is steering that is bereft of communication and feel at urban speeds. But the rub here is that this car isn’t designed to be Caterham chaser in the corners or a drag racer on the straights. What it is though is a car that’s laughably easy to drive and brims over with character.
“…the interior has more hard shiny plastic on display than a Blackpool souvenir shop, but at this price you are unlikely to find sumptuous trim with walnut garnishing here or anywhere else“
On the inside the presentation doesn’t quite match the outside. There is enough room for four but the cabin is narrow – especially if both front occupants are not exactly svelte. For sure the interior has more hard shiny plastic on display than a Blackpool souvenir shop, but at this price you are unlikely to find sumptuous trim with walnut garnishing here or anywhere else. What is noteworthy is the space for odds and ends and the feeling that its all screwed together quite tightly… I think it will go the distance and last well.
On the minus side, there are some violent demonstrations of cost cutting. Fold down the rear seat and the hinge in which the cushion pivots on looks like something I once made in a comprehensive school metalwork lesson. Staying at the back, the parcel shelf resembles something constructed from pressed egg boxes covered in fuzzy felt*. Again, its all about the price and none of the aforementioned is going to be a deal maker or breaker – its all about managing your expectations.
“…a happy little soul of a car that has just enough equipment as standard to distance itself from being as basic as a Days Inn bedroom. But could do with some additional safety related kit such as lane deviation warning or blind-spot detection“
The slight worry is the price being dangerously close to some fairly decent rivals like the Suzuki Ignis / Swift or the Kia Picanto – the latter having a warranty longer than time itself. You could also slide into an MG3 too, but MGs here today gone tomorrow dealer network along with customer stories of hilariously poor customer support make the MG3 really hard to recommend. OK so the Viva SL may be cheaper and slightly better equipped, but look at them side by side and draw your own conclusion on looks.
To summarise? The Vauxhall Viva Rocks is a happy little soul of a car that has just enough equipment as standard to distance itself from being as basic as a Days Inn bedroom. But it really could do with some additional safety related kit such as lane deviation warning or blind-spot detection. For me?… I like it in a cheeky sort of way and one or two passing folk in a supermarket commented on its looks and colour. Clearly someone at Vauxhall Opel has done their job right. Sometimes going back to basics doesn’t disappoint.
* Please Note… younger readers are advised to Google this 🙂
OUR RATING: 6.5 / 10
THE HUMBLE OPINION
I adore simple no frills transport and the Viva Rocks is just that. Some other pundits reckon the Rocks is a touch too expensive. But I say visit the showroom, see one, try one and if you like it shake the salesperson by their socks… you’ll be surprised how much money drops off the deal if you’re brave enough to stand your ground and haggle.
Idiot proof to operate, a good driving position and reasonably economical too make it a safe bet. On paper there is a bit of a battle to defend it against other cheaper Viva models… or with other rivals offering a little more in terms of equipment. An MG3 for example comes in a lot cheaper but lacks all round viability in terms of long term owner confidence.
But I like the character, its smart and cute looks allied to its simplicity – that’s whats done it for me and as far as I’m concerned its certainly worth a good look at.
MODEL TESTED: Vauxhall Viva Rocks
List Price: £11,815 excluding options
Driveline: 999cc 12v fuel Injected 3cyl with 5 speed manual gearbox
Power: 75PS with 95Nm of torque
Performance: *0 – 60 in 13.1 seconds with 106mph max
Economy: *60.1mpg combined (55.4mpg on actual test)
Co2 Output: 106 G/Km
- Smart looking in a cute kinda way
- Entertaining engine note
- Safe handling and acceptable ride comfort
- Smooth and refined enough to do a long motorway journey
- Good all round visibility
- Easy peasy lemon squeeze to drive
- Not all that cheap
- No other engine or gearbox offerings
- Lack of safety related technology aids
- Lack of a turbo means it all too easily runs out of puff
- Next model down in the range actually has more equipment
Fore more information on the Viva Rocks CLICK HERE