Vehicle Comparisons

Vauxhall Viva

Vauxhall Viva

The Vauxhall Viva is a city runabout that relies on substance to make sales. Is this a risky strategy? Not really. When it comes to the smallest cars, the most practical models make the biggest numbers and this 1.0-litre five-door hatch looks to have all the right objective figures sewn up.

The Viva has been built around Vauxhall's latest 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. In this guise, it makes 73PS worth of power (or 75PS in Easytronic auto form), which is probably about adequate for a citycar. More engines may be announced in time, but the powerplant requirements for a small city scoot like this are usually quite simple. Models of this sort don't cover enough miles for a diesel engine to be worth fitting and lighter is better if you want the sort of jinky manoeuvrability delivered by the best urban runabouts.

This ECOTEC 1.0-litre engine drives the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox and the suspension and steering has been optimised for comfort on the sort of pock-marked streets that typify most British cities. Like its bigger brother, the Adam, the Viva gets a 'City' mode that lightens the steering even further to help take the effort out of parking. At the top of the range, there's a Viva Rocks model with suspension raised by 18mm but the driving dynamics are no different.

Vauxhall's previous citycar offering, the Agila, was a model that never really got the credit it deserved, but the Viva has performed much better. The styling is neat and assured, with none of the overtly cutesy flourishes that make certain small cars very gender specific. The Viva could well appeal to lads as well as lasses, with its purposeful front end and signature Z-slash that runs through the door handles in the side swage line, plus there are some neat alloy wheel designs. At the top of the range, there's an SUV-style Viva Rocks variant with raised ride height and bespoke bumpers.

The interior looks well built and maturity is again a dominating theme. There's a signal lack of over-design, with a simple but classy two-dial instrument cluster, plenty of headroom, a chunky steering wheel and clearly legible minor controls. If you'd prefer something a bit more outre and personalised, then it's simple to step up to the brand's trendier ADAM model, though you'd need a bigger budget to do that. At 3,700mm long, the Viva is marginally longer than a Fiat 500 but has space for five inside (just!) due to a wheelbase that's fully 100mm longer than that of a Peugeot 108.

And in summary? Well the Vauxhall Viva is clearly taking the softly-softly approach to sales. It's relying on buyers to appreciate its common sense and its no nonsense approach to things. And it's hoping they'll value its maturity and quality over styling gimmicks and marketing stunts. Okay, so the Viva badge unashamedly plunders a bit of retro appeal, but Vauxhall needs this car to be noticed.

Ultimately though, the basics just have to be right for a model in this segment. The nation's best-selling citycar is the Hyundai i10, a car that does all the important, sensible things really well. This Viva looks to have been designed to follow suit. Which leaves us with - well what? A British badged car with German heritage from an American company on a car that's screwed together in Korea? It just proves that even with tiny cars, manufacturers have to think big.

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Skoda Citigo

Skoda Citigo

Skoda's first stab at citycar motoring has proved to be an impressive one, this Citigo borrowing Volkswagen technology and blending it with the value we expect from this growing Czech brand. This improved version has smartened up its act and those in search of a beautifully conceived, affordable and impressively space and fuel-efficient urban runabout will need to consider it.

So what's different with this revised model? Well, the front section has been subtly revised, so there's a new bonnet, a redesigned radiator grille, modified bumpers and updated fog lights, all aiming to create a fresher, younger look. The front headlights are fitted with LED daytime running lights and the fog lights come with an optional cornering function, which lights up the area the vehicle is turning into on junctions with poor visibility. Plusher 'SE' models get tinted tail lights too. The changes have increased this diminutive little car's body length by 34mm but it's still not much longer than a Fiat 500, yet offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car.

Talking of the interior, well it too has been upgraded with a smarter instrument cluster and redesigned seats. There are also a range of new radio and media connectivity options. Otherwise, things are much as before, with the tardis-like interior just as big as that of Skoda's far pricier and apparently much bigger Fabia supermini.

Under the bonnet, things are much as before, so there are 60 and 75PS versions of the same 1.0-litre three cylinder engine, with the option of ASG auto transmission if you want it. On the move, without a turbocharger to boost torque, this car's base petrol unit needs to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line. That's true of both 60 and 75PS variants. Most will be content with the base version, capable as it is of sixty in 14.4s on the way to 99mph, quite enough to keep up with the traffic. The performance gains offered by the 75PS variant seem relatively slight (0-60mph in 13.2s on the way to 107mph) but the unit is a little more refined.

This Skoda simply has to be super-affordable to run. It is. Thanks in part to a low kerb weight of only around 850kg, even the least efficient entry-level 60PS models will return a combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, with emissions pegged at 101g/km.

And in summary? Well some citycars sell on cute and cuddly virtues. This isn't one of them. Here instead, the urban runabout has grown up, become mature, got itself properly sorted. True, there are feistier citycars you could consider: maybe more charismatic ones too. But none that better deliver on the promise of two words that sum this Citigo up. Simply clever.

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Ford KA+

Ford KA+

Ford's KA+ now seems to offer a very complete citycar proposition, with an improved 1.2-litre petrol engine, an extra diesel option and a crossover-style 'Active' derivative. There's also upgraded infotainment, a smarter look and a better quality cabin. As before though, this model's key attributes remain class-leading driving dynamics and a particularly spacious cabin. Potentially, there's a lot to like here.

Under the bonnet, nearly all Ford KA+ models will be sold with 1.2-litre petrol power. That was the case with the original version of this model but with this revised version, Ford has carried over the three cylinder Ti-VCT unit from the current Fiesta. As before, this is available in a choice of either 70 or 85PS outputs. In an unusual move, Ford has also decided that customers in the citycar sector might like the option of a diesel engine, so is offering the 95PS version of its 1.5-litre TDCi powerplant in this revised model line-up.

Don't expect the driving dynamics to have changed much. The KA+ may be a South American-conceived, Indian-made product but it's been thoroughly re-developed for Western markets. A chassis specification engineered to meet European driving expectations offers a unique front sub-frame, and suspension components including springs, dampers, rear torsion beam axle optimised for Europe's roads. Enhanced door seals, sound proofing and aerodynamics are designed to reduce road and wind noise in the cabin. In addition, the KA+ Active features a wider track, larger front anti-roll bar and uniquely tuned Electronic Power Assisted Steering, for optimised crossover handling. Retuned dampers feature a hydraulic rebound stopper for a smoother ride over harsh surfaces.

The KA+ is, as it should be, Ford's smallest car - but only just. Get out the tape measure and you'll find it to be a fraction shorter than a Fiesta, but a little taller. As for the visual changes made to this revised version, well at the front, there's a high-mounted trapezoidal grille and large, swept-back headlamps, in keeping with Ford's latest design language. A smarter mesh grille features a chrome surround, and standard foglamps and daylight running lamps are highlighted with a distinctive C-shaped chrome detail strip, echoed by a C-shaped moulding at each corner of the rear bumper. Restyled front and rear bumpers contribute to the more assertive look.

The additional 'KA+ Active' variant that's been added to the range features a ride height raised by 23mm and exterior styling enhanced with additional rocker and wheel-arch mouldings, a unique black finish for the upper and lower front grilles, and roof rails for carrying bikes and sports equipment. Inside, a smarter instrument panel finish and extra chrome cabin accents lift the cabin ambiance a bit but the main change is the addition of the tablet-inspired 6.5-inch colour touchscreen of the SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system. As before, rear seat passenger space is class-leading. And there's a decent 270-litre boot too.

Ford was too long without a meaningful contender in the Citycar segment but this KA+ has thoroughly corrected that oversight. This improved KA+ model offers evidence that the Blue Oval brand is starting to get the hang of the whole 'global car' thing. Having a product for every market is fine, provided the design in question can be tuned for the needs and preferences of different continents - in the way this KA+ has been.

That's not to say it wouldn't be better if it'd been created from scratch for Europe like a rival Volkswagen up! or Peugeot 108 - it probably would be. But by careful development of this South American-conceived, Indian-made package, Ford has been able to narrow the gap to established class contenders like these. The driving dynamics in fact are class-leading.

Add in the low asking prices, the rock bottom insurance ratings and the impressive new SYNC media connectivity system and you've a very strong class contender indeed. In short, the KA, it seems, has come of age.

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