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Car reviews - Holden - Viva - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Good equipment levels, very good interior space
Room for improvement
Is the pricing good enough to deflect Honda Civic, Nissan Tiida, Toyota Corolla and other small-car shoppers?

26 May 2006

GoAuto 26/05/2006

SO now Holden's small car strategy is properly under way.

We've watched, for some time, the looming approach of Korea-sourced replacements for the European products that have instilled, rightly or wrongly, the impression that Holden has always been more closely linked to Germany than other parts of the global GM empire.

The new Barina, and the new Viva, both previously wearers of Daewoo badges, give us a clearer picture: Focussed more than ever on the bottom line, Holden is determined to be more than just a competitor in the light and small car markets.

Both the Barina and the Viva are a pragmatic response to the seemingly inevitable decline of the traditional full-size Australian family car and are aimed at domination of the growing sub-$20,000 segment.

The future, apparently, is light and small cars, and the bottom line here is, simply, value for money.

Euro values previously espoused by Holden, such as vehicle dynamics, tangible quality, cutting-edge safety and progressive design are, apparently, relegated a little way down the list of priorities.

It is interesting to note, in this context, that Daewoo as an emerging brand in the late 1990s was seen as maybe the most Euro-influenced Korean car-maker.

Certainly the inspiration seemed to come from without, rather than within, showing up in cars like the Daewoo Leganza and Nubira - and even the Tacuma mini people-mover introduced here in 2000.

And, of course, there were the Daewoo Kalos and Lacetti.

The Kalos, which came in April 2003 and went in December 2004, is today badged as a Holden Barina and, consistent with the mixed parentage for which this car has always been known (first from Suzuki in Japan, then from an Opel plant in Spain), replaces the second-generation Opel Corsa that existed beneath the Barina badge.

And the Astra/Corolla-size Holden Viva is actually a revised version of the Daewoo Lacetti that sold here from September 2003 until the Korean brand's local demise in 2004.

So what are these new Holdens all about, really?

Does the fact they are Korean-built, priced and equipped with seeming ruthlessness in their respective segments mitigate against them as credible contenders? Are they consistent with the values of the Holden brand?

These questions are particularly relevant to the Viva/Lacetti, which comes to market as the car to replace the (deservedly) much-loved TS Astra against which it was benchmarked.

The Viva is very, very close to the previous small Holden in overall size, and even uses the same engine - the age-old, Holden-built 1.8-litre that's been around since Camira days (and even powered Nissan's Pulsar in the 1990s during a Holden-Nissan joint-venture program).

The Viva is not bad to look at either, continuing in a way the slightly-Euro ethos that has characterised Daewoo since the 1990s.

All Vivas were in fact designed in Italy, by Pininfarina (four-door sedan and wagon) and Giugiaro of ItalDesign (five-door hatch).

The result is an overall sense of cleanliness, good proportions and efficient packaging. The various Vivas look handsome, neat and tasteful rather than spectacular, which should augur well for stylistic longevity.

If you really want to know, the Viva sedan is quite a bit longer than any Astra so far, yet has a fractionally shorter (by 6mm) wheelbase than the superseded TS.

But its body is wider than the TS, and so are the front and rear wheel tracks. And it stands a little taller too - just the sort of thing you need if you wish to maximise the interior.

The result is a surprisingly commodious small sedan which is particularly generous in the back seat, where 180cm-plus passengers will not feel cramped.

And there's a quite decent 405-litre boot that can be augmented by a split-fold rear seat exposing no less than 1225 litres of total load space.

So far so good.

The drivetrain will have a certain familiarity to those who have experienced the Astra. There's certainly nothing unique about the specifications, with a long-stroke, cast-iron block and a DOHC, 16-valve alloy head.

The Family One Holden four-cylinder produces 89kW at 5800rpm, and 169Nm of torque at 3600rpm, but in the real world it proves to be springy and responsive, if not particularly smooth.

It's also agreeably economical, with a claimed average consumption of 7.4L/100km on regular unleaded fuel, the 60-litre fuel tank indicating a none too shabby cruising range upwards of 800km.

Other familiarities lie in the five-speed manual transmission version, which has the familiar, long-travel lever evident in Astras past and present.

Holden engineers have done quite a bit of work with the suspension (MacPherson struts at the front, struts with dual links and coils at the back), although the 6x15-inch steel wheels with 195/55R15 tyres are nothing special.

Holden refinements over an extensive local development program included recalibrated dampers, re-rated coil springs and "significant" increases of front and rear stabiliser bar dimensions.

The assisted rack-and-pinion steering is aimed more at ease of parking than delivering driver stimulation on the open road, and the brakes, which comprise four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front only), don't add ABS unless you specify an option pack.

The result is a small, sub-AH Astra car (in terms of price) that acquits itself well enough on the road without being anything special.

It handles competently, although some bump steer intrudes on the steering and there's quite a bit of bodyroll under hard cornering. It rides reasonably well, but is sensitive to large and small bumps.

This is about as much as you could expect considering you can step into a Viva sedan or hatch for just $17,990 before on-road costs. The wizardry of which Australian engineers are capable does have its limits.

Something of a surprise is the quietness of the Viva, brought about in part by local development that worked on reducing engine noise (via intake and exhaust system refinements) and general NVH (through special rubber bushes attaching suspension to body).

The new Holden's interior is presented well enough too, although it's without surprise you note the hard, unyielding dashboard and door trims.

But, with the splash of alloy-look inserts on the dash and steering wheel (where push-button radio controls are located on the left spoke), a clean and clear, far-from unpleasant instrument panel layout, a driver's seat squab that can be adjusted for both height and tilt (the driver also gets adjustable lumbar support), and a steering column with reach, as well as height adjustment, any low-rent feeling is kept at bay.

The seats are pretty flat and unyielding, but are easy to get in and out of, and the split-fold rear seat fails to provide a centre armrest which is fair enough considering the price.

But the opening through to the boot is conveniently large, making it easy to load bulky luggage. The boot hinges are of the cheap, intrusive variety rather than the increasingly common articulated devices that fit into the upper drainage channel.

All Vivas come with dual front and side airbags although, as mentioned earlier, ABS is part of a pack that also includes, on the sedan, 15-inch alloy wheels and power rear windows.

It's a four-sensor, four-channel system but doesn't pick up the refinements of brake assist or electronic brake-force distribution. Other safety items include five lap-sash belts and head restraints.

Convenience gear includes a four-speaker MP3-compatible single-CD sound system (with the steering wheel controls), air-conditioning (a bit weak for Australian conditions) and a storage bin/armrest between the front seats - all of which makes the Viva a cheap car that becomes less so when brought up to scratch.

The $1290 option pack is a worthwhile investment but brings the price within a whisker of $20,000, where the new $20,990 Honda Civic VTi, complete with 103kW, standard ABS and cruise control - but dual front airbags only - lurks.

That's how hot the small car market is getting - and we haven't even mentioned the Toyota Corolla, which continues to lead the small car class and even bumped the Commodore off the top-selling podium for one month recently.

For the Viva, success will depend largely on the firepower of Holden's dealer network.

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