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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Class act Volkswagen Polo and Polo Vivo show their worth

Made in South Africa, the Polo and Polo Vivo currently account for the majority of Volkswagen South Africa's local sales.

The Volkswagen story in South Africa, which can trace its roots back to 1966, 17-years after Wolfsburg officially took control of the operations and the Uitenhage Plant from the South Africa Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD), needs little in the way of re-telling.

Proudly South African

Despite South Africa accounting for a small percentage of Volkswagen’s global sales, the significance of the plant, located in the town now called Kariega, remains as it holds the distinction of being the only one entrusted with manufacturing the Polo for local and exports markets in both right-and-left-hand-drive, as well as being the only one that produces the Polo GTI with the steering gear on the right.

In addition to manufacturing the South African conceptualised Polo Vivo, Kariega also has a small input in the Spanish-built Taigo, namely helping-out with producing the dashboard for right-hand-drive markets.

Behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo
Polo Vivo has sold nearly 10 000 units over the first six months of 2023.

Responsible for exporting the Polo to 38 countries, the plant registered a significant milestone of producing two million units in 2022, 26 years after the first Polo, then a rebadged and restyled Seat Cordoba, rolled-off of the assembly line.

ALSO READ: Made-in-South Africa Volkswagen Polo reaches two million

Joined by the Vivo in 2010, the Polo has very much become Volkswagen’s token model with sales this year recovering after being dogged by supply problems related to the global semi-conductor shortage throughout most of 2022.

Driving the facelift Volkswagen Polo
Depicted Life model occupies the position below the sporty R-Line.

In its “absence”, the Vivo, which entered into its current second generation in 2017, has remained comfortably within the top 10 best-selling models come the monthly National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) figures.

Over the first six months of 2023, Polo sales stand at 5 651 units whereas the Vivo’s offset amounts to 9 936.

Driving the facelift Volkswagen Polo
Interior classy and functional.

All but certain to be joined by a third model within the next 18 months, the opportunity to get reacquainted with the Polo and Polo Vivo presented itself last week with a visit not only the Kariega Plant, but a drive to Port Alfred in both models, as well as in the new Polo Sedan that entered the local market earlier this year.

Plant visit

Before setting from Kariega though, there was the opportunity to straddle through the plant, and particular, the section that produces the 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrol engines powering the Polo Vivo in batches of 155 a day.

Visit to Volkswagen South Africa plant
Example of the 1.6-litre engine that powers the Polo Vivo.

Forecasted to produce 29 507 engines this year, the section directly contributes to the 2 227 employees working at the plant, whose surroundings encompasses an environmental touch in the recycling and reusage of wastewater, rainwater harvesting and green energy derived from solar panels and wind power.

Visit to Volkswagen South Africa plant
Engine plant section at Kariega produces 155 engines a day.

Part of Volkswagen’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030, the plant has, until now, reduced its reliance on municipal supplied water by 72.3% while at the same time, cutting government provided electricity consumption by 32% – an aspect confirmed earlier year has having one of the main stumbling blocks throughout last year that resulted in production falling by 30 000 units due to persistent load shedding.

Choice of four

Unsurprisingly, the main drawing card was the road trip just under 200 km away to Port Alfred, which involved a choice of four Polos; the mid-spec Polo Life equipped with the five-speed manual gearbox, the Polo Vivo Highline with the optional black styling package, the Polo Sedan Life in manual or Tiptronic forms, and the recently updated Polo GT.

Model changes

Coinciding with the drive was the confirmation of several updates to the Polo Vivo and Polo Sedan over the next few months, with the “standard” Polo, introduced last year following a first mid-life facelift, continuing unchanged.

Polo Vivo

Behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo
Optional black pack adds black details, black alloy wheels and a lowered suspension.

Mechanically unchanged and aesthetically unaltered, bar the latter adaptions applied to the GT, the revisions to the Polo Vivo will take effect from the third quarter of this year and comprise the multi-function steering wheel on the base Trendline derivative, plus retuned software on the Comfortline fitted with the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox.

In addition, the 6.5-inch Composition Colour infotainment system with App Connect will be expanded to the Trendline and Comfortline as standard. Until now, only the Highline and GT have been privy to the system from the get-go.

Behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo
Interior has aged well.

As mentioned, drivetrain choices continue unaltered with the Trendline and Comfortline being motivated by the 1.4-litre engine in two states of tune; 55kW/130Nm and 63kW/132Nm respectively. A five-speed manual is the only option transmission available.

Next-up, the Comfortline Tiptronic and five-manual Highline utilise the more powerful 1.6 rated at 77kW/153Nm.

Behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Polo Vivo
The 6.5-inch Composition Colour infotainment system will soon be available across the entire Polo Vivo range.

Finally, the sporty GT offers-up 81kW/200Nm from its 1.0 TSI engine, which goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox only.

Polo Sedan

Produced at the Pune Plant in India, the Polo Sedan, which originated in South America last year as the Virtus, takes over from the previous iteration made at the same facility that went under the Vento name.

A key model that currently accounts for 31.2% of all entry-level sedan sold in South Africa, the sedan is different in appearance to the Polo hatch, with the same being true of the 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system no other local Volkswagen product comes out with.

Volkswagen Polo Sedan South Africa drive
Polo Sedan currently accounts for 31.2% of all entry-level sedan sales in South Africa. Image: Mpumelelo Macu

Despite having been present for a few months, a handful of changes will soon take effect, the most prominent being the departure of the beige interior popular in India for a more durable black cloth due to customer demand.

Only carried over the seats and not the doors, the change in colour has resulted in the 60/40 split rear seat falling away as a result of the fabric not being compatible with the folding arrangement.

Volkswagen Polo Sedan South Africa drive
Based on the Virtus sold in South America and India, the Sedan has a different look to that of the regular Polo.

As such, the backrest now folds forwards as a single piece. However, boot space, in “unfolded” form, remains unaffected at 521-litres.

Mechanically though, the Polo Sedan will receive two significant updates; the availability of the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox on the unbadged base model from the fourth quarter of this year, and from the second quarter of 2024, the 1.0 TSI hooked to the same self-shifter that will develop the same 85kW/175Nm as in the Virtus.

Volkswagen Polo Sedan South Africa drive
Beige interior will soon be replaced by black cloth.

For now, the sedan employs a single engine, the normally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol that channels 81kW/152Nm to the front wheels through either the five-speed manual, or the Tiptronic currently restricted to the flagship Life.


As for the Polo, the current five model line-up remains as is with outputs of 70kW/175Nm from the 1.0 TSI for the unbadged base model and Life, and 85kW/200Nm for the R-Line and Life fitted with the seven-speed DSG.

Although more powerful in Europe where it makes 152kW/320Nm due to emissions regulations, the 2.0 TSI in the Polo GTI makes an unchanged 147kW/320Nm Volkswagen claims is anything but lacking in comparison to the example sold on the Old Continent.

The drive

The wet and windy weather that prevailed throughout the two days didn’t impact much on the Polos and while the trip from Kariega to Port Alfred didn’t change our thoughts on the standard Polo Life driven last year, a swap to the Vivo was more significant.

Opting for the black pack, priced at an additional R8 900 on the 1.6 Comfortline and Highline, brings not only black accents, but also a sport suspension that drops the ride height by 15 mm.

Facelift Polo Vivo GT driven
Polo GT benefitted from a small mid-life revision in February this year.

On the less than well surfaced routes around Grahamstown and Alexandria, the Vivo’s ride teetered on the harsh side and without the same supple damping and comfort as the Polo Life initially driven.  

While likely to have the opposite effect without, the rest is typical Polo with impressive (for the segment) built quality and a neat overall design that has aged well.

Facelift Polo Vivo GT driven
GT rides as standard on 17-inch Mirabeau alloy wheels.

Unsurprisingly, the hillier sections required rowing of the manual ‘box to keep momentum going, though, anything but a chore as the setup is slick with a precise feel through the five ratios.

On the other side of the coin, the Polo Sedan is opulent on the space front and as a result of its country of origin, smooth sailing with a ride that absorbs bumps with laudable acclaim.

Facelift Polo Vivo GT driven
Interior has switched from blue to red accents.

In fact, bar the interior colour, the biggest downturn is the erratic shifting of the Tiptronic ‘box, which can be negated using either the gear lever or paddle shifters.

Unsurprisingly, the Polo Vivo GT was the main attraction as it exhibited a feel akin to that of the original Golf GTI.

Facelift Polo Vivo GT driven
GT means 81kW/200Nm from the 1.0 TSI engine.

Subtly sporty outside and inside, the lowered suspension is more sorted than on the Vivo black and the powertrain lively that makes the Polo Vivo GT feels faster than it actually is.


Providing for the masses has been Volkswagen’s payoff-line since its founding and in the case of the Polo, perfectly illustrated by the availability of three distinct models in South Africa.  

While very much a well-worn cliché today, the simple fact is that there is a Polo for every demand from small and efficient, to practical and fast.


Polo Vivo

Standard across the Polo Vivo range is a three-year/120 000 km warranty with a service plan being a cost option.

  • 1.4 Trendline – R248 500
  • 1.4 Comfortline – R269 900
  • 1.6 Comfortline Tiptronic – R299 600
  • 1.6 Highline – R299 600
  • GT – R336 100


A three-year/120 000 km warranty and three-year/45 000 km service plan is standard across the Polo range.

  • 1.0 TSI – R337 700
  • 1.0 TSI Life – R379 200
  • 1.0 TSI Life DSG – R401 500
  • 1.0 TSI R-Line DSG – R450 000
  • GTI DSG – R527 700

Polo Sedan

Included with model’s sticker price is a three-year/120 000 km warranty as well as a three-year/45 000 km service plan.

  • 1.6 – R340 700
  • 1.6 Life – R369 900
  • 1.6 Life Tiptronic – R391 200

NOW READ: Freshened-up Volkswagen Polo still the class benchmark

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