Holden's television advertising for its new Viva medium/small car range is all about revolution - Latin American-style. A sort of a sanitised Wild Bunch without the Sam Peckinpah graphic realism touches.
The thinking, I guess, is Viva the revolution, but there's very little that's revolutionary about Holden's new Viva. In fact, it's an old acquaintance given a styling tickle-up and a mild handling makeover; in reality, a Holden-ised Daewoo Lacetti.
Now the Lacetti has been here before, wearing the Daewoo nameplate that proved to almost be a guarantee of market failure. Holden dealers showed little enthusiasm for selling the car which came their way via the General Motors takeover of the ailing Korean brand. GM bought Daewoo to give it a toehold in the fiercely protectionist Korean new car market, and as a manufacturing base for a concerted push into Asia and Southeast Asia. All very logical and doubtless good economics.
But show a Holden salesman a Daewoo Lacetti or its smaller stablemate the Kalos (now reborn as a Holden Barina), and he showed about as much enthusiasm as an iceblock approaching a furnace. In fact, Holden dealers' sales staff were so unenamoured of the Daewoo brand that it was withdrawn from the Australian and NZ markets at the end of 2003.
No-one else really seemed to notice, aside from the people who bought them; the biggest noise was the collective sigh of relief from Holden dealers.
I never drove the Lacetti, though colleagues who did said it wasn't that bad, with okay looks, good performance and reasonably tidy handling. I did drive the Kalos and was disappointed.
It was a reasonable looker in search of - well, virtually everything. It was better than the stodgy old Daewoo Cielo (Pontiac Le Mans in an even earlier incarnation) but not by much. Its handling was dominated by bodyroll and understeer and it had a cheap, tinny feel about it.
To learn that it would form the basis of the new Barina - with much needed handling tweaks and a version of Holden's current corporate face - was disappointing. Was this really replacing the Opel-developed and engineered Barina which had once been the small car handling benchmark and one of our all-time favourite cars?
Holden's engineers would have a big job on their hands trying to turn the lacklustre little car into a worthy successor for the old Barina. Which brings us to the Viva which reprises a name from General Motors' corporate past: it used to adorn Vauxhall's small car which debuted in the early/mid 1960s with the HA, went through the attractively-styled and well-regarded HB and peaked (is that the right word?) with the forgettable HC.
The Viva is replacing the base model, old-bodyshell Astra Classic in the Holden range, but will probably gradually become a complete Astra replacement.
Which will be another pity, because the German-developed Astra has cutting-edge, new millennium looks and is a tidy handler let down only by a somewhat agricultural engine.
For the meantime the Astra will contuinue which is presumably why Holden dipped into GM's nameplate register and fished out the Viva moniker for the rebadged Daewoo Lacetti.
Like the Barina (which goes on sale this month), the Viva gets a Holden corporate face and has been given some handling tweaks, though Holden's highly-competent chassis engineers were constrained by having to use suspension components from the Daewoo parts bin rather than aftermarket items.
The Viva's styling is clean if unadventurous. The five-door hatchback is the looker of the family, with a sleekness of line that from some angles evokes older Honda Civic hatches.
The sedan is, well, a sedan: there's a GM family look about its rear three-quarter view. The wagon has classic estate car lines: the test vehicle came in white and looked every inch the sales rep's express. Frankly, given the dearth of wagons on offer these days we see it as being the likely sales star in the Viva galaxy.
So what are they like, these modern Vivas?
The good news is that this Viva is much better to drive - and much roomier - than the unmissed Vauxhall Viva HC.
We've driven all three Holden Vivas - each for a week and over an accumulated distance of more than 1000km - and each proved pleasant transport.
They're somewhat let down by a cheap-looking and plain interior, but there's good cabin and luggage space. The seats lack much in the way of lateral support, but are comfrotable enough. The driver's seat is multi-adjustable, though some of the adjustment controls are rather fussy.
The single-disc Compact Disc sound system is also plagued by fussy controls, the left-hand knob variously being the volume, on-off and mute switch. We had no complaints about sound quality, though.
The four-spoke steering wheel is a half-hearted attempt at the currently in-vogue alloy-spoked look pioneered by Ford on the Mondeo and adopted by Holden on the Commodore.
We found the steering wheel diameter to be a shade too great, and would have welcomed a steering wheel like the excellent one fitted to the rival Kia Rio Sport.
Visibility is good, and all three cars have light, airy cabins.
There are nice touches - like the roomy, lockable glovebox in all models, and the wagon's standard cargo area blind, the latter an essential in a vehicle in which there's no place to hide cargo from prying eyes.
We sampled both manual and automatic gearbox Vivas, and would plump decisively for the former. The gearshift is a little rubbery and is reasonably long-throw, though it's quick and easy to use. Reverse - up and to the left - is selected using a lifting collar just below the gear lever knob.
The four-speed auto shifts smoothly, but tends to blunt the performance too much, taking away the car's briskness, especially on hills. The DOHC 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor develops 89kW/169Nm and provides good performance. It's quiet at cruising speeds, and has sufficient punch for easy open road overtaking.
All Vivas proved to be good city cars - easy to use, light to handle and with good manoeuvrability. Open road handling is reasonably good, though understeer builds when you're really pressing on. The cars turn-in to corners well enough, but there's still a fair amount of body roll.
They take State Highway roads in their stride, but despite the Holden engineers' efforts they can become a little fazed on roads where the direction changes constantly. It's definitely not a car aimed at the enthusiastic driver.
And when pressed really hard in tight going, the Viva adopts an up-on-its-toes feeling of lightness. Roadholding, though, is very good, the standard Hankook tyres hanging on well on wet or dry roads. They're noisy on chip-surfaced roads, though.
Overall, the Viva handles reasonably well: it's no sports saloon, but it doesn't claim to be. Don't expect too much of it on a winding road and you'll probably be satisfied by its abilities.
Of the three, we found the wagon to be the best to drive briskly on demanding country roads.
The Vivas are pleasant cars, but even with the Holden tweaks, the Daewoo influence lives on, and the cars will never be mistaken for anything else.
Some Korean marques like the brother/sister Hyundai/Kia are making real progress, but GM Daewoo remains a few steps behind. I can understand the economic reasons for shifting to Korea and GM-owned Daewoo for small Holdens, but I'd just like to see the cars' dynamics upgraded significantly.
The current Holden/Daewoos will be stop-gap models (we'd hope so, anyway); Holden is promising much more styling, engineering and chassis tuning involvement in future small cars it sources from Korea.
Maybe then we'll see a Daewoo that can truly hold its own against the best Europe can offer. If there is anything revolutionary about the current Holden Viva, it may be that it's the first salvo in a revolution that will continue and blossom as time passes. Time to yell "Viva the revolution" is still some way off.
Review and photographs by Mike Stock
Could I live with a Viva?
I probably could, if I used it mainly for city running. It's user-friendly and a pleasant vehicle to travel in, with lots of practical features.
But I fear it would be a somewhat rocky relationship, one in which I'd get frustrated, especially if we had to journey frequently on winding roads. Then the car's relative lack of handling precision would bother me.
What you get
Originally, Holden marketed the Viva in New Zealand without ABS anti-lock braking, power rear windows and alloy wheels. All three were initially offered in an option pack costing $1000.
But just before Christmas Holden said it was including the $1000 worth of extras as standard equipment but retaining the original pricing for the cars.
The move was made in response to demand from dealers and potential customers, and Holden said it would pay $1000 as compensation to customers who had bought cars without the $1000 pack. The options were not available as retro-fit items.
Standard Viva equipment includes power steering, alloy wheels, power windows, remote-control central door-locking, anti-theft engine immobiliser, and electrically adjustable exterior mirrors.
The wagon gets standard roof rails, and all models have tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, dual front cabin maplights, and a four-speaker single disc Compact Disc sound system with extra controls mounted on the steeruing wheel.
Seats are cloth-covered, and the driver's (eight-way) and front passenger's (four-way) seats are adjustable.
Air-conditioning is standard on all models, as are a lockable and illuminated glovebox, and tinted windows.
The sedan and wagon have sunglass holders, and a storage drawer under the front passenger's seat; the wagon has a blind to cover the cargo area.
All models have 60/30 split-folding rear seatbacks.
Safety gear includes ABS anti-lock brakes, dual front and side airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, five lap/sash seatbelts, and child seat anchor points.
Holden Viva Specifications
Engine 1796cc Double Overhead Camshaft four-cylinder. Four valves per cylinder. Sequential multi-point fuel-injection. Variable intake manifold. Maximum power, 89kW at 5800rpm. Peak torque, 169Nm at 3600rpm.
Transmission Front-wheel drive. Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox.
Suspension Front, MacPherson strut. Rear, dual link independent.
Brakes Front, ventilated discs. Rear, solid discs. ABS anti-lock system.
Wheels 15-inch alloy.
Tyres 195/55 R15.
Performance Turning circle, 10.4 metres. Towing capacity, 1200kg (braked trailer); 610kg (unbraked trailer).
Service intervals 3000km/three months free inspection, then every 15,000km/12 months. Coolant, brake, transmission, and clutch fluids replace every 30,000km. Sparkplug replacement every 60,000km.
Dimensions Length, 4295mm (hatch); 4515mm (Sedan); 4580mm (wagon). Width (including mirrors), 1985mm (all models). Height, 1445mm (hatch and sedan); 1500mm (wagon, with rails). Wheelbase, 2600mm (all models). Track (all models): Front, 1480mm; rear, 1480mm. Cargo volume, 275/1045 litres (hatch); 405/1225 litres (sedan); 400/1410mm (wagon). Fuel tank capacity, 60 litres (all models).
Prices Sedan manual, $23,990 (automatic, $25,590); Hatch manual, $23,990 (automatic, $25,590); Wagon manual, $25,990 (automatic, $27,590).