New car review

Vauxhall Viva Rocks review

Is Vauxhall’s SUV-lookalike city car a true alternative to a small SUV?

Summary

The Vauxhall Viva Rocks is adequate in performance, quality and looks. Its biggest problem is that rivals like the Suzuki Ignis leave it behind in all areas.
Design
6.0
Comfort
7.0
Driving experience
5.0
Value for money
5.0
Safety
5.0

Summary

The Vauxhall Viva Rocks is adequate in performance, quality and looks. Its biggest problem is that rivals like the Suzuki Ignis leave it behind in all areas.

60-second summary

What is it?
The Vauxhall Viva Rocks is an SUV-styled version of the city car launched in 2015.

Key features
Elevated driving position, bolder styling, compact dimensions

Our view
The Vauxhall Viva Rocks makes an honest attempt to create a sort of small SUV from a basic city car built for economy, and to attract younger buyers in the process. The elevated driving position is welcome and the extra body cladding adds a little character to an innocuous design.

However, the Viva Rocks rates only adequate in too many areas. Its cockpit design is ordinary, its powertrain lacking in performance. And a range-topper without the equipment levels of cheaper sister models is odd, to say the least.

The main problem for the Vauxhall Viva Rocks is that while its overall rating is adequate, rivals, particularly the Suzuki Ignis, are much more than adequate.

Similar cars
Suzuki IgnisFiat Panda City Cross, Kia Picanto X Line

Full review

Introduction

Every manufacturer appears to crave a small SUV in its range and in the last 18 months or so The Car Expert has tested many newcomers to this burgeoning market. But what do you do if you don’t have such a model in your line-up – how do you stop your rivals taking potential sales away?

In Vauxhall’s case, it seems, the answer is to make a city car look like a small SUV, and this is the basic premise behind the new addition to the Viva range, the Vauxhall Viva Rocks.

The Viva launched in 2015, reviving a nameplate last seen in 1979 and like its predecessor designed as a small car for the masses – no nonsense, easy to live with. And the Viva has slotted quietly into the Vauxhall range, writing no headlines of note since.

In that time, however, the small car market has been turned on its head by the rise of the SUV, as so many buyers turn away from traditional models towards the jacked-up newcomers.

Few of these buyers want the ability to go off-road or the extra expensive and complexity of an all-wheel-drive powertrain, but all desire the more muscular looks and higher driving position that are SUV signatures. And this is as true in the city as it is out in the country.

Hence in the Viva Rocks, we have what Vauxhall intends to be an urban crossover to attract those SUV-tempted buyers – particularly the younger market.

Vauxhall Viva Rocks, lost in a forest
Despite the photos, Vauxhall Viva Rocks is pitched more at urban streets than country tracks

Buying and owning the Vauxhall Viva Rocks

The Viva Rocks is a simple choice to make as this car is basically a new range-topping trim level in the Viva line-up. It comes with the same engine offered in all other Viva models, Vauxhall’s recently introduced 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit designed for the Viva and its larger ADAM sister. It offers a mere 73hp, clearly demonstrating how this car is pitched at urban streets, not country tracks.

Viva prices start from £10,070 for the SE and, at £11,835, the Rocks is the most expensive version of the small car, £865 more than the Viva SL and £335 more than the SE Nav model.

The Rocks specification, however, is based on the SE – the SL gets the OnStar connectivity assistant as standard whereas on the Rocks it is a £435 option. The IntelliLink navigation system, standard on the SE Nav and including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto accessed through a seven-inch touchscreen, will add £935 to the bill for anyone buying either an SL or Rocks.

So what does the Rocks offer for the £1,765 extra over the SE? Effectively a ride height raised by 2cm over the stock car, in order to provide the SUV signature elevated driving position, and body additions to give it a muscular look.

This consists of front and rear skid plates in a silver finish, side sills and roof rails, plus a bolder front and rear end with circular fog lamps. The final touches are provided by bespoke 15-inch alloy wheels.

Some things can’t be improved over the stock Viva, of course. The boot space, for example, which at 206 litres is one of the smaller in the class. With the rear seats folded it grows to 1,013 litres.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control and electric front windows, but you can’t get away from the fact that the Rocks is the most expensive Viva with less equipment than cheaper versions.

The Viva Rocks has not been subject to a specific Euro NCAP crash test but the European version of the stock Viva, the Opel Karl, has. It scored three stars, downgraded from its initial rating of four stars from two years ago – none of the driver assistance technology now increasingly appearing on other small cars is available for this car, with the exception of a lane departure warning and then only as an option.

Inside the Vauxhall Viva Rocks

Vauxhall Viva Rocks dashboard
Interior is functional, but not as smart as many rivals

Vauxhall says that the Rocks gets a “robust new interior”, though it is hard to spot the differences over the stock car. When we tested the Viva in 2015, we described the interior as’ functional, well fitted without being plush’ and the same holds true for the Rocks.

The important instruments are where the driver would expect to see them, but the instrument panels increasingly appearing in rival small cars are more up-to-date and better looking – particularly if a Rocks buyer hasn’t paid extra for a touchscreen infotainment system.

The car is a five-seater, and up front is quite comfortable to travel in. The rear is cosier and only smaller occupants will be likely to enjoy travelling any significant distance in it.

Driving the Vauxhall Viva Rocks

Vauxhall Viva Rocks on the road
“Sign says slow. Luckily, we’ve got just the car for the job…”

The Viva Rocks is an adequate road performer. A 2cm height increase is not exactly major and does not unsettle the car, which boasts generally compliant road manners.

This remains true even when cornering with as much speed as its low-powered engine can muster. The combination of a Macpherson strut front and torsion bar rear suspension is said to have been benchmarked on UK roads, with extra measures including side-load compensation springs on the front to improve ride quality. Generally it all works, the Rocks behaving itself on most road surfaces.

It is a low-powered car, however – 13.1 seconds to 60mph is fairly pedestrian and if you take the Rocks out of its urban environment onto a motorway the noise will become intrusive.

Summary

Vauxhall’s thinking in creating the Viva Rocks is understandable and the higher-up stance and more muscular visuals may indeed succeed in attracting some younger buyers into the car.

However it falls down in specific areas – it is only adequate in performance, quality and looks, and despite being the most expensive Viva it lacks equipment included on cheaper versions.

Vauxhall’s big problem, however, is that the Viva Rocks competes directly against a much better car. Costing around the same money, the Suzuki Ignis leaves the Viva Rocks behind in all areas, being a car full of character, with higher quality and refinement and much better performance – including the availability of a proper all-wheel-drive version.

Vauxhall Viva Rocks under a canopy of green
Vauxhall Viva Rocks is an adequate car, but competes against much better rivals

Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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