ROAD TEST / This tiny roly-poly is made for big-city jams: Phil Llewellin succeeds in getting his six-foot frame into Subaru's diminutive Vivio and finds it surprisingly spacious, lively and agile

IN 1993, to be small is to be beautiful: the Nissan Micra has been voted 'Car of the Year', praise is being heaped on the chic little Renault Twingo, Fiat is preparing to launch the Cinquecento in Britain, and the Vauxhall Corsa goes on sale in April.

Set against such an array of Lilliputian competitors, the Subaru Vivio GLi's tiny size hardly constitutes a claim to fame. Instead it must settle for 'safest in the class', a status bestowed on this five-door hatchback by selectable four-wheel drive. Available at the touch of a button, it is this that makes the Vivio sure-footed on slippery road surfaces.

Cute, roly-poly styling and a high novelty value draw attention to a car that is 8in (20cm) longer than a Mini, but slightly narrower. It is surprisingly spacious inside. I am six feet tall - long in the body, short in the leg - but could 'sit behind myself' for two or three hours without feeling intolerably cramped. There were no complaints about comfort after a 350-mile drive.

The very small boot is not so appealing. The space concealed by the rear shelf measures about 12in high by 30in wide and 18in from front to rear.

Subaru's baby was designed to comply with Japanese legislation that encouraged manufacturers to build compact cars with tiny engines. Light controls, good visibility and minimal front and rear overhangs make the Vivio easy to park. It is the next best thing to a skateboard for taking advantage of gaps in traffic, where lively acceleration in the lower gears is another advantage.

Noise, however, is a drawback. The four-cylinder, 658cc engine has a sophisticated fuel injection system, and produces almost as much power (43bhp at 6,400rpm) as a 1.1-litre Ford Fiesta, but has to be revved hard to keep pace with run-of-the-mill traffic. Very low gearing is good from the performance angle, but there are times when it creates the impression of being inside a dentist's drill.

A minicar that can cruise fast enough to be a practical motorway proposition may be admirable, but a slightly bigger engine might make more sense. One reason is that very small engines are rarely synonymous with outstanding fuel economy, unless the car is driven at a very sedate rate of knots. Working hard is not compatible with frugality. The Vivio's average of only 36.6mpg can be compared with the 31.8mpg achieved by the 2.0-litre, 131bhp, 127mph Toyota Carina tested last November.

Wheels and tyres appear to have been borrowed from a Dinky Toy, but they provide plenty of grip and its four-wheel-drive mode can be a life-saving asset in bad weather. It also has agility, which is, of course, enhanced by the simple fact that it occupies such a small amount of space on the road. Its natural habitat is the big city or busy town.

Cars this small can make you feel as though you are on a trampoline, but the Vivio rides well over all but the most punishing road surfaces.

It boils down to a runabout that has considerable character and makes a lot of sense if about-town convenience is your top priority. But the Vivio has several rivals that offer such a lot more for a little more money.


Rover Mini-Cooper 1.3i, pounds 6,995. No match for the Vivio in terms of comfort or convenience, but great fun to drive.

Nissan Micra 1.0L, pounds 7,010. Probably today's best supermini. Assets include a refined, 16-valve engine and excellent build quality.

Peugeot 106 1.1i XN, pounds 7,350. Peugeot's cheapest five-door looks expensive in this company, but offers qualities that have made the slightly bigger 205 such a success.

Ford Fiesta 1.1, pounds 6,855. Britain's best-selling supermini in 1992. But the range's cheapest five-door suffers from a coarse engine and a four-speed gearbox.


Subaru Vivio GLi, pounds 6,697. Four-cylinder, 658cc engine, 43bhp at 6,400rpm. Five-speed manual gearbox. Maximum speed 84mph, 0-60mph in 17.8 seconds. Fuel consumption 36.6mpg.

(Photograph omitted)

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

    competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

    Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

    £26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

    Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea