With a thriving tourism industry, it’s not surprising that there are a number of minibus options available to operators in South Africa. One such option is the Opel Vivaro, a dark horse in its segment and quite a rare sight as well because of its limited sales on local shores. There are probably various reasons for this, but I think it’s mainly because Opel is not seen as a maker of large passenger vehicles in South Africa.
Add to that the fact that the Vivaro doesn’t look anything like an Opel and it becomes even more apparent why there are so few of them on our roads. Sharing the same basic design with Nissan’s Primastar and Renault’s Trafic, the Vivaro has a very distinct and very European look to it – in fact, there’s a French quirkiness to it that makes it look odd even with a Nissan badge. Yes, there are probably significant cost savings involved with sharing development costs, but such badge engineering certainly does nothing to enforce a brand’s positioning in the collective buyers’ conscience.
It’s not ugly as such, though. Its monocab design serves its purpose well and I quite like its slab-sided design at the rear and sides. The front is friendly and safe, but looks too much like that of the Trafic and Primastar – not even the big Opel badge can disguise it. I loved the bubble the roof makes over the driver and front passenger compartment as its different to the norm, but the Renault influence is once again too apparent. Colour-coded bumpers and 16-inch alloy wheels separate the Vivaro bus from its panel van sibling, with front fog lamps, a tow hitch and a high-mounted stop lamp conclude the exterior package.
Inside the Vivaro is neat albeit utilitarian. The Vivaro, Trafic and Primastar are also available as panel vans and that is evident thoughout. The advantage of this is that the interior is put together well and appears to be durable in every way, an important aspect to consider if you’re using it as a tour or fleet operator. Even private owners will benefit from this, as it appears easy to clean should the little ones make a mess (as kids are prone to doing). From behind the wheel I couldn’t fault the ergonomics and particularly liked the positioning of the gear lever that is integrated into the dashboard, making it easy to accommodate a third passenger up front.
The driver’s seat is adjustable, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position. For more flexibility, the second and third row benches can be removed. Front and rear air conditioning is standard, as is a leather-covered steering wheel, a radio and CD player with MP3 functionality and aux input, steering wheel mounted controls for the audio system and clever cup holders integrated into the dashboard. A total of eleven storage areas provided, including an illuminated glove compartment, while power steering, electric windows and electric side mirrors add to the overall operating comfort.
Anti-theft protection includes a transponder key immobiliser and ultra-sonic alarm system, while safety features abound. An ABS anti-lock braking system is fitted as standard with ventilated disc brakes fitted at the front and solid discs at the rear. Braking performance is designed to provide effective skid free braking under all load conditions, with EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution) and Brake Assist included in the ABS system. A driver’s side airbag provides and added level of protection from serious injury in the event of a crash impact.
Powering the Vivaro is a four-cylinder, 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine delivering 74kW and 240 Nm of torque. Opel claims a fuel consumption figure of 7.7-litres/100km in the urban cycle and I was thoroughly impressed with just how frugal this engine is, considering the vehicle’s size and my enthusiastic driving during the week I had it on test. We’ve not had many of Opel’s CDTi engines available locally, but I have a suspicion that this is fact exactly the same engine as Renault’s well-loved and super-frugal 1.9 dCi.
Driving the Vivaro was surprisingly pleasant. Despite its breadbox shape, it handles well and doesn’t display excessive body roll when cornering. I never quite had the opportunity to load it full of people, but did have the unexpected opportunity to load it from floor to ceiling with blankets for a charity run. The extra weight of the 200 blankets made the Vivaro feel more grounded, but aversely affected performance, especially when pulling away. Once at speed though, the Vivaro felt unstoppable.
Priced at R325 990, inclusive of a 5-year/90 000km service plan and a 5-year/120 000km warranty with roadside assistance, the Vivaro is a decent option to consider if you’re in the people moving business. Neither Nissan nor Renault offers the Primastar or Trafic in passenger configuration anymore, so on that front Opel at least has the advantage. But there are other competitors with which the Vivaro has to contend, including the Hyundai H1 2.5 CRDI GLS (120kW, 392Nm, R379 900), which offers much more for only a little bit cash. Fiat’s Scudo is priced just over R400 000, while the Peugeot Expert and Citroën Dispatch offer closer pricing.
The Opel Vivaro is a more than decent vehicle for carrying people from A to B. I can understand why they’re not very popular in the private sector, but it’s certainly priced extremely well and should at least be considered if you can’t stretch your budget to the Hyundai H1.
- Christo Valentyn