First drive: Volkswagen up!
What is it: VW’s newest and by-far most effective city car
Key features: Three doors, 3-cylinder engine, attractive styling
Our view: It’s an often-expressed view in the motor industry that city cars are not Volkswagen’s strong point. In recent years we have had the Lupo, followed by the Fox – both cars memorable for being totally unmemorable.
Now, however, VW finally appears to have discovered the secret to small car success with the up! The name, especially the exclamation mark, is a ‘talking point’, but rather more relevant is the fact that this is a very effective package – whether as a VW or the soon-to-launch clones in Skoda’s Citigo and the Seat Mii.
The up! launches in three-door form, though a five-door won’t be far behind. Initial impressions are good – the car has pleasing presence, especially the grinning front-end design, the upwards sweep of the rear side windows and the dark-panelled tail.
It is a small city car – just 3540mm in length, but slip inside and you are faced with not only well-finished surroundings but for this class a lot of space. A combination of a highly compact three-cylinder engine, clever packaging in the engine bay and an exceptionally-long wheelbase of 2420mm frees up surprising room in the front and enough for two fair-sized adults in the back.
Boot space is good for the class too – while opening the tailgate appears to reveal a compact little compartment, removing the floor panel reveals a void underneath, 251 litres in all. Drop the rear seats and an extra 700 litres is added.
The up! is powered by a 1-litre petrol engine that comes in two strengths – with either 59 or 74 horses under the bonnet. With VW’s Bluemotion emissions measures the smaller unit offers official combined cycle fuel economy of almost 69mpg and CO2 emissions of just 96g/km.
In terms of pure driving pleasure, however, the more powerful unit is the better option. Three cylinders are by their very nature more difficult to smooth out than four, and with less gee-gees the smaller engine can get a bit throbby. Its larger sibling accelerates more smoothly and feels generally more nippy, especially with the constant stop-start of urban traffic.
You do need to be a generous user of your right foot to get the best out of either unit, and as a result the engine note remains noticeable throughout the rev range, but generally both engines efficiently achieve what is expected of them in this package.
The chassis of the up! is generally impressive. While the wheel at each corner layout might encourage the go-kart like tendencies of certain rivals, VW goes for a softer, more pliable setup. As a result the ride is far more forgiving, the car effectively soaking up the bumps and potholes of the much-abused southeast roads comprising the launch test route.
Softer suspension of course means some body roll in the bendy bits, but the car does grip well even at the kind of speed one never achieves in its home urban environment.
Currently the up! comes in three trim levels with quirky names and two launch special editions with less quirky names. Entry level is Take up!, then there’s Move up! and finally High up! – do you see what they did there?
You should avoid the £7,995 Take up! that is offered with the smaller engine but only in 105bhp form. Air conditioning – a manual version admittedly – and crucially, electronic stability control, only come as standard from Move up! level, costing from £8,395.
You also get electric front windows, remote central locking, sliding seats to ease access into the rear and the 60:40 split rear seat freeing up that potential extra cargo space.
The High up! costs from £10,390, gains the 74bhp engine and several niceties. These include leather, chrome, alloys, electric heated mirrors, heated seats and the like, along with Maps & More, a portable multi-functional infotainment system which includes navigation, hands-free phone unit, info displays and media player.
The two special editions, by the way, are the black and the white. Both based on the High up! they cost £11,180 and come with bespoke styling touches inside and out, carpet mats and special alloy wheels.
Sadly none of the cars come as standard with the City Emergency Braking system. Familiar in large premium sector offerings, not at all in the city car market, the system works at speeds under 19mph, scanning the space ahead of the car and activating the brakes if a collision appears likely. It’s a £225 option.
One or two minor areas aside, the up! fulfils the brief in style – this really is a Volkswagen small car worthy of serious consideration.
And you can be sure it will spawn a host of derivatives. The five-door we know about, and a bigger-engined GT model has also been seen. But judging by recent concepts at the Geneva show, VW intends to make up! for past lost opportunities…
Model Tested: VW Move up!, up! black
On Sale: Now
Range price: £7,995–£11,180
Engine: 999cc 3-cylinder petrol
Power (bhp): 59/74
Torque (lb/ft): 70
0-62mph (sec): 14.4/13/2
Top speed (mph): 99/106
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 62.8/60.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 105/108
Key rivals: Toyota Aygo, Fiat 500
Test date: March 2012
Words by: Andrew Charman