"The VW up! is a small city car with a high-quality feel that takes fight to the capable Fiat 500."
The Volkswagen up! city car is the smallest model in VW's range. It's based on the same platform at the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii and is designed to capture sales from stylish run-arounds like the Fiat 500 and Toyota Aygo. It offers excellent value for money and manages to maintain VW's renowned levels of quality, while its clean-cut design and efficient three-cylinder petrol engine mean it should prove a hit with a crop of young customers. With prices starting at around £8,000, it undercuts the VW Polo by some margin, and brings a lot of the big car-feel and high quality switchgear from its Golf and Passat siblings. There's enough room for four adults inside and it drives very well, feeling nippy in town and planted on the motorway. The impressive fuel economy and low running costs are simply the icing on the cake.
When buying a small car, you wouldn’t normally expect it to cope very well with motorway driving. But even at cruising speed, the up! remains a quiet and relaxing way to travel on long trips. There's a choice of 1.0-litre petrol engines, with either 59bhp or 74bhp – neither are particularly fast, but thanks to a lightweight body, both feel lively around town. The steering is light and accurate, while the brakes are strong, giving the tiny VW the feeling of a much larger car. The manual gearbox is a pleasure to use, but the five-speed auto is best avoided due to the jerky changes and increased emissions. An up! GT hot-hatch is set to join the UK range sometime during 2013, but official details are scarce at the moment. For the time being, performance fans will need to look towards MINI or Fiat if they want high-speed thrills in a small car package.
With such a short wheelbase, the supple suspension does an excellent job of absorbing bumps in the road. The price for straight-line comfort, however, is noticeable body roll when you’re going around corners. That said, there is plenty of room for adults in the back and thanks to the car's boxy dimensions there is generous amounts of leg, head and shoulder room. It's a shame there's no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, but thanks to a wide range of movement in the supportive front seats, finding a comfortable driving position is easy.
While the up! can’t match the five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty offered with the Hyundai i10, the VW brand has an decent record for reliability. The up!'s simple front-engine, front-wheel drive layout, and large proportion of tried and tested components, make it easy to fix when something goes wrong. Although the interior trim features fewer soft-touch materials than models higher up in the range, the superb build quality will stand up well to everyday use. In terms of safety, the tiny VW features ESP as standard, while clever emergency braking tech – which halts the car if it senses an accident is imminent – is a worthwhile optional extra.
At around 3.5 metres in length, the Volkswagen up! is almost identical in size to the Fiat 500. However, thanks to a longer wheelbase and a boxier profile, it is much larger inside. There's enough room for a full-sized adult to sit behind the driver and thanks to excellent head and elbow room, it’ll comfortably seat four on longer motorway journeys. Surprisingly for a car in this class, there's a generously sized boot, too. The 251 litres is enough to swallow a couple of large bags, while the standard split-fold rear seats mean this can expand to a whopping 951-litres. Boot space figures for the three and five-door models are exactly the same, though the latter provides easier access to the rear. It also benefits from a slightly raised back bench for a more commanding view as well as pop-out style rear windows for improved ventilation.
Value for money
Whether you want to buy or lease your Volkswagen up!, the tiny VW represents impressive value for money. Although it costs around £500 more than the equivalent Skoda or SEAT, VW's stylish design and superior badge allows justification for the small price premium. However, base-spec Take up! cars lack kit like air-con and adding optional extras can quickly see the list price rocket. A removable sat-nav unit, which integrates fully with the car's computer to display audio controls, directions and eco driving tips is standard on the flagship High up! and up! Black, while hi-tech features like an automatic emergency braking system that cuts in at speeds under 20mph are available as an option. The five-door commands a small premium over the less practical three-door, but it's a cost you should be able to recover when the time comes to sell, so it's a box worth ticking.
There is one engine and two power outputs available in the tiny VW up! – a 59bhp and a 74bhp three-cylinder petrol. Add BlueMotion technology to the lower powered car, and you’ve got an up! capable of returning 67.3mpg while emitting less than 100g/km – making it free from road tax and exempt from the London Congestion Charge. The 74bhp model is not far behind, though, with figures of 60mpg and 108g/km. Because it's a VW, used values should be better than rivals from Hyundai and Kia, so you’ll recoup more of your initial outlay when the time comes to sell. Those looking for true rock-bottom running costs could wait from the all-electric e-up!, which can do up to 90 miles on a single charge, taking only five-and-a-half hours from a conventional plug.