"The VW up! is a small city car with a high-quality feel that takes fight to the capable Hyundai i10."
The Volkswagen up! city car is the smallest car in the VW range and uses the same underpinnings at its VW Group siblings the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. The up! is a rival for the Renault Twingo and Toyota Aygo, and offers good value for money without sacrificing any of VW's famous levels of quality. The exterior dimensions have a clean, stylish design, while the three-cylinder petrol engines are ideal for younger customers with enough money to splash out on a compact VW as their first car. It also undercuts its VW sibling, the Volkswagen Polo, by quite some margin, as well as offering some big car-feel and high-quality accessories brought over from the Golf and Passat. The up! comes in five main specifications, all with quirky monikers to tie into the overall concept – entry-level Take up!, followed by Move up!, High up!, Groove up!, and top-spec Rock up!. The dimensions are large enough for four adults to squeeze inside, and it's really zippy around town while still coping well when driven on the motorway. Factor in its excellent fuel economy and low running costs and the up! is an very appealing small package.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
One engine, but two power outputs means that calculating running costs is simple. If you go for the 59bhp car with added BlueMotion technology, then the up! returns 67.3mpg while emitting less than 100g/km of CO2, making it exempt from annual road tax. The 74bhp model isn’t much worse, though, returning 60mpg and emitting 108g/km of CO2. But for truly low running costs, and if you don’t intend to drive more than 90 miles in one trip, then the all-electric e-up! could well be a better choice – as long as you don’t care about having to plug it into a conventional wall plug to charge for five and a half hour, that is.
Interior & comfort
The up!'s soft suspension makes easy work of potholes and bumps, keeping passengers safe from any of the big jolts that can be so uncomfortable in many small cars. However, this means that there is a lot of body roll when the up! is going round corners. There's actually a lot of space for adults, even in the back, for a short car with such tiny dimensions. Its boxy shape allows for generous amounts of shoulder, leg and headroom for everyone sat inside. The lack of reach adjustment in the steering wheel is a bit disappointing, but the amount of movement in the supportive driver's seat is substantial, so you should be able to find a comfortable driving position.
Practicality & boot space
At approximately 3.5 metres long, the up! is nearly identical in size to the ever-popular Fiat 500, and a longer wheelbase and boxier dimensions allow for much more room inside the car. There's even enough room for an adult to comfortably sit behind the driver, with loads of head and elbow room for them to remain comfy on long motorway drives. You also get a bigger boot than is the standard for small city cars, with 251 litres of boot space available with the back seats still in place, which is enough to carry a couple of large suitcases. If you fold down the standard-fit split-fold rear seats, the luggage capacity expands to a substantial 951 litres, which is the same in both the three-door and five-door models. The five-door does obviously have better access to the back of the car, but also has a slightly raised back seat that gives passengers a better view. The pop-out-style rear windows are a bit much to bear, though.
Reliability & safety
Volkswagen has a formidable reputation for quality and reliability, so it's disappointing that it could only manage to place 16th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturer rankings. The up! is still too new to feature in the top 100 car league table. But, like all VWs, it comes with a lot of safety equipment, including electronic stability control (ESP) fitted as standard, while some smart emergency braking technology that brakes the car automatically if it senses an impending impact is a really good optional extra. The up! can’t quite challenge the Hyundai i10's excellent unlimited-mileage warranty, but its straightforward front-engine, front-wheel drive layout and its VW Group tried and tested parts will make it really easy to fix if anything does go wrong. The quality inside and out the car is superb, and should withstand any daily wear and tear you can throw at it – even though the interior trim does use fewer soft-touch materials than models higher up the VW range.
Engines, drive & performance
The up! is surprisingly good on the motorway for a small car, feeling relaxed and capable of comfortably keeping pace with other traffic. There's only one engine available, a 1.0-litre petrol that comes with either 59bhp or 74bhp. Neither version is particularly quick, but because of the up!'s lightweight body and accurate steering, it is a responsive and lively car, especially when driving around busy urban streets. The brakes are also responsive and strong – overall the up! feels very much bigger than it really is. The manual gearbox is also easy to use and we’d suggest giving the jerky five-speed automatic gearbox a wide berth because it increases CO2 emissions. The end of 2013 will see the arrival of the hot hatchback performance version, the up! GT, while the electric e-up! offers eco-friendly EV motoring. But, if you’re looking for superior performance, you might be better served by a MINI or Fiat.
Price, value for money & options
While the up! costs about £500 more to buy than equivalent VW Group cars from Skoda or SEAT, its superior desirability and style just about justify the extra money. But bear in mind that the entry-level Take up! doesn’t come with some basic equipment as standard, like air-conditioning, so you will probably end up paying for some optional extras – you’re better off making sure that you choose the right spec at the outset. By the time you reach the High up!, Groove up! and Rock up! models, accessories such as a removable sat-nav unit, which fully integrates with the car's computer to display audio controls, directions and eco driving tips, become standard. However, extras like an automatic emergency braking system that can brake the car at speeds under 20mph are also available as an optional extra. The five-door is more expensive than the less practical three-door, but it's a cost you should be able to recoup when the time comes to sell in the used car market thanks to VW's traditionally strong resale values.