Review

Volkswagen up! hatchback

£8,995 - £12,580

Even in a crowded market, the Volkswagen up! is one of the better city cars you can buy today. The up! is about £500 more expensive than the mechanically identical Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, but the Volkswagen badge will hold enough appeal to temp many.

Aside from its sister models, the up! also faces stiff competition from the Hyundai i10. While the up! feels slightly better built than the i10, Hyundai's warranty and standard equipment list is more generous than Volkswagen's. Other competitors include the Fiat 500, Peugeot 108 and Kia Picanto – cars that the up! beats in terms of price, practicality and driving experience respectively.

The up! is available as a three or five-door model, with VW charging a reasonable £400 for an extra pair of doors. Like most city cars, the up! isn’t available with a diesel engine, although you do get a choice of two petrols. The 1.0-litre engine comes with 59 or 74bhp, but you have to go for a more expensive trim in order to get the 74bhp. The car is also strictly a four-seater. If you need a third seatbelt in the back, your choices in this class are slightly limited, although the Hyundai i10 can seat five at a pinch.

Whichever up! model you choose, fuel economy impresses: the 59bhp version returns 62.8mpg, while the more powerful engine is only about 1mpg less efficient; both cost just £20 a year in road tax. Those after even greater economy can specify Volkswagen's BlueMotion technology on either engine for about £300. This improves fuel consumption by roughly 6mpg and makes the up! road-tax-exempt, but doesn’t affect performance. For the ultimate in low running costs, the electric Volkswagen e-up! offers virtually expense-free driving. This model is over twice the price of a standard up!, however, and we’ve reviewed it separately.

In terms of performance, 0-62mph takes 13.2 seconds with the 59bhp engine and 14.4 seconds with the 74bhp model. The up! never feels particularly quick, but its small size and low weight make it a great town car. It's narrow enough to squeeze down tight roads easily, short enough to be a doddle to park and agile enough to nimbly manoeuvre around congested cities. While overtaking on the open road needs to be planned well in advance, the up! acquits itself remarkably well on the motorway, where's it's quiet, smooth and comfortable for a car of its size.

We recommend the more powerful engine if you plan on taking the up! out of town regularly – but you have to choose the High up! or a special-edition model if you want this. We also recommend avoiding the optional automatic gearbox. Volkswagen calls this an ASG gearbox and, unlike a conventional automatic, it doesn’t provide a ‘creep’ function when you take your foot off the brake, meaning if you want to move off gently you have to press the accelerator. If you’re used to the way a standard automatic behaves, make sure to try the up!'s jerky ASG gearbox before you commit to anything.

Inside, the up! is solidly built and logically laid-out. The main dashboard is available in 14 different colours, although some of these are restricted to higher trim levels. Volkswagen offers a slightly bewildering choice of trims with the up!, each with its own fun name – although there are three straightforward core levels.

The entry-level Take up! is best avoided, as it features a DAB radio but very little else in the way of creature comforts. Upgrading to the Move up! costs roughly £1,000 and we recommend you do this if you can. This model comes with essentials like electric front windows, remote central locking, a split-folding rear seat and a height-adjustable driver's seat.

The High up! has heated front seats, some upgraded interior trim flourishes, sat nav and 15-inch alloy wheels. Take up! and Move up! cars come with 59bhp, while the High up! gets the 74bhp engine.

Volkswagen also offers a range of special-edition models, including the Look, Club, Rock and Street up! The Look up! comes with the 59bhp engine, while the Club, Rock and Street up! all get 74bhp.

The up! put in an uninspiring performance in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 111th out of 150 cars, although the Skoda Citigo came 11th. Considering the cars are identical underneath and built in the same factory, this disparity may simply be down to what people expect from the two different brands. There are no such questions over safety, thanks to a five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP.