Volkswagen up! hatchback

£8,870 - £13,580

The Volkswagen up! is a top contender in the fast-growing city car class. It's one of three such models produced by the VW Group, the others being the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. Naturally, the up! is the most expensive, by around £500 model for model.

Rivals are numerous and include the rear-engined Renault Twingo, the impressive Hyundai i10 and that trio of related cars the Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo. However, of them all, the up! has the strongest image and feels the best built.

The model is offered with a choice of two 1.0-litre petrol engines. We prefer the more powerful of the pair, because it makes the up! a more rounded car that can carry four people comfortably (five at a pinch), is nippy around town and can cruise at 70mph on the motorway, while remaining economical (60mpg).

On that last point, the more economical BlueMotion version of the engine can achieve a claimed 67.3mpg. It costs around £350 more to buy, but exemption from road tax helps you to gradually claw that back.

Regardless of engine, the up! is fun and pleasant to drive. It has light but reassuringly direct and communicative steering and tidy handling, making it easy to drive around town. Out on the open road, its ride is supple, comfortable and quiet.

It's small on the outside, but inside, the up! exploits every last bit of space. The five-door version certainly helps in this respect, allowing two adults to climb into the back easily with their dignity preserved. The boot is one of the biggest in the class and can easily swallow a week's groceries. With the exception of the basic Take up!, all versions have a split-folding rear seat, so you can eke out even more load space if necessary.

There are three core trim levels, called Take up!, Move up! and High up!, as well as a clutch of special editions. The Take up! is light on luxury (although it does have a height-adjustable steering wheel and DAB digital radio), but like all versions it goes large on safety, with anti-lock brakes, a tyre-pressure indicator, electronic stability control, traction control and hill-hold assist.

However, our favourite trim is Move up!, which boosts the model's appeal with features such as body-coloured door handles and mirrors, a more attractive interior, air-conditioning, front electric windows and driver's-seat height adjustment.

The up! is a reliable car, although Skoda drivers appear to be happier with their near-identical but cheaper Citigos. It's safe, too, as demonstrated by Euro NCAP's award of the full five stars.