Volkswagen up! hatchback

£8,870 - £13,580

The Volkswagen up! is the most expensive of the VW Group's three city cars, the others being the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo. The class they compete in is notable for its wealth of talent, with rivals including the Kia Picanto, Hyundai i10, Peugeot 108, Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo and Renault Twingo.

The up! trades on Volkswagen's strong image and build quality, so sits towards the upper end of the class price range. Model for model, it's certainly more expensive than its SEAT and Skoda relations, by around £500. A trio of high-spec special editions widens the gap still further.

The up! is available in three and five-door body styles and is powered by a choice of two 1.0-litre petrol engines – each having its own more economical ‘BlueMotion’ alternative. They’re both willing enough, but having only three cylinders makes them sound a little ‘thrummy’. They’re also lively around town, but on fast country roads, you’ll need to plan overtakes well in advance. The more powerful one can hold a reasonably relaxed 70mph cruise on the motorway, however.

You’d expect a car as small as the up! to be fun to drive and fortunately the little VW doesn’t disappoint. Its steering is light, yet direct and full of feel. It's quick enough to allow you to nip into gaps in the traffic or turn on a sixpence. The ride is surprisingly comfortable, as well as quiet.

Although it sits at the cheaper end of Volkswagen's model range, the up! still looks and feels classy inside. It's a small car, but it manages to be reasonably roomy, too, with enough of space for four adults; five at a push. The boot is one of the largest in the class and can easily take a week's shopping.

The three core trim levels – Take up!, Move up! and High up! – suggest the up! doesn’t take itself very seriously. In fact, it takes safety very seriously, with standard kit including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and tyre-pressure monitoring. Euro NCAP was sufficiently impressed to award the up! five out of five stars in its crash tests. Options include City Braking, which automatically brakes the car if the system senses an imminent collision.

The basic Take up! is exactly that – basic – although it does have DAB digital radio plus iPod and USB sockets. Move up! raises the little car's game with smarter bodywork, nicer interior trim, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, electric front windows and – in three-door models – slide and fold front seats that improve access to the rear. It costs around £1,000 more than the Take up! but is still our favourite trim.

In addition to the three core versions, there are at least three strongly contrasting special editions that, as carmakers are fond of saying, allow you to express your personality. Whichever version you choose – core or special edition – there are loads of options, including a removable sat-nav system.