The Volkswagen up! is one of the best city cars on the market, providing the same feel of quality you get in the larger Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen Golf, while taking up no more space on the road than a Fiat 500. Broadly identical to its Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii sisters, it costs around £500 more, but the extra allure of the VW badge is worth that for many.
Apart from its rivals from within the VW Group, it also faces strong competition from the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1, another set of near-identical triplets. There’s also the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10, not to forget the Fiat 500, but the up! has been kept up-to-date and its blend of practicality and build quality, as well as being fun to drive and good value for money, keep it at the head of the pack.
The up! can be chosen as a three or five-door car, the extra pair of doors adding £400 to the price and both versions seat a maximum of four people. This is the situation with most city cars, although the Hyundai i10 is rare in featuring a third rear seatbelt.
There’s no diesel engine available, but the two petrols are economical and suit the nature of the car. There are 59 or 74bhp versions of a 1.0-litre engine available, with the more powerful choice being limited to the more expensive trim levels. The 59bhp version can return 62.8mpg and the more powerful engine is only around a mile per gallon less frugal. Either engine will only cost £20 a year in road tax.
Running costs can be made even lower if you pay an additional £300 to take advantage of Volkswagen's BlueMotion technology. Economy improves by a further 6mpg and CO2 emissions drop to such a low level that the up! becomes road-tax-exempt, yet performance isn’t affected. Finally, there’s also an electric version, theVolkswagen e-up! , which we’ve reviewed separately. It offers all the environmental advantages of any electric car, but it costs over twice as much to buy as the up! petrol.
The 59bhp version takes 14.4 seconds to complete the 0-62mph sprint. Our favourite is the 74bhp version, particularly with the standard manual gearbox. Not only does its acceleration time come down to 13.2 seconds, but the extra power makes the car far perkier and more fun to drive.
A recent addition to the up! range is s a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine engine with 89bhp, providing a little extra power but available only with a manual gearbox. An ASG automatic gearbox is available for the non-turbo engines, but we find it a little jerky to use, plus it doesn’t have a ‘creep’ facility like normal automatics, so it can be tricky to pull away smoothly at low speeds.
The small overall dimensions of the up! make it fantastic around town. It’s quite narrow, helping it squeeze down the tightest of roads, and it’s not very long, so parking is a doddle. It doesn’t feel completely out of its depth on the open road either, always seeming stable and settling down to become fairly quiet, comfortable and smooth at speed.
The interior of the up! is well built and the layout is logical. You can choose up to 14 different colours for the dashboard, although some of these are only available on the more expensive trim levels.
The actual range structure is a little bewildering now that VW has released a number of delightfully named special editions. As ever, the most basic specification is named Take up!, which is relatively sparsely equipped, with DAB radio being the only notable feature. Next comes the Move up! for around £1,000 more, with remote central locking, electric front windows and a folding rear seat. Our favourite is the High up!, which adds heated front seats, a sat-nav system and a set of stylish 15-inch alloy wheels, plus some upgrades to the interior decor. Most importantly it’s available with the more powerful 74bhp engine, which makes the up! so much easier to live with day-to-day.
Since launch these versions have been joined by the Look up! (with the 59bhp engine) and the Club up!, Street up! and Rock up! models (with 74bhp). Each has its own unique blend of style and special equipment.
It’s interesting to look at the performance of the up! when it comes to customer satisfaction. Our 2016 Driver Power survey took in 150 different cars and the up! finished in an uninspiring 111th place. However, the virtually identical Skoda Citigo (built on the same production line) came 11th, which could mean that the two cars were ranked differently because of the differing expectations of VW and Skoda customers.
Safety, though, is certainly not in question, as the Volkswagen up! carries the reassurance of a five-star rating from independent Euro NCAP crash testing. Meanwhile, the car’s warranty runs for three years or 60,000 miles – rather less generous than the five-year/unlimited-mileage policy you get from Hyundai.
With Volkswagen having just heavily revised the up!, we suspect it’ll remain a popular city-car choice for a good while yet.