Volkswagen up! hatchback review
"Low running costs, good build quality and an easy driving experience make the Volkswagen up! an excellent city-car choice"
- Comfortable suspension
- Spacious interior
- Three-star safety rating
- Higher entry price than rivals
- No steering-wheel reach adjustment
The Volkswagen up! brings quality and class to the city-car segment. It actually feels like a much bigger car – a trick the manufacturer learned some years before with its Polo supermini. It doesn’t have the field to itself, though.
The sector is full of talented models, including the Kia Picanto, Fiat 500 and Hyundai i10. Closer to home, there are the up!’s sister cars, the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. However, these two are now only available as electric cars, while VW still gives up! buyers a choice of petrol or electric. But that’s not all, there’s the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1, too. Those three are also related to each other, but none feels quite as well built or classy as the VW. They’re around the same price, though.
Given the scale of the competition, Volkswagen has always kept on top of the up!, making sure it remains fresh and relevant. For 2020, Volkswagen condensed the engine range and now only one 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is offered. According to the latest figures, all up! models achieve over 50mpg - and we managed even more than this in our test car.
The 59bhp engine results in low insurance costs but it does take its time to get up to speed. It needs 14.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph, while the now-discontinued 74bhp and 89bhp versions reduced that to 13.5 seconds and 9.9 seconds respectively. Besides the 59bhp engine, there’s a much more powerful standalone version called the up! GTI, which we've reviewed separately.
Also in the line-up is a purely electric up! called the Volkswagen e-up!. We’ve reviewed it separately, but like most electric cars, it’s expensive. However, it’s very well equipped and very cheap to run, with the second generation version getting an 82bhp motor and improved range of up to 162 miles on a single charge.
Whichever version you choose, the up!’s small dimensions make it fantastic around town. The car is quite narrow, so it can squeeze down the tightest of roads with ease and you can easily see all four corners from the driver’s seat, so parking is a doddle. It doesn’t feel completely out of its depth on the open road either and always seems stable, settling down to become fairly quiet, comfortable and smooth at speed.
The interior of the up! is well built and the layout is logical, with some models offering extra personalisation touches. There’s a broad choice of trim levels, beginning with the unnamed base model, which is relatively sparsely equipped. Its standard DAB radio is welcome, but there are few other luxuries, bar electric front windows, alloy wheels, air conditioning and remote central locking. The White and Black Editions cost just under £300 more and come with bigger wheels and contrasting exterior trim.
Our favourite model is the up! Beats, which features a set of stylish 15-inch alloy wheels and upgrades to the interior decor. The up! Beats model itself is effectively a style pack and a Beats sound system, and is good value at £650 more than the entry-level car. New for 2020 is an R-Line edition with a sporty body kit, lowered suspension, heated door mirrors and heated seats, but it pushes the price up towards bigger cars.
The Volkswagen up! wasn’t ranked in the 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. The Volkswagen brand itself achieved a middling score of 17th out of 30 manufacturers.
Euro NCAP crash tested the up! in 2011 and it scored the full five stars. However, the revised Euro NCAP test now takes active safety features into account. The up! lacks some of these, and its safety score was revised to a slightly disappointing three stars.
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.
There’s an up! to meet the city car needs of most drivers, thanks to its clever design and excellent engines.