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 the Volkswagen Polo supermini. There are shades of the original Mini in its cube-like design, its ability to seat four people in comfort and the way it can put a smile on your face from behind the wheel. The up! was thoroughly praised when it was launched and still remains one of the best city cars.
The sector has some talented models, including the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10, while you might also want to check out the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108. City cars are becoming less common because they’ve become less profitable, but some manufacturers are switching them on to electric power in response. The SEAT Mii (a twin of the up!) is now electric, as was the mechanically identical Skoda Citigo before it was discontinued. A new electric Fiat 500 is now available too, alongside the old petrol model. In price terms, the up! also competes with cheaper superminis like the Suzuki Swift and Dacia Sandero.
Given the scale of the competition, Volkswagen has always kept on top of the up!, making sure it remains fresh and relevant. Recently, Volkswagen condensed the engine range and now only one 64bhp 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 64bhp engine results in low insurance costs but it does take its time to get up to speed. It needs around 15 seconds to get from 0-62mph, so it’s worth hunting out a used up! with either the 74bhp and 89bhp engines if you want to get up to speed a little quicker. Besides the 64bhp 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 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. Picking a funky exterior colour will also lift the interior, as there’s a lot of bare painted metal on the doors. 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. Topping the current range 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 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. The Volkswagen brand itself achieved a middling score of 19th 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. It’s just starting to feel its age in the face of newer rivals, but is still one of the best options in the city car class.