Volkswagen up! review
The VW up! has city car dimensions, but is stuffed with the best bits from larger Volkswagens
The Volkswagen up! is a high-quality, classy city car that, along with the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii, forms part of a trio of near identical cars from the Volkswagen Group. It has the same quality feel as larger Volkswagen models such as the Polo and the Golf, all crammed into a package similar in size to the Fiat 500.
The up! is more sophisticated than its size and looks suggest. It’s comfortable, feels stable on the road and is enjoyable to drive. It’s designed to work in town, and does, but it isn’t too noisy or underpowered for the occasional motorway trip.
The up! is available only with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine but there is the choice of either 59bhp or 74bhp power outputs. The 74bhp engine is our pick and it’s best with the manual gearbox as the auto is too jerky. The new 1.0-litre TSI model is a great choice too, with plenty of power to make the car even more fun to drive.
The up! is also available with Volkswagen's BlueMotion Technology, a package of extras to boost fuel economy that’s worth investing in. Finally, there’s a battery powered e-up!, which runs solely on electric power. It’s just as refined and good to drive as the standard car, but it is expensive and has a limited range.
Volkswagen's smallest car in its range, the up!, replaced the rather unloved Fox city car in 2011. It's good to drive, classy and deceptively spacious too. The up! shares its almost identical DNA with the other city cars in the Volkswagen Group - the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo. The engines, body and platform are all pooled across the three cars.
The up! is the most expensive of the city car trio, which isn't that surprising when you consider the brand's positioning in the market compared to its Skoda and SEAT sister brands. VWs are generally a bit pricier and slightly more upmarket, while SEAT and Skoda are a more budget orientated. The up! has also had a mid-life facelift, adding some new looks and a new engine to the range as well.
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The city car market is a fierce one, so the up! has no shortage of rivals. The Toyota Aygo and its near identical bretheren in the form of the Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 are among them, as is the Fiat 500 and budget alternatives like the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10.
You can buy an up! in either three- or five-door guise and is available in various trim levels. The range starts with the Take up!, going on to Look up!, Move up! and then High up!, with a new up! Beats available with a powerful sound system.
There are now two engines on offer: a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol available with either 59bhp or 74bhp along with a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic gearbox, or the manual-only 1.0-litre TSI with 89bhp. A BlueMotion version is also available, which adds economical features such as a stop start system and low rolling resistance tyres to boost mpg and reduce emissions. There’s also an e-up!, which is a battery powered, fully electric version, though it is a lot more expensive than conventional petrol model.
Engines, performance and drive
The small size of the up! means it lends itself perfectly to navigating narrow streets and tight car parks, so it fits the brief of a city car very well. The tight turning circle makes it particularly good for nipping in and out of traffic and it’s a doddle to park.
The Volkswagen is actually very comfortable – it irons out bumps much better than you’d expect for a car of this size and though it isn’t comparable to a larger car with a bigger engine, as city cars go it’s quite happy on the motorway and isn’t too noisy. The steering is light with good feedback and it’s generally a fun little car to drive hard. Go for the manual gearbox unless you really need an automatic. The ASG auto is jerky and you have to get used to it in order to make the car drive smoothly.
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Despite being over 200kg heavier than the standard up! due to its bulky batteries, the fully electric Volkswagen e-up! drives just as well as its petrol counterpart. The extra weight of the battery, which is mounted at the bottom of the car, helps provide a low centre of gravity, so if anything the handling is a bit sharper.
Entry-level Take up! and Move up! models are powered by the little three-cylinder 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine but the up! isn’t exactly heavy so even with a small, low powered engine, it still feels pretty nimble and responsive. That said, the more powerful 74bhp versions of the up! (it’s the same 1.0-litre engine) are better and sacrifice little in terms of economy – they’re more flexible and happier at higher speeds, such as on the motorway.
The new 1.0-litre turbocharged engine with 89bhp is a teriffic unit, offering plenty of low-down torque that makes it feel really nippy at low speed. It's not really close to being a hot hatch version, but the extra power is enough to inject an extra dose of fun to the mix, without sacrificing too much in terms of economy.
The electric e-up feels like quite a fast car from the off because all the pulling power is available from a standstill, so it accelerates quickly. However, beyond 60mph, it starts to run out of steam so it isn’t much of an A-road or motorway car.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Volkswagen doesn’t offer a diesel engine with the up! so all versions come with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit with petrol power.
The 59bhp engine is only available on the entry-level Take up! and mid-level Move up! versions and has a combined economy of 62.8mpg with CO2 emissions of 105g/km. Volkswagen also offers an ultra efficient BlueMotion version on mid and top-end Move up! and High up! models. This adds features such as low rolling resistance tyres, a stop-start system and brake regeneration technology, which improve the figures for the 59bhp engine to 65.7 mpg and 95g/km of CO2.
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The 74bhp unit found on the Move up! and High up! models manages a combined cycle of 60.1mpg and puts out 108g/km of CO2. Volkswagen offers the higher powered model with same BlueMotion Technology package, the result of which is 67.3mpg and 98g/km.
Economy for the turbocharged 1.0 TSI is impressive too, with figures of 64.2mpg and 101g/km.
The automatic gearbox found on the Volkswagen up! actually improves emissions by 3g/km in the non-BlueMotion models. However, it’s somewhat jerky so we’d recommend sticking with the manual.
The battery powered e-up!, which runs solely on electricity, can cover up to 99 miles on a single charge and can be charged up to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. Being an electric vehicle, it has no tailpipe emissions and is tax free, though the list price is a lot higher than that of your average up!.
Being a small car with a focus on value, the Volkswagen up! is about as cheap to insure as it gets. The 59bhp models start in group 1 and the 74bhp models are group 2, which are right down the bottom of the scale. It’s a similar affair for the up!’s sister modles, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo, which also have rock bottom insurance groups.
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The Volkswagen up! has better predicted residual values than either of its cousins, the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. It’s predicted to keep more than 50 per cent of its value over three years partly thanks to the cachet of that VW badge on the front.
Interior, design and technology
Despite its small size, the up! is a distinctive city car with its large Volkswagen badges, stubby nose and big windows. There's a wide range of colours and alloy wheels available, so the scope for personalisation is fairly wide. The shiny black glass tailgate contributes to the car's funky, futuristic look, too. The facelifted model's new lights give it an even sharper look.
The interior of the up! is simple yet high-quality and it can be specified with body-coloured panels. While it's comfortable and neat, there's little that really sets the up! apart from its less expensive siblings, the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii. The piano-black finish on the steering wheel and dash also looks great, but it does reflect the light in sunny weather and can be a distraction.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Up front there’s a new set of buttons around a small display screen. The new screen is just for displaying the radio and some other small functions, but it looks fantastic. It’s high-res and has a clean, classy look.
It’s just a shame that the only way to access extra features is through a smartphone. There’s no more clip-on sat-nav like in the previous car, only a phone holder for you to use with an official VW app, which displays the nav as well as driving data and even the reversing camera if fitted.
That’s all very well if you’re happy to use a phone, but you could do that before - and now those without the latest phone tech won’t be able to buy the car with a built-in system. The app isn’t bad to use, but when the previous system worked so well, it’s frustrating to lose the option to have that.
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Practicality, comfort and boot space
The up! is available as a three or a five-door hatchback with four seats and the compact but spacious layout means it’s perfect for short journeys and young families. The up! has the same interior as its sister cars, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo, and while it isn’t as big inside as the Polo supermini, the versatile interior should prove practical enough. The comfortable, upright driving position and good all-round visibility make it very easy to drive. There are plenty of cubbyholes, too.
Don't be fooled by the up!'s big-car feel, it is still very compact, with a length of 3,540mm, width of 1,645mm and height of 1,489mm. It is the same size as the Fiat 500, but thanks to its 2,420mm wheelbase, the up! is much more spacious than its Italian rival. It’s obviously the same size as the near identical SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo but it’s bigger and has a larger boot than the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 trio.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The inner roof is shaped to accommodate taller rear passengers. It means that while the up! isn’t exactly a family-sized car, there is quite a bit more space than you’d expect from a car of this size for those in the back seats – and the same goes for legroom. It’s only a four-seater though, so you may want to look elsewhere if you need the extra central seat in the back.
The up! has a 251-litre boot and space remains the same for both the three-door and five-door models, though the latter has better access to the rear seats. All cars bar the entry-level model get split-folding rear seats, which create a 951-litre load area. The boot is bigger than the majority of rival city cars can offer but the Volkswagen is beaten by the Hyundai i10, which has a 252-litre boot that expands to 1,046 litres when the rear seats are folded flat.
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Reliability and Safety
The Volkswagen up! is one of the safest city cars on the market thanks to its five-star crash test rating from Euro NCAP. It scored 89 per cent for adult occupant safety, and 86 per cent in the safety assist category. It's a disappointment that Volkswagen doesn't give the entry-level Take up! models ESP stability control as standard, but all versions come with driver and passenger airbags in addition to Isofix child seat attachments, anti-lock brakes and seat belt reminders.
The up! features a few clever safety systems including the optional City Emergency Braking system, which uses a laser to scan the road ahead and automatically applies the brakes if it senses an imminent collision.
In terms of reliability, the Volkswagen up! finished 56th in our Driver Power 2015 customer satisfaction survey, which leaves it just outside the top quarter of 200 cars. It was voted third best for running costs, directly behind its sister model, the Skoda Citigo, so owners are clearly happy with its low bills.
Volkswagen offers an industry standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty with the up!. It’s easy enough to find rival city cars with longer periods of cover if you want them – the Hyundai i10 and the Toyota Aygo both come with five-year/unlimited-mileage warranties and the Kia offers seven years and 100,000 miles of cover with the Picanto.
Individual servicing costs for brand new versions of the up! will depend on the dealer but it’s such a small, low cost car that it’s unlikely to burn much of a hole in your pocket. For slightly older models, Volkswagen offers a fixed price service plan for cars between three and 15 years old with engines up to 2.0 litres (that comfortably covers the up!). A minor service costs £149, a major service costs £299 and there are also bundles that include MoTs, air conditioning recharges and other routine bits of maintenance.