VW up! vs rivals

Has the new VW up! redefined the city car class? We find out in its first test on British roads

VW up! vs rivals
Every now and then, a new car comes along that redefines an existing market – and with the full might of the VW Group empire behind it, that’s exactly what the world is expecting from the up! city car.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder model will be joined by near-identical Skoda and SEAT cars next year. But the up! is the first to hit UK roads, in three-door guise, with a five-door set to follow.
And to find out if it really is going to change the way we think about small cars, we’ve lined up three talented rivals – starting with the Kia Picanto. The three-door has already won one Auto Express group test (Issue 1,190), and its combination of value and space promises to provide a tough benchmark for the up! to beat.
Hot on the Kia’s heels comes the most stylish city car around, in the retro shape of the Fiat 500. The entry 1.2 Pop makes up for its limited spec with a cheeky personality. Our final contender is closest in concept to the up!.
The Toyota Aygo is part of a joint venture which also brought us the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107, and has a revvy 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.
VW has copied this cost-sharing approach, but the up! needs more than a competitive price to win here.

Verdict

Let’s cut to the chase – the VW up! wins this test comfortably. Put simply, it redefines what is possible for a city car.
Refined, spacious, beautifully built, safe and good to drive, the up! feels like a car from the class above. Factor in its extensive list of equipment, attractive price and upmarket image, and it takes a dominant victory. 
So, where does this leave its rivals? Next in the pecking order is the Kia. In stylish Halo trim the Picanto is pricey, but it features loads of standard kit and offers excellent aftersales care. Only the coarse engine, artificial steering feel and firm ride let it down.
The Fiat 500 still has plenty to recommend it, including head-turning looks, a classy cabin and an eye-catching price. But it’s hampered by poor practicality and a miserly specification.
Bringing up the rear is the Aygo. It’s still charming and fun, but a low-rent cabin, cramped boot and cheap feel count against it.
However, the VW’s reign at the top could be short-lived, as its identical SEAT and Skoda siblings promise to be just as talented, but at an even lower price.
1. Volkswagen High up! 1.0
It’s no understatement to say the up! has turned the city car class on its head. The grown-up driving dynamics and practical, upmarket cabin make it a class champion. 
2. Kia Picanto 1.25 Halo
The three-door Picanto hasn’t stayed on top for long. But with its big car features and aftersales package, it’s still a desirable car. Cheaper models make more sense.
3. Fiat 500 1.2 Pop
The Fiat still takes some beating for style and charm. It has a classy cabin and composed chassis, too. Yet Pop spec has a miserly kit tally and it costs more to run than rivals.
Don’t be put off by the Toyota’s last place finish. If driving fun and low running costs matter most, it’s a fine buy. But time is catching up with the Aygo; it feels outclassed.

Most Popular

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'
Opinion cheap cars
Opinion

'The death of cheap cars will be a travesty for personal mobility'

Our appetite for small, cheap cars is as strong as ever - although Mike Rutherford warns they may no longer be profitable
12 Sep 2021
E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?
Petrol pump
News

E10 petrol explained: UK prices, checker tool and is it OK for your car?

E10 petrol is up to 10 per cent ethanol and is available at UK fuel stations now as part of the bid to cut CO2 emissions
1 Sep 2021
What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven
Skoda vRS range
Skoda

What is Skoda vRS? History and best cars driven

To mark 20 years of Skoda’s vRS badge, we rounded up some of the performance cars from the past two decades that have worn the subtle green badge
17 Sep 2021