Volkswagen up! review
The VW up! has been at the top of the city car class for a decade, and it’s still going strong
The Volkswagen 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, but it's not overwhelmed by or underpowered for the occasional motorway trip, although the long gearing does make it hard work.
The more recent reappearance of the VW up! GTI and e-up! electric variant has reinforced the up!’s formidable breadth of talents. That’s why we named the up! Best City Car three times in a row in our 2018, 2019 and 2020 New Car Awards. However, it was pipped to the post in our 2021 Awards by the new electric Fiat 500.
About the VW up!
VW introduced its little up! City car in 2011, and it’s been just about the best thing in its class ever since. That remains true today if you want a petrol city car, although EV fans now have the option of a new Fiat 500 which we think outclasses the electric version of the up!
Being the class benchmark for so long is a pretty impressive achievement, but especially so when you consider the quality and outstanding appeal of many of the up!’s competitors. Changes VW made to the up! back in 2016 created a classier and more customisable car, and included a switch to a smartphone sat-nav system which appeals to younger buyers. The up! remains as refined and practical as ever, but updates to the gearbox resulted in slightly sluggish performance with no real gains in efficiency. It was also disappointing when VW dropped Autonomous Emergency Braking from the up! spec sheet in 2019, costing it two Euro NCAP stars.
Nevertheless, over the years the smallest VW has taken on - and seen off - a roster of rivals that includes the three-pronged attack of the Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo joint venture partners, the impressive Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10, and Fiat’s Panda and previous 500 models. Other ways to spend a similar amount of money include the Dacia Sandero supermini and Suzuki Ignis SUV, while anyone whose head hasn’t been turned by the Fiat 500 EV and is looking at VW’s e-up! electric city car also get to ponder the SEAT Mii electric. The VW Group duo’s all-but identical triplet the Skoda Citigo-e iV has now gone off sale, and the Mii electric is heading that way too.
The up! is a rarity these days as it’s still offered with three- and five-door bodies. That’s largely of interest to anyone considering the top-spec sporty up! GTI warm hatch, but if you’re really penny-pinching there’s a three-door entry model too. The rest of the line-up is blessed with the much more practical and popular five-door set-up.
As well as the entry level up! and GTI models, the five-door line-up spans Beats, White Edition, Black Edition and R-Line variants, offering a range of different spec levels and styles.
The standard up! spec includes 15-inch alloy wheels, a five-inch dash display screen with smartphone nav interface and manual aircon. Beats gives you a 300W six-speaker sound system, different wheels and body decals, while the Black and White editions have trim elements coloured to suit their names and 16-inch wheels. The R-Line has lowered sports suspension, fog lights, heated seats and electric mirrors, while the GTI adds 17-inch alloys, red front brake calipers and iconic plaid cloth trim first seen in the original Golf GTI.
Power for most of the range comes from a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine producing 64bhp, while the up! GTI has a 113bhp version of the 1.0-litre TSI unit. Then there is the e-up! which provides a greener, all-electric drive via its 81bhp motor. All cars get a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, except for the up! GTI, which has a six-speed box. There’s no automatic option unless you choose the e-up! which has a direct drive transmission with only two pedals.
Although it sits at the bottom of the VW range, the up! has a more premium feel than most of its rivals, and tends to be priced a little higher too. While it was previously possible to buy cheaper and slightly less-well specified SEAT and Skoda variants of the up!, the two VW Group stablemates are no longer available.
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In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe VW up! has been at the top of the city car class for a decade, and it’s still going strong
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe limited choice of engines takes nothing away from the entertainment on offer
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsThe Volkswagen Up is a small car with a small engine, which means low running costs
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe Volkswagen up! is surprisingly sophisticated for a such a small car
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceIt may be compact, but the Volkswagen up! is spacious for a city car
- 6Reliability and SafetyVolkswagen has a solid reputation for reliability, although the up! could improve on its Euro NCAP safety score