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 now-discontinued up! GTI and fully electric e-up! also showcased the up!’s formidable breadth of talents. But even with them gone, and after being on sale for more than a decade, the dinky VW continues to be one of the best city cars you can buy, though it's far from the most advanced model we've ever tested.
About the Volkswagen up!
Volkswagen introduced its little up! city car in 2011, and it’s been one of the very best in its class ever since. That remains true today if you want a petrol-powered city car, although the fully electric Fiat 500 won our City Car of the Year award twice thanks to its blend of style, tech and all-round appeal. But being the class benchmark for as long as it was is still a pretty impressive achievement.
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 in the hopes of appealing to younger buyers. The up! remains as refined and practical as ever, but we found the 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!'s spec sheet in 2019, causing it to fall from a five to a three-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
Nevertheless, over the years the smallest VW has seen off a roster of rivals that in the past included the three-pronged attack of the Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo joint venture partners, as well as the up!'s near identical sister cars: the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. However, times have changes and all five of these cars have been axed at this point.
Today, the dinky VW's key rivals are the impressive Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10, plus the previous-generation Fiat 500 which is still on sale with a hybrid powertrain while the new generation is electric-only. The Aygo's SUV-inspired replacement, the Aygo X, is another competitor in the city car class. Other ways to spend a similar amount of money include the Dacia Sandero and Citroen C3 superminis, and Suzuki Ignis SUV.
As we mentioned, the up! line-up has shrunk in recent years with the sporty up! GTI and fully-electric e-up! no longer available to order. You can still order a three-door up! but only in the base trim, while the five-door model is offered in a choice of up!, Black Edition, Beats and R-Line specifications. At the time of writing, prices start from close to £15,000, so it's still one of the cheapest cars on sale in the UK.
The base model comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, a five-inch dash display screen, a smartphone cradle and manual air-con. Black Edition cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, unique dash design and tinted rear glass, Beats trim adds a 300W six-speaker sound system, different wheels and body decals, while the R-Line has lowered sports suspension, fog lights, heated seats and electric mirrors.
The only engine available in the up! at this point is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine producing 64bhp that's paired with a five-speed manual gearbox.
For an alternative review of the Volkswagen up!, visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk...
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