Volkswagen up! review
The fun-size VW up! is a perennial award winner that proves good things come small packages
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.
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.
However the more recent reappearance of the VW up! GTI and e-up! electric variant reinforced the up!’s formidable breadth of talents. That’s why we named the up! Best City Car in our 2020 New Car Awards - its third successive win.
About the VW up!
The VW up! was first introduced in 2011 and has been the benchmark for city cars ever since, which is quite an achievement given the undoubted appeal of many of its competitors.
The list of rivals for VW’s smallest car includes the stylish Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo trio, the impressive Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10 from South Korea, and Fiat’s Panda and 500 models. Other alternatives include the Dacia Sandero supermini and Suzuki Ignis SUV, while anyone looking at VW’s e-up! electric city car will surely also consider the Skoda Citigo-e iV and SEAT Mii electric - all three being versions of the same car.
Unlike many city cars these days, VW still offers three- and five-door variants of the up!, although the three-door line-up is limited to an entry model and the top-spec up! GTI warm hatch.
There’s more variety in the five-door line-up, which includes both the standard entry model and a GTI, but has trim grades in-between called Beats, White Edition, Black Edition and R-Line. 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 only offer electric versions of their respective city cars.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe fun-size VW up! is a perennial award winner that proves good things come small packages
- 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