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City Car of the Year 2018: Volkswagen up!

The Volkswagen up! is the 2018 Auto Express City Car of the Year, with the Kia Picanto and Skoda Citigo commended

New city cars have hit the market over the past 12 months, but none has knocked the Volkswagen up! off its perch. For 2016’s facelift VW didn’t alter the successful formula drastically; it added a new engine to the line-up that helped it to the top spot here last year, and it repeats the feat in 2018.

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With more affordable naturally aspirated units and two turbo options – an 89bhp 1.0-litre and a new-for-2018 113bhp GTI – offering even more fun at great prices if you buy on a PCP, the up! range delivers performance and practicality with no fuel efficiency sacrifices. All versions are cheap to run.

There are 59bhp and 74bhp models for even less, but quality is still first rate for the sector. CO2 emissions as low as 96g/km and claimed economy of 68.9mpg deliver motoring on a shoestring.

The up! is fun to drive, and the GTI has given it a boost. Yet in any trim it’s grown-up for a city car. Less sporty models have a composed ride, but the compact chassis delivers solid body control, plus the low kerbweight means lots of grip and agility. In GTI form especially, the car is truly engaging, with precise steering and positive gearshifts.

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There’s also an auto box on lower-powered models for easier urban driving – where the up! is in its element – but we’d stick with the manual. Instead we’d spend the extra on the five-door to boost practicality; it helps the up! rival some superminis from the class above for usability.

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It’s brilliantly packaged for a car with such a small footprint, offering enough space inside to seat four adults and a roomy 251-litre boot.

Its compact dimensions mean it’s a breeze to drive and park in tight town centres, but with features like cruise control and heated seats available, allied to the impressive refinement, the car isn’t at all taxing on longer journeys.

Cleverly, the infotainment system uses your smartphone; there’s no built-in screen. But the app delivers a big-car feel that, with its other attributes, makes the up! the most convincing city car around. 

Our choice

Volkswagen up! 1.0 75 S/S High up! 5dr (£12,645)

Our pick is the more potent 74bhp engine in top High up! spec. Despite upmarket tech like cruise control and autonomous braking to boost safety, the car is roomy and benefits from VW’s brand image, and even in five-door form in this trim the up! remains affordable. 

Commended

Kia Picanto

Kia Picanto - front

The all-new Picanto proved Kia can cut it with the class leaders, and a year on it earns another deserving mention in our awards. It’s nearly as practical and mature as the up!, but doesn’t feel quite as engaging or plush to drive. Still, the styling and quality are improved, the cabin is roomy and higher-spec cars give buyers the infotainment they want. 

Skoda Citigo

Best first cars for new drivers - Skoda Citigo

While a new Citigo has hit dealers since our 2017 awards, the lack of turbo options means there isn’t as much choice as with the VW. It’s still a fine cheap city car worthy of praise, and because it has the same underpinnings as the up!, it offers as much usability and fun at the wheel, with the same neat solution for infotainment.

Auto Express New Car Awards 2018

For complete, in-depth coverage of the 2018 New Car Awards, buy your collector's edition copy of the Auto Express magazine now or click here to subscribe...

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