New Volkswagen up! 2016 review

Already one of the best city cars about, the Volkswagen up! has improved thanks to a facelift and new engine

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The Volkswagen up! proved just how good a city car can be when it arrived in 2011, and it’s still a top choice today. This updated model is better looking and has a great new 1.0-litre turbo engine under the bonnet, while still being great to drive, practical and efficient. What more could you ask for - apart, perhaps, from a better-value Skoda Citigo that’s due next year?

The Volkswagen up! has been on sale since 2011, so VW has seen fit to update the range with a new look and one new engine. As the current model is still one of the best city cars you can buy, surely it can only be positive news for this entry point to VW ownership.

The up! is one of the brand’s best-selling models in the UK, and still looks fresh to this day - so there’s only a few updates to the exterior and interior of this new version to make sure it stays that way.

Best city cars to buy now

The new look works well, with the revised front bumper giving it a wider, sportier appearance on the road and the new rear light designs making it a sharper sight from the back as well. It’s still a handsome little car, and has a more grown-up feel than rivals such as the Fiat 500 and Toyota Aygo. There are a few new personalisation options too, including some decals and alloy wheel designs.

That’s the theme inside too, as the up! has one of the most pleasant interiors in the class. It feels roomy and the quality materials used for the dashboard and seats make it almost feel like a car from the class above. The body colour finish on the inside of the doors is a nice touch too, especially in the vibrant red car we tried.

For many, the most significant change to this facelifted up! model will be the new 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. It’s the most powerful engine yet fitted to an up!, putting out 89bhp and 160Nm of torque. Being a small engine in a light car, the new unit is still economical, managing 64.2mpg.

The turbo engine is a great fit in the lightweight up!, and means this model can go from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds. That’s as fast as a Mk1 Golf GTI - and you get that sporty feeling you get from behind the wheel, too.

Thanks to the turbocharger, the power comes in lower in the rev range, so it’s easier to speed up while in gear, but the thrum from the three-cylinder motor means it’s fun to rev as well. The turbo up! is significantly quicker than its lower-powered stablemates in the real world, and that means it’s great fun in town and on more open roads.

The five-speed manual gearbox in the up! shifts smoothly and is fun to use, matching well with the new engine. The fact that the up! is so small, and has its wheels pushed right out to the corners, means it’s easy to dart in and out of traffic in town, nipping up and down through the gears. There’s no doubt that this is still a top city car.

On faster roads, the up! also impresses. It’s light and nimble, and the steering is well weighted too. The chassis is largely unchanged from the previous model, so there’s plenty of fun to be had on any road.

A little body roll is easily forgiven on bumpier roads, and although we’ll have to test it in the UK to know for sure, the ride still feels comfortable too. It’s even at home on the motorway, although road and wind noise does start to intrude at higher speeds.

The 74bhp and 59bhp naturally-aspirated engines are still available - and both are good fun, if a little gutless. Many buyers will be happy with even the lower-powered model, as it’s quick enough when in town.

Volkswagen has also left the practical up! interior alone. There’s still a surprising amount of space in the back, even for adults, and the boot isn’t bad - especially with the seats down. The pop-out rear windows remain, even on the five-door, though. These look cheap and aren’t much fun for rear-seat passengers needing some ventilation.

Up front there’s a new set of buttons around a small display screen. The new screen is just for displaying the radio and some other small functions, but it looks fantastic. It’s high-res and has a clean, classy design.

It’s just a shame that the only way to access extra features is through a smartphone. There’s no more clip-on sat-nav like in the previous car, only a phone holder for you to use with an official VW app, which displays the navigation info as well as driving data and even the reversing camera if fitted.

Best small cars to buy now

That’s all very well if you’re happy to use a phone, but you could do that before - and now those without the latest phone tech won’t be able to buy the car with a built-in system. The app isn’t bad to use, but when the previous system worked so well, it’s frustrating to lose the option to have that.

Our car was fitted with plenty of optional equipment, including parking sensors, auto city braking, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel and even heated seats. It also had a new 300-watt Beats sound system, as part of a new themed trim level - there’s no word on the cost of any extras yet but that little lot is unlikely to be cheap.

Overall prices for the UK haven’t been announced yet either, but the starting price for the range is likely to be £8,995. This turbocharged TSI will sit at the top of the line-up, but considering just how good it is to drive, it’s still likely to be a great buy. Look out for updated versions of the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo next year, these cars are based on the up! and should be even better value.

Most Popular

“Mid-sized electric cars are way beyond the financial reach of most mums and dads”
Opinion - electric car prices

“Mid-sized electric cars are way beyond the financial reach of most mums and dads”

Mike Rutherford thinks the industry needs to face the fact that a lot of people can’t afford a brand new factory-fresh car
16 May 2022
Best electric cars to buy 2022
Best electric cars
Electric cars

Best electric cars to buy 2022

There are more electric cars than ever to choose from, so we've picked some of the best you can buy in the UK now
28 Apr 2022
Tipo 184: on the road in the Mazda MX-5 based kit car
Tipo 184 kit car front

Tipo 184: on the road in the Mazda MX-5 based kit car

Inspired by classic Grand Prix racing cars, Darren Collins has created a model that faithfully recreates the originals, but with a twist - it’s actual…
11 May 2022