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Car group tests

Volkswagen up! vs Skoda Citigo

Has a facelift given the Volkswagen up! the edge over our favourite city car, the closely related Skoda Citigo?

The original Volkswagen up! rewrote the city car rulebook when it hit the road in 2012. The tiny German machine combined compact looks and low running costs with surprising space and impressive refinement, and in the process it redefined what was a possible for a small car.

Yet its reign at the top was shortlived, because only a few months later it was joined by its Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii identical twins, which were every bit as talented as the up! yet cost a fair bit less.

• Best city cars on sale right now

In an effort to reposition the up! at the top of the city car tree, Volkswagen has treated its tiny tot to a mid-life facelift. Tweaked looks, a more upmarket interior and cutting-edge technology are added to the car’s existing strengths to create a machine that promises to prove that it pays to downsize. Volkswagen has also tinkered with the mechanicals of the up!, boosting claimed economy and lowering the CO2 emissions.

Yet before the VW can pop the champagne corks it needs to beat a familiar foe in the shape of the near-identical Citigo. A similar facelift for the Skoda is still a little way off, but the existing model remains our favourite city car, blending low running costs and a bargain price with grown-up driving dynamics and everyday usability. It also has the sort of kit that more expensive choices miss out on and is backed by the brand’s award-winning customer service.

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So which of these tiny tearaways is the king of the urban jungle?

Head-to-head

Badge appeal

Our contenders are so closely matched in pretty much every area that for a great many buyers it will be the brand that makes the difference. Yet while the Volkswagen badge has a more premium image for some people, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Skoda is predicted to hold its value better and the firm is far more highly rated in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys.

Technology

VW’s decision to embrace smartphone technology has mixed results. If you have a smartphone, then having access to your music, apps and VW’s ‘Maps+More’ is a boon. However, the cradle is ugly, while cables hang down the dash when your phone is charging.

Performance

We were shocked by the slow performance of the up!. Tall gearing has blunted acceleration, and on the motorway the car is frustratingly hard work. By comparison, the identically engined Skoda feels nippy and eager whatever the situation.

Verdict

First place: Skoda Citigo

Four years on from its first road test victory, the Citigo is still on top form. Its eager performance makes it better to drive, while its lower price, stronger residuals and great-value PCP plans ensure it’s a far more affordable buy. Factor in its VW-matching versatility and grown-up driving dynamics, and the Skoda remains a top choice for motorists who want to cut costs without compromise. 

Second place: Volkswagen up!

The changes to the up! have created a classier and more customisable car, while the switch to a smartphone sat-nav system will appeal to younger buyers. It’s as refined and practical as ever. However, the updates to the gearbox have resulted in sluggish performance with no real gains in efficiency, while the higher price and less attractive finance mean the VW costs more.

Other options in this category...

Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium

Best first cars for new drivers - Hyundai i10

Price: £11,275Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl, 86bhp

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It can’t match the VW and Skoda for character and fun, but the i10 is easy to live with due to its practicality. The larger 1.2-litre is decent performer, although it emits a hefty 114g/km of CO2. The 1.0 is cleaner, but has only 65bhp.

Vauxhall Viva 1.0 SL

Best first cars for new drivers - Vauxhall Viva

Price: £9,645Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 74bhp

The Viva is neither as engaging to drive as the Citigo nor as refined as the up!, but it’s keenly priced and comes with stacks of kit. It’s also available with Vauxhall’s OnStar onboard assistant, which includes a 4G Internet connection. 

Figures

 Skoda Citigo 1.0 75 SE L GreenTechVolkswagen High up! 1.0 75 BlueMotion Technology
On-the-road price/total as tested£10,815/£10,815£12,280/£12,925
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£4,380/40.5%£4,863/39.6%
Depreciation£6,435£7,417
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£344/£689£391/£782
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,227/£2,045£1,194/£1,989
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost4/£468/A/£04/£468/A/£0
Servicing costs£288 (2yrs 20k miles)£288 (2yrs/20k miles)
   
Length/wheelbase3,563/2,420mm3,600/2,407mm
Height/width1,463/1,645mm1,504/1,645mm
Engine3cyl in-line/999cc3cyl in-line/999cc
Peak power 74/6,200 bhp/rpm74/6,200 bhp/rpm
Peak torque 95/3,000 Nm/rpm95/3,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission 5-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel35 litres/£5035 litres/yes
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 251/959 litres251/959 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight865/425kg936/394kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient9.8 metres/0.33Cd9.8 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable (1yr)/135Variable (1year)/223
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.3rd/15th24th/28th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars89/80/46/589/80/46/5
   
0-60/30-70mph12.7/13.1 secs13.5/15.3 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 7.0/10.7 secs9.4/14.5 secs
50-70mph in 5th 17.2 secs28.4 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 107mph/3,200rpm106mph/2,900rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 54.3/36.8/9.0m48.2/33.8/8.7m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph62/43/63/73dB59/42/63/71dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range49.8/11.0/383 miles51.2/11.3/394 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined55.4/76.4/67.3mpg57.6/76.3/68.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined12.2/16.8/14.8mpl12.7/16.8/15.2mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket131/98g/km/16%127/96g/km/16%
   
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraFour/yes/£450^/noFour/yes/£295^/£160
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB*£305/yes/£450^/£275£600/yes/£295^/£375
Climate control/leather/heated seatsNo/no/yes£260/no/yes
Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go£500/no/no£515/no/no
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/no/£155/yesYes^^/yes/yes/yes
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