Volkswagen n. [Trans. Peoplescar]: 1945 onwards – a car designed to be purchased and owned inexpensively enough to mobilise nations.
How refreshing that after years of a relentless march further upmarket with limousines and full-sized SUVs that Volkswagen is returning to its roots and has developed a world-class small car offering. Enter the up!
Yes, in case you hadn’t noticed, check out the tailgate badge on VW’s smallest offering – the lower case ‘u’ and the exclamation mark are supposed to be there, so bear with me if this review looks a grammatical mess.
up! (see what I mean?) is one of a trio of city cars launched simultaneously by the Volkswagen group, all of which are going on sale in the UK about now. Unique nose, tail and trim designs help differentiate the threesome, available as this Volkswagen as well as the SEAT Mii and Škoda Citigo.
The up! range starts at just under £8000 for the introductory Take up! model with 59bhp , so does it make sense tipping the scales at £10,390 in top drawer High up! form?
The up! is a world away from the dreary Fox it replaces in the sub-Polo space in the Volkswagen range. Where mediocrity and cost cutting where once all too evident, in their place comes chic contemporary style and a return to build quality standards that its larger siblings enjoy.
The launch range of three-door models consists entirely of three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engines, albeit in two states of tune (59 and 74bhp) and one BlueMotion economy special version of the lower-powered engine which achieves 68.9mpg compared with the regular model’s hardly shabby claim of 62.8mpg.
There’s little doubt that 15 extra horses under the bonnet (not under the rear seat like the original up! concept was configured) aid with the extremes of the Volkwagen’s performance parameters but they also make it less parsimonious between fill-ups. This isn’t a performance version by any stretch of the imagination and it’s difficult to justify spending the extra outlay for that 7mph higher top speed.
Behind the wheel, up! feels an especially accomplished small car, providing a depth of quality normally reserved for cars a couple of sizes larger. It doesn’t feel dissimilar to a shrunken Golf but the up! is also a featherweight and subsequently whilst it rides and handles with a surprising lack of bounce, there’s an inherent nimbleness and agility dialled into the chassis. You can’t help but feel there’s so much scope in this platform for more power, as and when higher performance versions join the range.
Survey the interior and you’ll warm quickly to what you observe. Volkswagens have a well-deserved reputation for solid interiors but here in the up! a dash of flair has been injected into the surroundings with plenty of body-coloured fillets of plastic trim to brighten proceedings. The key feat here is this not only feels like a premium interior for a car at this price point, it feels special full stop.
Aside from the regular controls and familiar Volkswagen Group switchgear, there’s the central screen protruding from the top of the dash. Again, it shows how far city cars have come that expectations are in place of such technology.
Arguably the up!’s biggest draw is those oh-so-cute looks, which have barely altered in its transition from attention grabbing show car to show room. The nose features a blanked off panel covering the majority of the bumper’s air intake, which when placed close to the VW roundel with body-coloured in-fills, brings more than a hint of the original Beetle to mind.
The rest of the styling is sharp and distinctive, with an upturned kink in the window line and a sheer tail, with a glassy tailgate filling the boot opening. Elegant rear light units mimic voguish LEDs but in reality are good old fashioned (and cheaper) bulbs behind the lenses.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Volkswagen’s styling is that it’s bolder and more distinctive than its Mii and Citigo cousins.
Volkswagen has banished memories of the lacklustre Fox with a desirable small car that will transcend income and class boundaries, just as the Polo and Golf do.
Whilst the fripperies of the High up! models are enjoyable, they do eat into the value of the overall package. The mid-line Move up! models make much more sense at £8,970 before you start ticking the option boxes.
The latest small car champion is up! shaped.
Model Tested: Volkswagen High up! 1.0 75PS
Top Speed: 106mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 108g/km
VED Band/Cost: B/£20pa
Engine size: 3/999cc fuel injection petrol
Boot space: 251-951l
Kerb weight: 929kg
Price: £10,390 (April 2012)
All photographs © Volkswagen 2012