Review and photos by Gina Pipes
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Volkswagen up! review
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, and does, but it isn’t too noisy or underpowered for the occasional motorway trip, although the long gearing does make it hard work.
The changes VW made to the Up for 2016 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, but the updates to the gearbox have resulted in sluggish performance with no real gains in efficiency, while the higher list prices mean the VW Up isn't as good value as its SEAT and Skoda siblings.
Volkswagen up! 1.0 75 High up!
The Volkswagen Up is the German firm's city car, and VW markets it with a rather unnecessary exclamation mark in its name. While the name is daft and it's the smallest car in the range, the Up sticks to the tried-and-tested VW formula of offering functional quality in a sober and grown-up package.
The Up arrived in 2011 as a replacement for the unloved VW Fox. which in turn was a spiritual successor to the VW Lupo. In an effort to distance the new car from the Fox, VW used the Up name, which ties in with the L(up)o. The styling of the Up is reminiscent of the Lupo in some ways, too, thanks to its stubby bonnet, square side windows and truncated tail. However, under the skin the Up was all-new, and shares nothing with its predecessors.
There's just one body style available, although you do have the option of choosing three or five-doors, while there are a trio of engines to choose from. They are all petrol three-cylinder units with five-speed gearboxes, with the range kicking off with the 59bhp 1.0 60PS. There's also a 74bhp version branded the 1.0 75PS, while the 2016 facelift saw the introduction of a 1.0 TSI 90PS turbocharged version with 89bhp.
The two smaller engines can be upgraded with BlueMotion Technology to help reduce emissions and improve economy, while the all-electric VW e-up! offers zero emissions and a claimed range of 99 miles.
There are four trims offered in the Up range, kicking off with the Take up! and Move up. Both of these only come with the lower powered 1.0 60PS engine, and only the Move up! has the ASG auto gearbox. The up! beats can be had with both the 60 and 75 engines, and the ASG gearbox is offered on both engines, while the High up! comes with the 75PS engine or the 90PS TSI turbo three cylinder. There's no auto option with the TSI engine.
The Up shares its engines, running gear and most of its interior with the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo. and these two cars are arguably the biggest threat to the little VW. There are minor styling differences outside, the biggest being that the Up has a tinted glass tailgate instead of the metal doors found on its siblings. It's also the only car of the three that's currently offered with the 1.0 TSI turbo engine.
The big advantage that the Skoda and SEAT have is that they are priced to undercut the Up. However the VW badge on the Up's nose counts for something, as the Up has marginally better residuals, but the differences are very small.
Beyond the Mii and Citigo, there are a number of other rivals for the Up. The Hyundai i10 is a strong contender that matches the Up's grown-up appeal, while the family trio of Citroen C1. Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo have a more youthful feel to them.
The Renault Twingo is an alternative choice, while the Smart ForTwo and ForFour are related to the Twingo and match the Up's upmarket aspirations. If you're fashion conscious, then the Fiat 500 is worth considering, too, while the Fiat Panda is a budget choice, and the Kia Picanto has a sporty look.
Engines, performance and drive
The small size of the Up means it lends itself perfectly to navigating narrow streets and tight car parks, so it fits the brief of a city car very well. The tight turning circle makes it particularly good for nipping in and out of traffic and it’s a doddle to park.
The VW is actually very comfortable – it irons out bumps much better than you’d expect for a car of this size. It isn’t comparable to a larger car with a bigger engine, though, while tall gearing in the revised Up has blunted acceleration. On the motorway the car is frustratingly hard work. By comparison, the identically engined Skoda with shorter gear ratios feels nippy and eager whatever the situation.
However, the Up has light steering with good feedback and it’s generally a fun little car to drive hard. Go for the manual gearbox unless you really need an automatic. The ASG auto is jerky and you have to get used to it in order to make the car drive smoothly.
Entry-level Take up! and Move up! models are powered by the little three-cylinder 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine. But the Up isn’t exactly heavy, so even with a small, low powered engine it still feels pretty nimble and responsive. That said, the more powerful 74bhp versions of the Up (it’s the same 1.0-litre engine) are better and sacrifice little in terms of economy – they’re more flexible and happier at higher speeds, such as on the motorway.
The new 1.0-litre turbocharged engine with 89bhp is a teriffic unit, offering plenty of low-down torque that makes it feel really nippy at low speed. It can't claim the title of a hot hatch, but the extra power is enough to inject an extra dose of fun to the mix, without sacrificing too much in terms of economy.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Volkswagen doesn’t offer a diesel engine with the Up so all versions come with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit under the bonnet.
The 59bhp engine is only available on the entry-level Take up! and mid-level Move up! versions and has a combined economy of 62.8mpg with CO2 emissions of 105g/km. Volkswagen also offers an ultra efficient BlueMotion version on mid and top-end Move up! and High up! models. This adds features such as low rolling resistance tyres, a stop-start system and brake regeneration technology, which improve the figures for the 59bhp engine to 65.7 mpg and 95g/km of CO2.
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The 74bhp unit found on the Move up! and High up! models manages a combined cycle of 60.1mpg and puts out 108g/km of CO2. Volkswagen offers the higher powered model with same BlueMotion Technology package, the result of which is 67.3mpg and 98g/km.
Economy for the turbocharged 1.0 TSI is impressive too, with figures of 64.2mpg and 101g/km. If paying £20 for annual road tax isn't too much of a hardship, you'll certaintly value the added power on longer motorway journeys.
The automatic gearbox found on the Volkswagen Up actually improves emissions by 3g/km in the non-BlueMotion models. However, it’s somewhat jerky so we’d recommend sticking with the manual.
Being a small car with a focus on value, the Volkswagen Up is about as cheap to insure as it gets. The 59bhp models start in group 1 and the 74bhp models are group 2, which are right down the bottom of the scale. It’s a similar affair for the Up’s sister modles, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo, which also have rock bottom insurance groups. This will make them great cars for learner drivers, who normally pay high premiums to insure their cars.
The Volkswagen Up has similar residual values to the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. It’s predicted to keep around 50 per cent of its value over three years. But the lower list price of the Skoda or SEAT means the price has less distance to fall, so it's all relative.
The Volkswagen Up is surprisingly sophisticated for a such a small car
Form followed function when it came to the styling of the original VW Up, with its slab sides, upright tail, steeply raked nose and wheel-at-each-corner stance allowing designers to maximise space inside the compact body. Yet the overall result was a surprisingly smart and classy-looking city car, so VW wisely decided not to mess with a winning formula for the 2016 update.
At the front you’ll spot the deeper front bumper with chunky black trim inserts, plus the addition of LED running lights that are set into the existing headlamp units. Move around to the rear of the car and you’ll discover the subtly redesigned tail-lamps that sit either side of the glass-clad tailgate that is a visual trademark of the Up.
The interior of the Up is simple yet high-quality and it can be specified with body-coloured panels. While it's comfortable and neat, there's little that really sets the Up apart from its less expensive siblings, the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii. The piano-black finish on the steering wheel and dash also looks great, but it does reflect the light in sunny weather and can be a distraction.
In addition, VW has introduced some customisation upgrades, allowing buyers to choose from a variety of bold dashboard finishes that contrast with the body-coloured trim inserts on the doors. In all other respects, the interior is identical to the old car’s, which means you get classy materials and solid build quality. High up! models benefit from a decent amount of standard kit, including heated front seats, a DAB radio, and powered and heated door mirrors.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
In 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 look.
One new addition is a smartphone cradle and USB port that replace the Garmin sat-nav system that’s still featured on the Skoda. This set-up allows owners to use their existing handset to access VW’s integrated ‘Maps+More’ TomTom route finding software. It’s fairly straightforward to use once you’ve downloaded the app, although the benefit of a USB connection is partly outweighed by the unsightly cables that hang down in front of the ventilation controls.
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 nav. 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.
The up! Beats model comes with a powerful 300W sound system that features seven speakers, including a subwoofer for improved bass, and a digital sound processor. This model also gets a choice of black or red finishes for its alloy wheel centre caps, door mirrors and bold body decals to mark it out from the rest of the range.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Up is available as a three or a five-door hatchback with four seats and the compact but spacious layout means it’s perfect for short journeys and young families. The Up has the same interior as its sister cars, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo, and while it isn’t as big inside as the Polo supermini, the versatile interior should prove practical enough. The comfortable, upright driving position and good all-round visibility make it very easy to drive. There are plenty of cubbyholes, too.
Don't be fooled by the Up's big-car feel, it is still very compact, with a length of 3,540mm, width of 1,645mm and height of 1,489mm. It is the same size as the Fiat 500, but thanks to its 2,420mm wheelbase, the Up is much more spacious than its Italian rival. It’s obviously the same size as the near identical SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo but it’s bigger and has a larger boot than the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 trio.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The inner roof is shaped to accommodate taller rear passengers. It means that while the Up isn’t exactly a family-sized car, there is quite a bit more space than you’d expect from a car of this size for those in the back seats – and the same goes for legroom. It’s only a four-seater though, so you may want to look elsewhere if you need the extra central seat in the back.
The Up has a 251-litre boot and space remains the same for both the three-door and five-door models, though the latter has better access to the rear seats. To achieve this figure you need the false floor in its lowest setting, which creates a high loading lip. All cars bar the entry-level model get split-folding rear seats, which creates a 959-litre load area, and with the floor panel raised the load area is completely flat .
The boot is bigger than the majority of rival city cars can offer but the Volkswagen is beaten by the Hyundai i10, which has a 252-litre boot that expands to 1,046 litres when the rear seats are folded flat.
However, while that was big for a city car in 2011, the Up has been surpassed by budget rivals like the Dacia Sandero and Ford Ka+ in terms of outright load space. Neither can match the VW's quality interior, however.
Volkswagen has a solid reputation for reliability and the Up has a good Euro NCAP score
There have been no major safety upgrades to the Up, so its five-star Euro NCAP crash test score from 2011 still stands. All versions get four airbags and stability control, while an autonomous emergency braking system is a £375 option.
The Up scored 89 per cent for adult occupant safety, and 86 per cent in the safety assist category. It's a disappointment that Volkswagen doesn't give the entry-level Take up! models ESP stability control as standard, but all versions come with driver and passenger airbags in addition to Isofix child seat attachments, anti-lock brakes and seat belt reminders.
The Up's optional City Emergency Braking system uses a laser to scan the road ahead and automatically applies the brakes if it senses an imminent collision.
In terms of reliability, the Volkswagen Up finished 111th in our Driver Power 2016 customer satisfaction survey, which leaves it just outside the top half of 200 cars. That said, it scored well for reliability and ease of driving, so if these are priorities for you then the up! should form part of your new car shortlist.
Volkswagen offers an industry standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty with the Up. It’s easy enough to find rival city cars with longer periods of cover if you want them – the Hyundai i10 and the Toyota Aygo both come with five-year/unlimited-mileage warranties and the Kia offers seven years and 100,000 miles of cover with the Picanto. The Skoda Citigo matches the Up's warranty, although Skoda offers three years' breakdown cover, compared to one year on the VW.
Individual servicing costs for brand new versions of the Up will depend on the dealer but it’s such a small, low cost car that it’s unlikely to burn much of a hole in your pocket. For slightly older models, Volkswagen offers a fixed price service plan for cars between three and 15 years old with engines up to 2.0 litres (that comfortably covers the Up). A minor service costs £149, a major service costs £299 and there are also bundles that include MoTs, air conditioning recharges and other routine bits of maintenance.
Last updated: 22 Nov, 2016