The Volkswagen up! is the smallest car in the Volkswagen range, slotting in below the Polo, and since it was launched in 2012, the up! has been the car to beat in the city car class. I have driven quite a few small cars, but this was my first time to drive the up!, and because it’s widely regarded as the benchmark in this class, I was curious to see what it would be like.
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The up! shouldn’t be cool but it is. It’s a petite car, almost like a little cube, save for that small bonnet at the front. It’s VW in miniature but with a bit more fun, like that oversized VW emblem on the front flanked by large headlamps. My car is in Club up! trim, hence the glitzy exterior – silver door mirrors, decals and ‘Club’ sticker, rear tinted glass, and a unique alloy wheel design. But in any spec, the up! has a charm all of its own.
The boxy square shape on the outside allows for a very efficient use of space on the inside. The up! packs in a 251 litre boot, which is not far off some superminis. The boot is typical of a city car in that it’s narrow, but it’s deep because you can remove the false floor.
The up! is sold as a 3 or 5 door, and there are just 2 seats and seatbelts in the back so the up! is strictly a four seater. But because of the high, square roofline towards the rear of the car, headroom is the best it can be in a car of this size and the legroom is very generous too.
But where the up! really shines is from the driver’s seat. You think you’ve seen a good cabin in a city car and then you sit into the up!, and you realise you have to rewrite the rule book all over again. It’s simple and basic in terms of layout and gadgets, but the quality of the materials and the standard of the finish is so good, even in the less obvious places like around the gear stick and the doors.
Naturally the up! is ideal for town and city driving because of its small size. Visibility is brilliant all round and it’s very easy to judge the position of the four corners of the car.
But the up! is very good at the stuff beyond its intended purpose too. I don’t like to use clichés but I have to use one for the up! – it feels like a bigger car. It doesn’t suffer from any of that small car bounce or jitter. It’s very settled and comfortable, and even at motorway speeds, it’s not exceptionally noisy. The steering is light but it’s responsive and there’s something very pure about the feedback that’s being transmitted from the contact with the road to the steering wheel, so on the road the up! feels very playful and very agile. It’s definitely up for a giggle!
Power comes from a 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol unit with 75bhp and it’s a non-turbo unit, which is normal in this class, and it’s cheap to run too. It’s definitely one of the more energetic 1.0-litres that I’ve driven and blends quite seamlessly over town/city driving, motorway and rural roads, without feeling too breathless. You do have to work it a bit to pick up speed quickly but you will enjoy doing that because the five speed manual gearbox has a nice snappy action to it and the engine sounds nice when you rev it too.
With its small 1.0-litre petrol engine, the up! will cost €190 to tax per year and will return up to 67.3mpg.
There are four trim levels for the Irish market: Take up!, Move up!, Club up! and High up!, but for alloy wheels and air con you will want to go for at least the Move up! trim. Club up! adds front fog lights and the exterior updates listed in Design, while on the inside there is a leather trimmed steering wheel, a body coloured dash panel and very cool tartan seat covers. The range topping High up! has a lot of kit and includes a ‘Maps & More’ infotainment and navigation system with a Bluetooth connection. But with Volkswagen Ireland now offering Maps & More for free as part of special offers on the other three trim levels, you will find most of what you need for less money elsewhere in the range. All models have the City Emergency Brake function as standard, which allows the car to automatically apply the brakes if sensors detect the likelihood of a low-speed collision.
The brief for a city car is this: a cheap to buy and own runaround for trips into town, with the small dimensions that make it easy to manouvre and park in space-starved cities.
But the Volkswagen up! does so much more than that. The up! is a city car with few limitations, other than the obvious ones in terms of size constraints in order to qualify as a ‘city car’. The combination of a settled ride, accurate steering and excellent refinement mean that you won’t be dreading taking it out of town for longer trips down the motorway or into the countryside.
With qualities like that, it’s no wonder the up! has this cool and unassuming aura about it, almost as if it doesn’t really have anything to prove – not even its price. You see as you start to go up the trim levels to get more equipment, the up! can start to look pricier against some of its rivals.
But be clear about what you’re getting. For a fun, robust city car, with a gutsy 1.0-litre engine and a quality cabin that makes you feel that little bit special, I think it’s a price worth paying.
Model tested: Volkswagen up! Club up! 1.0 5dr 75bhp
Price (OTR): €15,510 (up! range starts at RRP €12,325)
Engine: 1.0-litre, three cylinder petrol
0-100km/h: 13.2 seconds
Economy: 67.3mpg (4.2l/100km)
CO2 emissions: 105g/km
Tax band: A3 (€190 per year)
OTR – On The Road Price
RRP – Recommended Retail Price