When I drove the Volkswagen Up! for the first time back in 2015, it gave me something of an epiphany – horsepower is not always an indicative factor of how much fun a car will be. The Up!’s small 75hp 1.0-litre petrol engine gave me more smiles per mile than some cars with twice or even three times the power. And far from being a budget tin can with an engine, the Up! was comfortable with dare I say it…’big car feel’.
Now for 2017, Volkswagen has sprinkled a little bit of fairy dust over the Up! city car range. There are some mild styling tweaks, including new bumpers, new LED daytime running lights, revised radiator grille and bonnet, new alloy wheel designs and new colours like the Honey Yellow of my test car.
Inside the dashboard has been revised and the instrument dials now look more modern. Volkswagen’s ‘Composition’ media system is standard (3.1” monochrome display), along with digital radio, CD player, electric front windows and remote central locking.
Higher trims come with the ‘Composition Colour’ system as standard, a 5” colour display screen that uses Bluetooth connectivity for audio. You can download Volkswagen’s ‘Maps + More’ app and use the docking station above the dash to access navigation, speakerphone, trip computer and other features from your smartphone.
There is space for four in the cabin, and the square shape of the car maximises interior space well for a car with such a compact footprint. The boot is narrow but deep (251 litres) and the rear seats can be let down for more cargo space. The pop-out windows in the back are a little disappointing, as many city cars are now moving towards having proper windows that can be rolled down manually or electrically.
Volkswagen has also used the 2017 update to add a new engine to the Up! range. Joining the non-turbo 1.0-litre with 60 or 75hp, is a new 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol unit. The new engine is the performance star of the range with 90hp, 160Nm of torque and 0-100kmh achieved in 9.9 seconds (the first Up! to pass the sub-10 second barrier!).
On the road, the addition of the turbo is instantly apparent. The in-gear acceleration is fast and urgent, and the engine is far more robust for overtaking manoeuvres and driving on larger roads out of town and on motorways compared to its naturally aspirated siblings. The 1.0-litre 75hp version is not bad at all, but you grapple with the gearstick more to make decent progress. In town, the Up! is deliciously agile and easy to manoeuvre, while the low down torque is perfect for quick getaways from the traffic lights. All the other cars will seem to be going very slow.
The Up! is light and easy to drive and the five-speed manual gearbox is fun to use. The steering is very light so there is not much feedback, but there is still enough resistance to confidently throw it into corners, though the body roll will stop you doing anything too clever. The car is very composed and there is none of that awful bounce that plagues some small car rivals. There is some road noise however at speed.
In terms of economy, the Volkswagen Up! 1.0-litre TSI falls into the same tax band as the non-turbo 1.0-litre so it’s €190 per year, while the claimed economy is 60mpg but high 40s is more realistic in day to day driving.
There are four trim levels in the Volkswagen Up! range in Ireland: Take Up! (from €11,875), Move Up! (from €13,455), Up! Beats (from €14,855) and High Up! (from €15,005).
The new 1.0-litre TSI is only available on the High up! trim with a list price of €17,065, so it is a lot of money to spend on a small car. Highline models come with air con, cruise control, leather trimmed multifunction steering wheel, 16” alloys, electric, heated door mirrors, rear parking sensors, front fog lights, and there are also some styling upgrades inside and out.
The Volkswagen Up! remains one of the best small cars you can buy but the high list price for the 1.0-litre TSI means that the non-turbo 1.0-litre is a more cost-effective choice, and as I found out when I tested the car back in 2015, it’s perfectly adequate. The turbo engine is more powerful and robust, especially out of the city, but the Up! is a city car, and that’s where it flourishes, turbo or no turbo.
Model tested: Volkswagen Up! High Up! 1.0-litre TSI
Price: €17,065 (Range starts at €11,875)
Engine: 1.0-litre turbo petrol
0-100km/h: 9.9 seconds
Top speed: 185km/h
CO2 emissions: 108g/km
Motor tax: €190 per year
If you are looking for a funky city car, you might also like this review of the Fiat 500.