Volkswagen up! Hatchback (2011 - ) review
Read the Volkswagen Up hatchback (2011 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.
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Inevitably, there will be comparisons will be with the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, the Up’s sister cars, but we reckon the VW is the classiest of the three thanks to its minimalist grille and sharper details. Like the Seat and Skoda, the Up is slightly longer than most of its city car competition and has large 15 or 16-inch wheels, pushed right out to each corner. Even the most basic versions have a chic appeal, but we think it’s worth spending a little more to get a better-looking car. Models from the Move Up and above have chrome trim on the headlights, as well as body-colour mirrors and door handles, while you only get standard alloy wheels with the range-topping High Up. If that’s not enough, there are also plenty of options and accessories to choose from, and it’s also worth looking out for special edition models, which can have their own unique look.
There’s a real feeling of quality inside the Up, which makes it the poshest car in the city car class. The dashboard is particularly well-trimmed with attractive materials and includes a simple but clear stereo. However, the Maps and More infotainment system (standard on the High Up and optional on the other models), which docks to the dashboard, is far too fiddly, with numerous options and a screen that’s hard to read in strong sunlight. Despite the steering wheel only moving for height, it’s easy to find a good driving position, thanks to the wide range of seat adjustment on offer. Depending on which trim level you choose, it’s possible to change the ambience significantly, too: the Take Up is pretty basic inside, with black handles and air vents, but the Move Up has extra chrome trim and smarter upholstery, while the High Up is smarter still.
For such a small car, the Up is remarkably practical. Front passengers have lots of legroom, and there’s enough room in the back for one adult to sit behind another in total comfort. This is one of the roomiest city cars available. Naturally, the five-door model gives easier access to the rear seats than the three-door, but every three-door apart from the Take Up has easy-access sliding front seats. To cap it all, the Up has one of the biggest boots in the class at 251 litres. Fold the rear seats down and 951 litres is available.
Ride and handling
It will come as no surprise that the Up has a tight turning circle and that – combined with the car’s short 3.5-metre length – makes it easy to negotiate city traffic and park. All-round visibility is good, too, and parking sensors are available with the Sensor pack that is optional on every trim except the Take Up. However, what will surprise you is the big-car feeling you get in a car as small as the Up: it soaks up badly pitted roads and cobbled streets better than any of its competitors and is remarkably refined. The steering is well-weighted and has a pleasing feel, too, and only hard cornering or sudden direction changes provoke body roll.
There’s only one engine available in the Up, a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit with two power outputs. While the performance may not look all that special on paper – acceleration from 0-62mph takes 14.4 and 13.2 seconds for the 59bhp and 74bhp models, respectively – it actually feels much more sprightly than these figures suggest. The lower-powered 59bhp car is exceptionally smooth and quiet, and is more than capable of brisk acceleration at lower speeds. Admittedly, it does need to be driven quite hard, but its willing nature encourages this. In the urban jungle, the stronger 74bhp model doesn’t feel all that much quicker, but it’s worth the extra expense if you regularly head out of town and travel at the legal limit on the motorway. Only in fifth gear on long and steep climbs will it start to struggle.
With just a 1.0-litre petrol engine, running costs are unsurprisingly low. Even the least economical models average more than 60mpg, and if you go for one of the BlueMotion Technology models, they average nearer 70mpg, with their CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km equating to free road tax. Insurance costs are very low too, with every mainstream model sitting in one of the two lowest insurance groups, while the desirable Volkswagen badge will ensure the Up retains a higher proportion of its value than its Seat and Skoda sister cars.
Reliability data is in pretty short supply for the Up, but the quality feel of the car should give you confidence in how well it’ll last. Volkswagen has a good reputation for reliability, too, but be warned; the picture isn’t necessarily as rosy as people think. VW currently sits in a rather disappointing position in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings.
The Up comes fitted with front and side airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and ISOFIX child seat mounts for the outer rear seats. An electronic stability programme is standard on the Move Up and High Up, but is only available on the Take Up model as an option, albeit a pretty cheap one. The City Emergency Braking system – which can apply the brakes automatically if an imminent collision is detected at speeds below 18mph – is an option right across the Up range, and again it’s not too dear. Last but not least, in case you’re concerned that small cars are inherently less safe than large ones, the Up has been awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, making it one of the safest cars in its class.
The cheapest model – the Take Up – is very minimally equipped, with a CD player/radio, body-coloured bumpers and 14-inch steel wheels, so we reckon it’s worth going for one of the dearer models. The Move Up has plenty more creature comforts like remote central locking, air-con, electric front windows, easy-entry seats, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, variable-height load floor and 60:40 split/fold rear seats, while the High Up goes further still. Among its standard equipment are heated front seats, leather steering wheel, gear lever and steering wheel, heated and adjustable door mirrors, the Maps & More infotainment device, front foglights and 15-inch alloy wheels. Beyond that there plenty of option packs, including the Sensor pack, Comfort pack, Winter pack and Chrome pack.
The Up might be a small car, but it leaves a big impression on you. Perhaps its best trick is managing to feel so grown-up and safe at motorway speeds, making this a city car you won’t want to leave behind for longer trips.