Volkswagen up! Hatchback (2016 - ) review
The Volkswagen Up is everything that city car buyers love. It’s stylish, high in quality, fun yet comfortable to drive and even reasonably practical, but it’s not the cheapest city car around.
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By virtue of its Volkswagen badge, the Up is already very desirable among its city car rivals, but that’s made all the more true by the car’s chic looks. The proportions are as conservative as they are on any other Volkswagen, but the details at both ends are bold and handsome, making this a really stylish little car. The entry-level model – the Take Up – isn’t as smart as the rest because it has steel wheels and bare plastic door handles and mirrors, but from mid-range Move Up, you get body-coloured items and alloys. High Up models add front foglamps; Up Beats models have some extra silvery trim and bespoke badges; and, the electric e-Up stands out thanks to its unique LED daytime running lights. You have no less than 13 paint colours to choose from and, like most city cars these days, you can also customise your car by playing around with complimentary – or clashing – colours for your roof, mirror cappings and wheels. You can also festoon your car with a choice of ten decal sticker treatments.
The Up’s interior is also ripe for a bit of customisation, thanks to a choice of 10 different dashboard styling panels and seven seat colours. Importantly, the cabin still has all that quality that sets it apart from its rivals; the materials feel high-grade and expensive, and they’re assembled in a very sturdy way. Granted, there is some exposed metal on the doors, but while this makes some rivals feel bare inside, it somehow just adds to the character in the Up. High end versions feel especially posh thanks to extra chrome accents and a nice leather steering wheel. You get lots of seating adjustment and a cracking view out in all directions as well, but it’s not such great news with the infotainment system. With the use of a cradle and a free-to-download app, your smartphone essentially becomes the basis for your navigation, music library and phone functions, and it also provides you with information displays, an eco-driving trainer and handwriting recognition technology for inputting navigation destinations. That’s a lot for a small smartphone screen to display effectively, meaning it’s not always the clearest.
For such a small car, the Up is remarkably practical. Front passengers have lots of legroom and headroom, 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 base model 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, unless you go for the electric e-Up, which has a slightly smaller boot. Only the Hyundai i10 has a bigger boot - and it's only one litre larger.
Ride and handling
For driving manners, the Up is the best and most polished car in the city car class. The supple suspension gives you a really comfortable ride, both in town and on the motorway, while the lightness of the controls, the snappy gearshift and the dinky dimensions make it a really easy car to pootle around in. And, if the temptation to get your foot down gets the better of you, the car is also quite a lot of fun, with a pointy, agile character and direct steering. The one slight exception in the range is the electric e-Up, which is much heavier than the other models, and feels isn't quite as agile. However, what it does have in common with other ups, is that it’s one of the quietest and most refined cars of its type, which all means that for the average city car buyer, it’ll be absolutely perfect. There is none of the tiring wind, road and tyre noise to suffer that you'll have to put up with in other city cars.
Three 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engines are available, two naturally aspirated and one turbocharged. The non-turbos have either 59bhp or 74bhp, and while the former is fine for town use, with perky mid-range pull and excellent refinement, it starts to feel a little out of its depth on the motorway. The latter unit is better in that environment, as it’s more at home bumbling along at 70mph, but you won’t feel much of a difference between the two engines when you return to the city. Where you will feel the difference, though, is with the 89bhp turbocharged engine, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s way punchier than the other engines, so it’s wonderfully flexible and really suits the car’s easy-going, sophisticated nature. Get your clog down, and it’s actually capable of some real fizz, too. For the eco-warriors among us, there’s also a fully electric version of the Up known as the e-Up, and it too performs much better than you'd expect. In fact, because of the way electric motors deliver their power - giving you its full pulling power almost immediately - it's very responsive and feels much more punchy than the 0-62mph time of 12.4 seconds would suggest.
There’s no disguising the fact that the Up – especially in the mid-to-high range forms you’d want it - is pretty expensive compared with most other city cars. However, the difference isn’t as great as you might think, and importantly, the car feels worth every penny of the money you pay. The desirable image means it holds onto its value better than most rivals, too, which means it becomes a more attractive financial package long-term. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are never going to be high on a car this tiny, but they’re competitive rather than class-leading. The low day-to-day running costs associated with the all-electric e-Up are obvious, but it’s very expensive to buy in the first place and your family will almost certainly need to buy another – more conventional – car for longer trips, as it has a maximum range of no more than 100 miles (and much less than that in the winter).
Look at the owner reviews on our site, and there are mixed reports about the Up’s reliability. Most owners are very happy with their car’s dependability, but a couple seem to have been lumbered with somewhat more troublesome examples. What’s more, Volkswagen features in a surprisingly – and disappointingly – low position in the manufacturer standings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty is about par for the course, but a little mean compared with what’s provided with some rivals, particularly Hyundai and Toyota, which offer five years, and Kia, which give seven.
The Up earned the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests back in 2011, but the tests have become a lot more demanding since then and we can’t be sure the result would be the same were it to be tested today. It only comes with four airbags – twin front and side – but the side ‘bags also extend upwards so that they also cover the same area that a curtain airbag would. Systems like tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are provided as standard across the range, but autonomous city braking is only standard on the e-Up. It’s is, however, a very affordable option on the rest of the range, and well worth having.
The entry-level Take Up model is very sparsely equipped; you get electric front windows, remote locking and a DAB radio, but that’s about it. You’ll need to upgrade to Move Up trim if you want alloys, air-con, USB sockets and a Bluetooth phone connection. Which you will. Stepping up to High Up trim gets you a leather steering wheel, heated front seats, front foglights, ambient lighting and the cradle for the smartphone navigation system. The e-Up adds more bells and whistles (just as well given the price) including automatic lights and wipers, climate and cruise controls and rear parking sensors. Various high-value special editions are available periodically, too, such as the Up Beats, which gets all sorts of visual upgrades and a banging high-performance stereo.
Because you want the best city car there is and you’re prepared to pay a premium for it. More likely, though, you’ll want an Up because it looks great inside and out, has a strong image, is fantastic to drive and surprisingly practical. Ok, it’s not perfect, and might not have the style and character of some rivals, but show us a car that is.