Volkswagen up! hits the city car mark

The story goes that, when it came time to plan for the original Volkswagen Beetle’s long-delayed retirement, Volkswagen was so concerned about getting its replacement right that two separate teams were sent to work on the design and production of a successor.

Volkswagen up!

The resulting cars – the Golf and the Polo – were, at the time of launch, very close in size. Over subsequent generations, both cars have crept up in size – particularly the Golf which has moved one notch up from the Polo. The latest Golf has grown in size once again.

This steady move up-market has left Volkswagen with a gap for smaller cars at the entry level of the Volkswagen range. Attempts to fill this slot came with the Lupo and the Fox, but neither have really captured the market.

With the continuing recession and increasing fuel prices, Volkswagen really needed a stronger model in this sector and the timing of the launch of the Volkswagen up!, earlier this year, has been near perfect.

With recession and crises continuing to grip financial markets, manufacturers are scrambling to produce cheaper models and lower running costs, in a package that will appeal to those who have downsized from larger cars.

The up! can actually trace its history back to the concept of the same name that was launched at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. Although the looks have been retained the mechanicals have changed considerably.

In an echo of that original Beetle, the up! concept car was powered by a rear engine, driving the rear wheels. The production up! is firmly in the modern small hatchback idiom with a front-engine, front-wheel-drive configuration. An electric version is planned for next year.

Volkswagen up!

To meet the economy objectives, the up! is powered by a three-cylinder, one-litre petrol engine. This is available in 74 bhp and 60 bhp versions. It is the latter that I tested in its Move up! form. When you spin up the engine, it does have that slightly off-beat (but not unpleasant) sound that you get from three cylinder engines.

It is a willing little power unit and – combined with the compact 3.5 metre dimensions and tight turning circle – it makes for an appealing city car. Although you are aware that the interior has been fitted out to a budget, it looks suitably classy with its piano black dashboard highlights, that you will feel it is more chic than cheap.

For such a small car there is good space for driver and passenger and the rear seats are remarkably usable by smaller, more agile beings (mainly children, one would imagine). For easier access, there is now a five-door version. Volkswagen have minimised the overhang at the back, but there is still reasonable boot space – certainly for town shopping.

Refinement scores well, with ride and handling that are pretty good, especially for a car with such a short wheelbase. That three-cylinder engine note can be just a little intrusive at times.

Point the bonnet out of town and the up! proves remarkably appealing, even on more give-and-take twisty B roads. On motorways and dual-carriageways it can cruise happily around the legal limit, as long as it doesn’t meet long uphill inclines, where the lack of power can show.

Most of my formative motoring years were spent with only 875cc at the beck and call of my right foot. To this day I enjoy the challenge of getting the best combination of performance and economy from small engines. This entails building up speed and maintaining momentum whenever possible.

Driven in this manner the up! proved to be surprisingly enjoyable on the side roads. But, you cannot totally beat the physics and 14.4 second 0-62 time confirms that the up! does take time to get away from a standing start. Equally, building up speed on hills can involve a bit of patience.

The official combined fuel economy for the Move up! 1.0 60PS is 62.8 mpg. Unfortunately I was not able to check my own economy as the trip computer appears on the sat-nav display, which had decided to go on the blink during my time with the car. CO2 emissions are 105 g/km which puts the Move up! into band B for UK car tax.

If maximum economy and a free tax disc are important, an extra £360 will upgrade you to the Bluemotion version. With stop-start and other tweaks, the Bluemotion has an official combined figure of 68.9 mpg and emissions of just 95 g/km.

Produced in Volkswagen’s Slovakian factory, the Move up! 1.0 60PS 3-door costs £9080.

This is a notable step up from the price of the entry-level Take up!, so you might be tempted to stick with the less lavishly-equipped, cheaper model. However, be aware that the Take up! does not have the ESP anti-skid technology fitted as standard. From a safety perspective that is one option you will probably not want to be without.

With its combination of good locks, clever packaging and good driving characteristics, the Volkswagen up! has deservedly gathered a hefty load of awards since its launch. It seems that this time around Volkswagen have hit the city-car mark.

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