Driven: Volkswagen up!

Small is beautiful, so the saying goes. There’s the iPhone, Monaco and Kylie Minogue for example, although they’re all quite expensive. I want something that is small but also good value, avoiding the trap of increasing prices with miniaturisation that’s caught out Smart with the ForTwo and, more recently, Renault’s Twizy.

Fortunately Volkswagen has produced such a vehicle, so here’s the up!, complete with awkward capitalisation and punctuation. In a beauty contest Miss Minogue might still edge it, but it’s certainly distinctive and by no means ugly. It’s also tiny, measuring just 354cm in length, or just over two Minogues.

If you think you’ve seen it before, you probably have. It’s one of a triumvirate of cars from the Volkswagen Group that are near identical, with the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii making up the other two.

They all use a tiny 1.0 litre three cylinder engine producing either 60bhp or a sporty 75bhp and promise to sip at fuel. The Move up! (yes, even the specification levels are funky) that I’m driving will do 68.9mpg according to the official economy figures and, while my real-world result of 56.2mpg falls a little short of that, it’s impressively close and should be easily beatable by somebody with a lighter right foot.

It’s frugal then, but is it good to drive? Leaving Cambridgeshire’s very own Nurburgring, the Huntingdon Ring Road, it’s obvious that 60 bhp is just about enough power. The up! will keep up with other traffic happily and can stretch its legs on the motorway past the legal limit, but it is noisy getting there. Once cruising the engine note dies down, but that highlights the pretty significant tyre noise. At least wind noise is kept at bay.

Going around the bendy bits, the car is surprisingly agile, darting from one direction to another and really encouraging you to have a bit of fun. Handling is nice and neutral, predictably switching to under steer when you’re going a bit too quick. There’s not actually much grip available in the first place though, so you do need to be a little circumspect. Few cars will allow you to have this much fun at such low speeds though.

There is great visibility all round the car, so in town you can easily spot any tiny gaps that might be around and take them. That makes parking easy too, even if you don’t specify the sensors.

In the cabin itself the first thing you notice is the space. There’s actually plenty of it and despite the fact that I’m rather heftier than our actress friend there is no shortage of leg, shoulder and elbow room. It’s a shame the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach though, limited as it is to just up and down movement.

It’s light and airy too. The shiny ‘black pearl’ dashboard on my car might attract fingerprints quickly, but it’s far more pleasant than the darker interior options available. Hopefully it’s wipe clean. There is also a deceptively large boot that’ll take a weekly shop without too much trouble.

The optional iPhone-like device that sits on top of the dashboard adds a certain premium feel to the car and is far more than a bolted on trip computer. There are extra dials available for when the pair in front of you just aren’t enough, stereo controls and sat-nav that will work even when you’re out of the car. Not bad for £325.

An optional panoramic sunroof feels huge, if not quite panoramic, but that’s another £675 while the city emergency braking pack that brings you to a sudden halt if you lose concentration for a second adds £225.

That’s close to £1,225 in extras on a car costing £9,785, but what do you get for the money as standard? There are electric windows, remote locking, air conditioning, radio and CD with iPod input, front and side airbags, stability control and a three year warranty.

Ultimately the Volkswagen up! is a cracking car. It’s just about quick enough, impressively economical, surprisingly spacious, expectedly well built (even if some of the plastics do feel a little thin) and a blast to drive. There’s enough equipment to keep you entertained, especially if you add in the portable sat-nav and infotainment device, and it’s incredibly cheap to run and insure.

If you’re staying in the city, the Move up! could well be the perfect car, but venture on to the M11 frequently and you might find that the extra power offered by the next model along, the High up!, is worth spending a little more money on.

Whichever way a buyer chooses, they won’t be making a mistake. Proof, if it were needed, that small really is beautiful.


Price: £9,785 (£11,010 as tested)
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Top speed: 100 mph
0-62 mph: 14.4 seconds
Power: 59 bhp / 60 PS
Torque: 70 ft-lb / 400 Nm
Official combined mpg: 65.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 110 g/km
VED Band: B / £20 per year
Insurance group: 1E
Kerb weight: 1,570 kg

 


Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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