VW e-up! NGC electric drive
Volkswagen's up! is one of the best city cars around, so the fact that it's also available with an electric powertrain could make the little VW an ideal urban runabout. Next Green Car has had one on long term test to find out what it's like to live with day to day.
Review by Chris Lilly
What is the VW e-up!?
Apart from causing chaos for grammar specialists and spell check systems across the country, the e-up! also comes with a badge that tempts even the most hard-nosed headline writer to bring out the Yorkshire accent jokes. Despite all this though, as mentioned above the standard up! is a brilliant city car that has excelled across the VW, Seat and Skoda line-ups - with different badging being the only differentiator. The up! is the only one of the trio to be fitted with an electric powertrain though and runs purely on battery power for zero tail-pipe emission motoring. Considering the strengths of electric motors and city cars, it seems as though it could be a match made in heaven.
What's it like to drive?
The up! is a small and light car which is good news for the electric powertrain. Petrol powered up!s (see what I mean about grammatical problems) weigh from a little over 900kg to one tonne plus a large bag of sugar - while the e-up! tips the scales at just over 1,200kg. Although significantly heavier than the rest of the range because of its battery pack, the e-up! is still more than light enough for the car's 60kW (82hp) electric motor to shift about. In fact, thanks to the low weight, the e-up! is positively sprightly in short bursts and can be a hoot to drive. The tiny footprint makes the car agile which is as handy in a tight car park as it is fun about town. The instant acceleration offered by the electric motor means the first few yards of the traffic light grand prix can be dominated by your little electric car should the mood take - and in the e-up! it often will. Like all electric vehicles, there is a very digital driving style to get used to with little sense of being engaged in the act of driving, but the flip side of that being an extremely relaxing experience.
However, when you do decide to get involved, the e-up! is one of the closest cars that I've come across to compare with a go-kart. I don't mean in terms of pin-sharp handling, but in the sense that there are only two pedals, there is only one gear, the wheels are pushed right into the corners, and there is not much machine around you. I cannot impress upon you enough that the e-up! should not simply be considered as a capable city car, but as an enjoyable car that can have fun with in the real world - at sensible speeds without putting anyone else in danger. For example, top speed is 81mph and it takes 12.4 seconds to get from 0-62mph - though only around a quarter of that time for the 0-30mph sprint. It's a feature of a few EVs - that ability to put a smile on your face - which is too often overlooked when extolling the virtues of electric cars.
Living with the e-up!
There are definite strengths and weaknesses here, perhaps more polarised than with most cars. To make the most of the e-up! owners need to stick to shorter journeys and those that top out around 50mph. There are some EVs out there that are perfectly happy at a motorway cruise and, although the e-up! has grown-up manners on the open road thanks to its standard up! underpinnings, the battery and electric motor struggle at higher speeds. For example, my 110 mile round trip commute with significant stretches spent on the motorway sapped the car's battery significantly and restricted its range. There were no problems in the handling or refinement, in fact the VW was more refined than most because of almost no engine noise and very little tyre noise. However, sitting at even 60mph saw the predicted range plummet, and sitting at a more comfortable 50mph makes for a nervous time in a car as small as the e-up! when lorries come up behind you.
Still, keep off the motorway where possible - and short stints are perfectly fine - and the e-up!'s previous weaknesses become its strengths. I've mentioned the fun handling and nippy nature of the VW, and this means that as soon as you are off the motorway the e-up! shines. Likewise, you will need to spend less time charging it. On the aforementioned commute, for the sake of saving 'squeaky-bum-time' while getting home on the longer 65 mile stretch of the trip, I had to stop for a quick five minute rapid top-up charge. This made a journey that typically takes around an hour and a half shift closer to the two hour mark, which got rather annoying very quickly. Still, I wouldn't be looking at the e-up! as a practical commuting tool for my particular situation anyway, so I mention this more as an example of a long-range test. Basically, expect around 60-65 miles of range if mostly on the motorway - and that's with very cautious driving indeed. For long-distance EV driving, the e-up! is one of the worst choices on the market.
Stick to lower speeds though, in and around town or on country roads, and the e-up! performs far better. That quoted range of 93 miles - always optimistic in real world conditions - equates to around 75-80 miles depending on terrain and weather. This is more than enough for the vast majority of needs - the (typical) commute, school-run, supermarket shop etc. And the difference in range depending on whether you drive with a leaden right foot or with a feather-light one is minimal at urban speeds, giving you more confidence to have fun with the e-up! without reprisal from the range meter. In short then, it is fairly useless as a long-distance tool, but almost unbeatable in urban driving conditions.
During my time with the e-up! I covered 1,219 miles in two weeks. At the average energy consumption for that time was recorded at 3.8 miles per kWh - giving a total range of 71 miles on a single charge. This is well below the 99 miles quoted by VW but it must be said that around 60 per cent of that driving time was spent on the motorway - a proportion that is rarely likely to be replicated by owners. More normal use will see an actual range far closer to the 100 mark than my 70 miles.
How green is the e-up!?
With a Next Green Car Rating of 22, the e-up! is one of the greenest cars in its, or any other, class. Obviously the low kerb weight and all-electric powertrain play significant parts in this, but there are a number of other EV features to help make the most of that battery life. Battery capacity might seem miserly at 18.7 kWh when you compare it to the likes of Nissan's 30 kWh leaf for example - it's only three times that of the tiny Renault Twizy too. However the little car doesn't need a large battery to have a decent range. One would always welcome more but the e-up! isn't too bad all things considered.
The benefit of a smaller battery is that it doesn't take as long to recharge - around eight hours for a full charge from empty, three for a fast 7kW charge, and 20 minutes for a rapid 80 per cent charge. Charging is carried out via the CCS socket situated behind what would be a conventional fuel flap. This allows for Type 2 and Rapid CCS DC charging potential, covering the vast majority of bases and meaning the e-up! is compatible with a large number of charging points.
To help minimise those trips to the plug, there are the normal EV features including pre-conditioning, charge timer, and brake energy regeneration. This last point benefits from the VW Group's excellent decision to offer variable levels of energy recuperation strength. Some EVs have two settings - normal and Eco - which often either doesn't recuperate enough energy, or too much and reduces coasting potential. With the e-up!, there are five settings selectable from the gearstick - D, D1, D2, D3, and B. This means you have a more helpful set of incremental levels of braking strength, allowing you to switch between them as the situation demands. The last two settings are strong enough to activate the brake lights, while D offers almost no resistance at all and lets you coast a decent distance.
The upshot of this is that you quickly learn to brake with your left hand rather than your feet, knocking the stick between different brake settings to capture as much of that potentially wasted energy as possible, only using the brake discs when you have too. It's possible with reasonably clear traffic, favourable traffic lights and a good level of experience to get from A-B only using the brake pedal when you turn the ignition and once again when you park up. Finally, VW offers Normal, Eco and Eco+ settings which provides full power, limited power, or extremely limited power respectively depending on how desperate you are for range. The response drops dramatically, but it might just be the difference between you arriving home in the VW or by foot.
VW e-up!'s kit and comfort levels
The e-up! has followed the 'familiar-is-best' design policy which might put some fanatical EV buyers off, but is far more likely to attract others that might otherwise be wary of EV ownership. At a glance, there is little to differentiate the e-up! from the rest of the range. The grille is largely filled in with a sliver of plastic - not that there was much to cover up in the first place though. VW's C-shaped LED running lights - found on the likes of the e-Golf, Golf GTE and Passat GTE too - are present too and make a nice feature, while the alloy wheels are different with less space between the spokes. Other than that, a couple of discreet e-up! badges is all you're going to get to give the game away, and the same is true once inside too.
Settle behind the driver's seat and a familiar sight greets the eyes. The dials remain analogue and are only different in the respect that the fuel gauge displays charge remaining rather than petrol in the tank. There are a few additional patches of colour to let the driver see when eco-levels of throttle are being used or when the battery is being charged rather than drained - but it is all very easy to come to terms with for new EV drivers.
The rest of the cabin tells the same story with no loss of passenger space thanks to the location of the battery under the car's floor. Seats don't offer much lateral support but are comfortable, there is excellent all-round visibility, switch-gear feels well made and is easy to use, and the car is surprisingly practical in terms of storage space considering its pint-sized exterior dimensions. The separate but factory fitted touchscreen infotainment system has a few more features to allow for charger and air conditioning timing, while it also gives greater driving feedback with all sorts of information available to view when you dive into the menus. All in all, the interior is a nice one and is a great example of simple but effective cabin design. There is no noticeable loss of luggage space in the boot too which is a pleasant surprise.
Equipment levels are excellent which is a good job because of the higher upfront cost of EVs in general. The e-up! is based on the top-of-the-range High up! trim level which means buyers get 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, heated front seats, DAB and Bluetooth infotainment and navigation system, storage space below the boot floor (handy for charging cables), remote central locking, heated windscreen, electric and heated door mirrors, cruise control, and body coloured details inside and out. VW's Car-Net service allows for remote access to the e-up! too, controlling the air conditioning, battery management, driving data, parking location, and charging status.
If you need a long range mile-muncher, look elsewhere. However, if you need a small runabout - the type of car that is easy to park, spacious enough for a couple of passengers and luggage, and frugal to run - then the e-up! could very well be the car for you. It's a specialist vehicle excelling in and around town, but play to its strengths and the VW will reward you with a reliable and decent EV range, and extremely low running costs. With no CO2 emissions from the tailpipe, there is no VED (road tax) to pay, insurance costs are very low, maintenance bills should be minimal because of few moving parts, and charging costs are low in general for electric cars - and even lower thanks to the smaller-than-normal battery found in the e-up!. Expect overnight home charging costs to be just a couple of pounds for a fairly drained battery. VW reckons that battery will still have at least 80 per cent of its original capacity after 10 years based on 9,000 miles per annum. As you would expect, the e-up! is eligible for the Category 1 Plug-in Car Grant - knocking £4,500 off the list price of the vehicle - and also means buyers can receive the Electric Vehicle Home Charge grant to get a home charge point installed.
In essence the, the e-up! does become a better car for some thanks to its electric powertrain. If you live in a large city and rarely venture out of it by car than the e-up! will make perfect sense, while it's even more versatile as a second car. There are very few compromises to make in terms of how you drive the e-up! compared to a normal up!, while the electric version is more fun, better suited to town driving, and still offers all the refinement you would expect from a Volkswagen. It's not as versatile as some EVs, but it is so good in its strengths that the e-up! is a good electric car in its own right, and a fantastic city car full stop - even when including petrol or diesel models in the mix.
Model tested: VW e-up!
Body-style: Five-door city car
Engine / CO2: 82hp electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: e-up!
On-road price: From £20,605
Warranty: Three year / 60,000 miles - 100,000 mile battery
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 stars