VW up! review

The original VW up! is a great little city car, but Volkswagen has given its smallest model a mid-life refresh. Alongside the traditional styling tweaks is a new engine line-up, and improved equipment levels. Intended to update the up! to keep up with and challenge its other city car rivals, NGC finds out whether VW as succeeded in maintaining the up!'s characterful appeal.

Review by Chris Lilly

PERFORMANCE

Under the bonnet is a 1.0 litre petrol engine no matter which model you pick - except for the excellent e-up!. Available in three states of tune, the unit produces either 60 hp or 75 hp in non-turbocharged form, or 90 hp from the turbo-charged TSI unit, this last engine new to the up! line-up. As you might expect, the lowest power option can get a little out of puff when worked hard, but will deal with lower speed scenarios fine. The 75hp option overcomes that previous minor issue, and is comfortable both in and out of town. However, the most capable - and most fun - is the new 90 hp engine which turns the up! into a nippy little town car and can put a big smile on your face. It's no GTi - there is an up! with that famous badge coming at a later date - but it does mean that a petrol powered up! can finally compete with the 'sensible-speed' performance that the e-up! offers in urban areas and twisty roads. Complemented by a slick five-speed gearbox, the 1.0 TSI's power is available from further down the rev range and it's both more engaging and easier to drive. Pick of a good bunch then.

HANDLING

As the new TSI engine option has proved, the up!'s chassis is a very capable one and well tailored to its brief. Not too stiff but not to comfortable, the up! deals with the poor road surfaces found across the UK without rattling your spine, but also without feeling soft and wallowy as soon as you hit a corner. The previous up! was one of the best city cars around in terms of handling, and the new model maintains that reputation. The suppleness means the up! is a usable car everywhere, and the up! makes the most of its light weight to provide a nimble driving experience. You begin to feel the short wheelbase at motorway speeds, but you can't expect a city car to be as stable as larger models at higher speeds. However, the VW's grown up nature helps make the up! usable on motorways, and the wheels pushed right into the corners help make the up! extremely nimble around its more natural built-up environment.

BODY STYLE

Those sharper looks might not be immediately obvious, but they make a difference nonetheless. Making the up! fresher and more up to date, the VW looks a bit sportier thanks to sharper front and rear ends. Available as both three-and five door, the latter is recommended if you're likely to use the rear seats at all, simply to improve access really. Boot space is compact but a practical shape and surprisingly usable. It can fit a large suitcase or similar - though without much space to spare obviously. A weeks food shop or the kid's school bags are easily dealt with. Boot access is pretty good too, even if the lip is quite high. That's impacted upon by the tailgate being a key part of the up!'s rear design. Without messing about with a successful formula VW has improved the looks enough to make it look new, but without losing the reputation the up! has built up over time. Climb aboard the little VW and the relatively 'one-box' design makes plenty sense in terms of practicality. Speaking from experience, the up! can fit in four adult males of . . . shall we say solid stature - and that's in the three door model. You wouldn't like to take a long European tour in the up! with four large adults, but it will cope with shorter trips without complaint. As for family use, there is plenty of space for a couple of adults up front, while those in the rear won't get a feeling of claustrophobia thanks to decent head, leg, and shoulder room. With seating only for four, the temptation to try and fit three in the rear is removed, freeing up space in the middle to allow rear occupants more space.

COMFORT & CONTROLS

VW up! interior

The up! has one of the best interiors in its class, with a spacious feel and lots of light in the cabin. There are nice swathes of colourful plastic across the dash and door panels, with a variety of patterns available too. The seats are good all-round; without much lateral support but comfortable even over longer journeys. The driver can easily get into a good driving position with a bit of an old-school feel, reaching down for the gear stick and using a nice compact and simple steering wheel. The materials used are high quality and look as though they come from a class above. Controls are solid and feel built to last, with a neat and tidy entertainment system high up on the dashboard, freeing up space beneath for a cubby hole. The entertainment system has a small but high-def screen displaying basic radio functions etc, but users will need to download a smartphone app and sit the phone in a dash-top cradle to use more features. These include the trip computer, economy display, and sat-nav systems. The previous model had a removable sat-nav system which is less future-proof, but potentially better for some than needing to use their phone for navigation functions.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The up! returns a good fuel economy figure no matter which engine option you pick. The worst official figure available is for the 1.0 TSI 90hp engine, with 60.1 MPG quoted. Both the 60hp and 75hp engines offer the same fuel economy figures, ranging between 64.2 MPG and 68.9 MPG depending on manual/auto gearbox and whether stop-start is fitted. As with all fuel economy figures, you'll struggle to achieve those quoted stats, but the 60hp engine will be harder than the others in real driving conditions unless you have an extremely light right foot. The added power from the other engines mean the car won't struggle as much when accelerating, and certainly both the 75hp and 90hp felt as though the quoted figures were just about in reach with very careful driving - a statement rarely uttered with larger cars. In test conditions - a mix of driving styles and routes over the course of a week - the 75hp option returned an average 60.1 MPG, while the 90hp version ended up with 59.4 MPG under similar conditions. CO2 emissions are good for all available models, with figures dropping as low as 96 g/km, and the highest set at 108 g/km.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

Ignoring the ultra-green e-up!, the standard up! range still does well in the green stakes, thanks largely to its small size, low weight, and petrol-only engine range. Stop/start engine technology is available as an option on each engine variant, and the up is fitted with low-rolling resistance tyres to help improve efficiency. Low friction engine technology has the same aim, as does an alternator that is charged with brake energy recuperation where possible. Gearbox weight has been kept to a minimum, and the fifth ration has been set long to reduce revs at motorway speeds. According to our calculations, the High up! tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 33, while the up! beats tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 35.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Tested were the High up! 75hp manual and up! beats TSI 90hp manual, which come above the Take up! and Move up! in the equipment table. Standard kit from the Take up! includes DAB radio, Isofix seats, and electric front windows. Up a level to Move up! sees the introduction of 15-inch alloys, air conditioning, a five-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB, and a false boot floor. Moving to the High up! tested sees front fog lights added, alongside hands-free navigation and music over the VW smartphone app, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, ambient lighting, electric and heated door mirrors, and a multi-function trip computer. The more up! beats trim on the TSI model driven adds colour caps for the alloy wheel centres and door mirrors, special cloth upholstery on the seats, and 'beats' branding as expected from the name. This includes various badges and footplates showing the tie-in with the audio company, and unsurprisingly includes a beats stereo too. There are lots of customisable options available too to make your up! stand out from the crowd.

MODEL SUMMARY

Having tested all but one of the available four up! models - 60hp, 75hp, 90,hp and e-up! - it's safe to say that the up! is a very good car no matter which version you pick. One of the best city cars on sale, the up! manages to compete with other pint-sized models like the Renault Twingo and Fiat 500. Not only is it very capable across the board, well suited to urban driving, and surprisingly practical, it also manages to appeal on something other than a purely logical level. It's a characterful little motor and that's a particularly important attribute in this sector. Able to deal with longer trips easily and feeling grown-up but not too much so, the up! is a top pick for those looking for a small car.

VW up! rear

Models tested: VW High up! 75hp and up! beats TSI 96hp - both manual
Body-style: Three-door and five-door city car (up! beats & High up! respectively)
Engine / CO2: 1.0 litre petrol engine / 96-108 g/km
Trim grades: Take up!, Move up!, High up!, and up! beats

On-road price: From £9,135 to £12,610 - Tested: £12,280 (High up!) & £11,750 (up! beats)
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars

VW up! details

Click here for more info about this model range

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:3rd Apr 2017

Related reviews