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Driven: Volkswagen up. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen up
Facelifted and improved, the Volkswagen up! is a class act - but is it a class leader, too?


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Volkswagen up!

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Interior quality, general refinement, perky chassis

Not so good: Pricier than rivals, more wind noise than an i10, 75hp motor needs work

Key Facts

Model tested: Volkswagen High up! 1.0 BMT 75 manual 5-door
Price: Up! range starts from 9,135; High up! 75hp 5-door from 12,135, car as tested 12,940
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 96g/km (120 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 13.5 seconds
Power: 75hp at 6,200rpm
Torque: 95Nm at 3,000- to 4,300rpm

Our view:

City cars like the Volkswagen up! have come a long way in a very short space of time. The modern crop, with their quality cabins, big-car toys and generally refined motorway manners, are almost unrecognisable from the dreadful dross we had to endure even just a few years back. Remember the Nissan Pixo anyone? Honda Logo? The CityRover?! No? Thought not.

Nothing else in class encapsulates this marked rise in quality than the Volkswagen up!. To many eyes, it's the darling of the sector, and if you're after the nicest dashboard finish available at this level, look no further. OK, some of the plastics, specifically on the door cards below the exposed bits of metal, betray their budget origins, but the large expanse of textured trim that spans the width of the fascia, the neat, leather-lined steering wheel with multifunction controls on it, the clear cluster of three round dials in front of the driver, that tidy little infotainment system in the console - it's all lovely to behold and blessed with a fantastic layout which makes operating the Up's controls a pleasure. At night, on this High up! model, a strip of ambient lighting is sequestered underneath the wide dash trim and it brings a cool glow to the cockpit.

There's a nice driving position too, with a lofty and airy feel thanks to the car's relatively large glasshouse. But if you're of a larger build, then there's not much space to rest your right elbow comfortably. There's a reasonable amount of room for people in the back, although the up! is a strict four-seater (there's no centre seatbelt), and the 251-litre boot is one of the largest in the segment. But don't expect to cram four suitcases in there - a leather holdall is about as much as it's going to take. In general, though, the Volkswagen - rather predictably - aces it on the interior front.

It looks good outside, as well. The updates to the car in 2016 were fairly reserved but there was enough to keep the up! looking smart; its defining feature, the black hatch at the back, is retained, and by the simple expedient of this characteristic, the Volkswagen is more interesting to look at than its Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii stablemates. That black trim on the VW's chin is also another neat detail, while our particular test car had a black roof, too. It's more grown-up than something like a Toyota Aygo, of course, but then is it also slightly less fun as a result? Possibly.

However, on the move the up! really starts to strengthen its case. It has some of the best steering on any Volkswagen at any price and decent body control too, considering there's really no remit for a car like this to have cracking handling. Nevertheless, the up! is surprisingly fun to punt along a twisting road, where the game is trying to maintain as much of your hard-won pace as you possibly can through the curves. The up! is also blessed with a five-speed manual transmission that's so slick to throw about the gate that it feels like your left arm could be severely broken in several places and yet you'd still be able to snick through the VW's ratios with little difficulty.

And then, when you hit the bigger routes, the refinement levels are supreme. Tyre roar and the efforts of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine are incredibly muted, while the ride quality is excellent for something so short of wheelbase, light in build (940kg in this trim) and running on 16-inch alloys. So the up! doesn't just feel at home pootling around a city, where its excellent 0-40mph 'scooting' ability makes it feel peppy, but it can just about hold its own on open roads, too. We even saw 54.2mpg from nearly 640 miles of motoring behind the up!'s steering wheel, with one motorway jaunt tipping the car to 60.6mpg. Impressive, for an atmospheric engine that's working hard to hold 70mph.

Sadly, this is where we start to grouse about the up!, because one of the big additions of the 2016 facelift was the 90hp TSI turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, said to be a major difference to the way the city car drives. However, we had the 75hp middling motor (there's a 60hp unit too) and with just 95Nm and long gearing to make the car easier on fuel/comfier on the motorway, it renders acceleration glacial. Featherweight the up! might be, but this drivetrain will necessitate a downshift or two on even the most modest inclines if you want to maintain 70mph. Also, despite staying smooth, it doesn't sound too happy venturing up to the 6,200rpm domain of peak horsepower, either.

Then there's the cost. Typically robustly priced as it's a Volkswagen, the trim levels run Take up!, Move up!, up! Beats and then High up!, which is what we drove. So we're at the top end of the tree here and, with only a few options, the VW was 12,940. But that's for a car without climate control (we had rotary dials for the air conditioning), cruise control or sat-nav. Or the TSI engine. And, for 12,800, you'll get into an 87hp, 1.2-litre Hyundai i10 Premium SE, which comes with all of those toys and a bit more besides, plus a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty when Volkswagen's is three years and 60,000 miles.

It's an apt time to bring up the Hyundai, as well, because - for all the up!'s cultured behaviour on the motorway - there's more wind noise all of the time from the base of the Volkswagen's windscreen than there is in the i10. Indeed, strange to say it, but the Hyundai feels like the higher quality car for extra-urban work as a result, certainly when comparing normally aspirated engine with normally aspirated engine, as here.

Which means, in our opinion, that the up! is just kept from class honours by one of the emerging breed. There's no doubt the Volkswagen is a loveable little tearaway and many will be seduced enough by its nose badge, that classy interior and the easy-going way the up! drives to plunge their hard-earned into the German city runabout. It certainly has the Citroen C1/Peugeot 108/Toyota Aygo trio beat, and we'd say it has the edge on in its in-house rivals too.

But, when there's a car available with additional equipment, a longer, more comprehensive warranty, impeccably refined driving manners, a punchier engine and all for less cash, we can't conscionably recommend the up! over and above the Hyundai i10. And who'd have thought, when we were all forced to make do with models like the Peugeot 1007, that we'd one day be saying a Hyundai beats a Volkswagen that's as good as the up! is? Not many people, we'd wager.


Hyundai i10: Our preferred choice. There's no turbocharged engine option, but the i10 is a superb machine with loads of kit, aggressive pricing, magnificent motorway manners and a long warranty.

Skoda Citigo: It shares much with the up!, but this is one of the few occasions where we'd recommend the German car over its equivalent Skoda; the up! feels like a classier machine.

Toyota Aygo: Great fun and a daring face makes this a more youthful proposition than any of the rivals listed here, but it also feels a bit more basic when you venture out on to bigger roads.

Matt Robinson - 10 Apr 2017    - Volkswagen road tests
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- up! images

2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.

2017 Volkswagen High Up! drive. Image by Volkswagen.  


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