The Volkswagen e-up! is an electric version of the up! city car. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at Volkswagen's entry into a rapidly burgeoning sector.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen e-up! is an electric version of the popular up! city car and has a range of around 93 miles. For this lightly revised version, our comments remain as before. Namely, that for a first stab at an EV, it's extremely good but there are still nagging doubts as to how it can justify itself on the balance sheet against a more prosaic petrol-powered up!
It's not just in comedy where timing is key. Choosing when to launch a new type of car is another area where getting it just slightly wrong can be disastrous. Take all-electric cars. Nissan and Renault jumped in too early with this genre, launching battery-powered models back in 2011 and 2012, a period when the market wasn't quite ready for them. Volkswagen, in contrast, sat back and waited a little, then in 2014, brought us all-electric versions of its Golf family hatch and, shortly afterwards, the little up! citycar. It's the up! we look at here, now lightly revised but under the skin lttle changed from the way we saw it in its original form. Shall we get the jokes about it being trialled first in Yorkshire out of the way good and early? Having done that, we can concentrate on the fact that this early to-in-the-water by Volkswagen in the EV sector s a very thoroughly developed product. But can it justify what necessarily has to be a very high price?
The Volkswagen up! actually makes a great basis for an electric vehicle. The powerplant creates an equivalent of 82PS and 210NM of torque and sits low in the engine, drawing from the 18.7kWh lithium ion battery pack that weighs 230kg and is sited under the floor area. This has benefits and drawbacks. The plus side is that the centre of gravity is good and low, something you'll feel when tipping the Up into a corner. The downside is that whereas an entry-level petrol-powered Up weighs around 929kg, this electrically-powered version tips the scales at a chubby 1139kg. The sheer amount of torque available masks this fact quite well though, and the car steps off the line briskly, making 37mph from rest in 4.9s. Acceleration does tail off markedly above 45mph or so which results in a sprint to 62mph of 12.4 seconds. Given that this car's going to spend most of its time in urban areas, that's not really a pressing concern. As well as a standard driving mode, the e-up! has two economy profiles as standard: 'Eco' and 'Eco+'. 'Eco' cuts the vehicle's peak power to 50kW, reduces the output of the air conditioning system and modifies the throttle response. 'Eco+' limits maximum power to 40 kW, further modifies the throttle response and disables the air conditioning. On top of these different operating modes, the range of the e-up! can be greatly influenced by regenerative braking. There are five modes available: D, D1, D2, D3 and B. In D, the vehicle coasts when the accelerator is lifted. In each of the next levels, lifting off the throttle pedal provides an increased level of regenerative braking. In D2, D3 and B, the brake lights are automatically activated when the driver's foot is lifted from the throttle pedal. If anything, the extra weight means that the e-Up rides better over typical city streets than its petrol counterpart. Refinement is very good, as you'd expect from a car with no internal combustion engine. There's just a background whine from the electric motor and some bump and thump from the suspension but otherwise it's extremely serene and takes the stress out of nose-to-tail queuing. The brakes are good largely because Volkswagen has shifted the energy recovery system to a stick, where you choose between four modes of energy recovery, from the mildest which feels like the gentlest drag (much like leaving your handbrake on one click) to the most severe which will leave you wondering if you'll get much use from the brake pedal at all. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but it's undoubtedly a fun thing to fiddle with given that you have no gearchanging duties to manage.
Design and Build
The e-up! comes only in five-door form and styling changes to this improved version include beefier front bumpers which house unique 'C' signature LED running lights. At the rear, a more angular bumper includes a prominent diffuser panel alongside a sharper tail light design. Inside, there's a re-styled leather-trimmed steering wheel, while chrome-trimmed interior door handles, air vent surrounds and instruments add a finishing flourish. Connectivity cabin changes include an innovative smartphone docking station which enables the driver's phone to be turned into the car's infotainment system. You simply click the smartphone into the 'Maps + More' docking system on the centre console to unlock a host of features via the Volkswagen app. Otherwise, it's as you were. At just 3.54 metres in length, 1.64 metres in width and 1.48 metres in height, the up! is one of the smallest four-seater city cars, measuring a full 11cm shorter than a rival Fiat Panda. Clever packaging means that interior space is maximised. The wheelbase of 2.42m is one of the biggest in class, which combines with that compact engine and lateral radiator to allow the front bulkhead and crash structures to shift forward too. There's also decent room at the back, with a 251-litre boot being a tad bigger than is typical in this class, the e-Up sharing this capacity with the petrol cars. The 923-litre capacity with the seats folded is marginally down due in part to the higher floor height. The port for charging the battery in the e-up! is hidden behind the fuel filling flap.
Market and Model
You'll pay around £21,000 for this car after subtraction of the generous £4,500 government grant for plug-in cars. That's up to £3,000 or so more than you'd pay for an example of Renault's slightly larger ZOE pure electric car with 3 years worth of battery lease included but it's significantly less than comparably-sized electric cars from Citroen, Peugeot and Mitsubishi. You'll want to allow a little extra for the optional wall box for home garage use. This provides a 3.6kW supply and can recharge a completely flat battery in six hours. On top of the standard specification of the range-topping petrol-powered High up! model, which includes luxuries such as heated front seats, cruise control and the Maps and More navigation system, the e-up! adds a heated windscreen, DAB digital radio with six-speaker Sound Pack, City Emergency Braking system, rear parking sensors and an electronic climate control system. As well as the standard Bluetooth connectivity and navigation functions of the petrol-powered up!'s Maps and More device, the e-up!'s unit includes charging point location details, range mapping (both one-way and round-trip) and vehicle charging management functions, including the ability to pre-set the vehicle's interior heating or cooling for certain times. Certain vehicle functions can also be operated remotely using Volkswagen's Car Net services on an Apple iPhone or Android mobile device. The e-up! comes with a three-year Car Net subscription that allows users to control or get information on charging status, battery management, doors and lighting, driving data, climate control and the location of the vehicle.
Cost of Ownership
The problem the e-Up faces that cars like the Renault ZOE don't is that it has a conventional petrol-engined sibling that throws costs into sharp relief. True, you'll pay very little to 'fuel' the e-Up; around £1 per charge on a typical UK electricity tariff based on about 30 miles per working day, which would total up to about £23 per month. In contrast, your monthly fuel bill in a petrol car based on that sort of mileage would be around £70 per month. So is saving £47 per month worth the inconvenience of owning a car that would take some planning to undertake a longer run at the weekend? Then there's the fact that a £47 fuel saving a month over three years comes to a mere £1,692, which, given that the e-Up is around £8,000 more expensive than the plushest five-door petrol engined Up, rather casts a shadow on its value proposition. In order to justify this expense, you'd have to cover a lot more miles. Either you won't want to or the e-Up won't be able to. Free congestion charge entry is one recompense though. Your range is around 93 miles if you drive it reasonably gently, dropping to around 50 miles if you pedal it hard and run it with everything switched on, using the 12v socket to boil a kettle. A standard full charge takes less than nine hours from a standard 230-Volt, 2.3 kW household socket, On top of this, all e-up!s have a DC fast-charging circuit as standard. Using the Combined Charging System (CCS), this enables a flat battery to be charged to 80 per cent in 30 minutes, at levels of up to 40 kW using a DC supply. Cables are provided to connect to both a standard UK three-pin socket and a CCS socket.
The e-up! represented a first tentative entry into the electric vehicle market by Volkswagen and remains a really good effort in this improved form. As a sales proposition, we're still not quite sure about it though. We think the only way this car would work out cost effective against a petrol-engined model would be if it was driven quite extensively in a congestion charging zone from which it was fee-exempt. Even if you live in such a place, you run into the issue of how to charge the thing from your inner city accommodation. Is there a charging station nearby? What happens when that's occupied? It all means that for at least nine out of ten customers, a petrol-engined Up makes a financially smarter choice. Of course, it would be fair to say that none of these downsides are particularly Volkswagen's fault. The company has taken the up! and modified it extremely cleverly to run on electric power - to the extent that this feels like the car's most natural mode of propulsion. Volkswagen may have come late to the EV sector, but if the e-up! is anything to go by, it won't be long before buying a small VW with an internal combustion engine will seem like a very odd thing to do.