BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Volkswagen Lupo Citycar suddenly turned Volkswagen's reputation for staid design on its head. With its wacky interior trims, cutesy face and jaunty colour schemes, the Lupo acted as a precursor to the even more extrovert Beetle range, showing that the bosses of Volkswagen had something other than sensible shoes in their locker. What the Lupo brought to the Citycar sector was a palpable sense of quality - a factor that had been sorely lacking in many of its rivals, although the Volkswagen was based on the impressive SEAT Arosa. As a used buy it's at the expensive end of the sector, but few rivals have such an upmarket appeal.
Models Covered: (3dr hatch 1.0, 1.4 petrol, 1.4, 1.6, 1.7 diesel [E, S, SE, Sport,GTI])
Launched in February 1997, the Lupo was named after the Latin word for wolf. Its appearance certainly didn't appear particularly menacing, however, but the name was apparently chosen to appeal to females who had a habit of 'naming' their cars. Cynical or smart? You decide. The range consisted of a base 1.0-litre 50bhp E model, E and S trim levels with a 1.4-litre 75bhp unit and the same designations accompanying a 60bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine. In May 1999, a more powerful version of the 1.4-litre unit was developed, generating a punchy 100bhp, and this was installed in a new model, the 1.4-litre Sport. A 75bhp 1.4-litre TDI turbo diesel was launched in summer 2000, which boasted an impressive three-cylinder engine. At the same time a high-value 1.0-litre SE trim level was added for a limited period, undercutting the prices of all other Lupo models, whilst still offering a decent level of equipment. Early in 2001, a hot GTI version joined the line-up. The Fox arrived to replace the Lupo in Spring 2006.
What You Get
Until the Lupo arrived, Volkswagen interiors were renowned for quality and were about as much fun as a thumb in the eye. All that was about to change. Instead of the usual rather boring layout, it's all rather a shock. In a rush of blood to the head, the German designers decided on silver-rimmed Italianate twin instrument dials featuring Allen bolts and soothing blue backlighting at night. It's all rather funky, creating the kind of car that makes you feel good about yourself. Yet at the same time, it all feels comfortably sensible too. There's the unrivalled Volkswagen build quality as well as a host of nice detail touches that set the Lupo apart from sensible Citycars: the expensively textured dash plastics, the soft-return grab handles, the standard seat and wheel height adjustment. It's all screwed together with just the same kind of quality you'd find in a £25,000 Volkswagen Passat. And, just like the Passat, twin front airbags are standard on all models - uniquely in this class. Standard power steering is nice too, and new buyers also got a three year unlimited mileage warranty and twelve years of anti-corrosion cover which will be of benefit to used purchasers. Accommodation? Well, it's much as you would expect. There's plenty of room at the front but really comfortable only for kids at the back. Don't go expecting too much of the boot either, it's one of those items that makes you laugh aloud when you first encounter it. Rear seat passengers will find their heads uncomfortably close to both the tailgate window and any close-following traffic.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Lupo, along with its SEAT Arosa sibling, is one of the best-built small cars anywhere. Interior fittings, so often manufactured down to a price in most Citycars, are childproof and well made. As with most cars which spend a lot of their lives in the urban sprawl and crawl, check the clutches on manual cars and also inspect the bodywork and wheels for signs of parking damage. Aside from that, if you can find a nearly new car with warranty outstanding and a decent service history, you'll have one of the best, if not the cheapest, small cars about.
(approx based on a 1999 1.0E) Parts for the Lupo are quite reasonably priced; in fact you could say they'll keep the wolf from the door. An exchange clutch assembly retails for £120, and an exhaust system with exchanged catalyst is around £330. Front brake pads are less than £40 a pair, whilst rears are less than £30. A new radiator is £90 and one of those cute headlamps retails at just £65.
On the Road
For most Lupo models the emphasis is on miserly fuel consumption. The entry-level 1.0-litre version that most will choose returns a more than respectable 48.7mpg in mixed use. Don't expect fireworks on the move however. Sixty is 18.4s away in this base variant on the way to just 91mph. Still, the engine's reasonably willing and anyway, you don't buy a car like this to be first away from the lights. If you do need a little extra oomph, the next model up (the 75bhp 1.4) manages 0-60mph in 12.0s en route to 107mph. If that's not enough, you're either shopping for the wrong car or you need to try the 100bhp 1.4-litre Lupo Sport, which makes sixty in 10.0s on the way to 116mph. The diesel cars are outstandingly economical. The 1.7 SDI engined models return a combined fuel consumption figure of over 64mpg, although acceleration is rather limp. A zero to 60mph time of 16.8 seconds is not going to quicken the pulse. The 1.4TDI is a quicker proposition, reaching 60mph in around 12 seconds, but these models are relatively expensive and hard to find. In terms of handling as well as power, this is not a three-door for enthusiasts. Volkswagen admit that the ride is biased towards comfort, which would make the Lupo an excellent motorway car were it able to be just a little more refined. The automatic options make particular sense if you plan to be doing a lot of city driving.
On a pure value for money basis, the Lupo is embarrassed by the broadly similar SEAT Arosa. Most will pay a premium for those appealing looks, the bold interiors and the Volkswagen badge on the nose. Whilst a used Lupo is nothing if not relatively expensive for what it is, at least there's a great deal of forethought and quality built into the design. The best buy is probably the 1.4-litre S model with the automatic gearbox, but if you're really interesting in recouping some of that upfront price, the diesels are attractive. It's a cheeky car with pricing that some may see as cheeky. Still, for the class-conscious, the Lupo may well be too chirpy to resist.