With the trendy 'Groove' and 'Rock' versions of its little up! citycar, Volkswagen targets the fashion-led section of the urban small car market. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Everything Volkswagen knows about really small cars is distilled into the little up! citycar. And everything the brand knows about selling this model is distilled into these two special edition versions, the Groove up! and the Rock up! Real Volkswagens offering real value. That's the promise anyway. How does it pan out in reality?
The up! has always been the Volkswagen you bought if you thought you couldn't afford a Volkswagen. Priced from around £8,000, it was a citycar within the budgets of most new car buyers - though of course for that sum, the actual vehicle you got placed in your driveway was necessarily a rather Spartan one. For those not wanting to put up with a bare minimum wind-up window-type spec, the importers have brought us a couple of versions of this car equipped to more comfortably grace the mental driveways of would-be buyers. There's the 'Groove up!', marked out by its 'pumping' ender sound system. And the 'Rock up!' with its distinctive styling and body stripes. Enough to add extra fashionable appeal to the Wolfsburg brand's city scoot? Let's find out.
Both the 'Groove' and the 'Rock' get the 75PS version of the three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine that's been designed for this up! Powerplants of this kind are, in my experience, busily revvy at best and downright noisy at worst, as is the case with Fiat's twin cylinder MultiAir unit. This one though, is the most refined of its sort. Not refined enough, it must be said, to quite let you forget the cylindrical imbalance under the bonnet. But then the characteristic offbeat rasp isn't unpleasant and rather suits this car's rather offbeat charisma. You'll certainly be hearing plenty of it if rapid progress is needed, for without a turbocharger to boost torque, this one needs to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line. There's a modest 95Nm of torque, enough to get you to 62mph in 13.2s on the way to 106mph.
Design and Build
While the Groove up! comes in three and five-door form, the Rock up! comes in three-door form only. Either way, two statistics sum up the real thinking behind this design. A length of around 3.5-metres, yet a wheelbase that takes up nearly 2.5-metres of that. Which is why, though an up! is no longer than a Fiat 500, it offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car. How has this been done? By shortening the front and rear overhangs as much as the designers dared, something only possible at the front by mounting the radiator alongside rather than in front of the very compact engine. The result is a tardis-like interior just as big as that of Volkswagen's far pricier Polo supermini. Let me give you one example of how that plays out. Let's take luggage space. You don't get quite as much as was offered in this car's predecessor, the Fox, but open the glass tailgate apparently styled to look like a flat-screen TV and as long as you can lump your stuff over the rather high sill, you'll find 251-litres of space or 951-litres with the seats folded. Up front, a cool dished three-spoke steering wheel fashioned from light magnesium frames an instrument cluster of refreshing simplicity. A pity though that it's only adjustable for height, not for reach. The interior design with its large speedometer is clean and easy to get to grips with, featuring high gloss back trim and a compact centre pod for many of the minor controls. True, there's no shortage of hard plastics, but this doesn't feel like a car that's been ruthlessly built down to a price like its Fox predecessor. It just feels agreeably minimalist.
Market and Model
The Groove up! costs £11,640 or £12,015, depending on your choice between three or five doors. That means a premium of just over £700 over the standard range 'High up!' variant. In return, you get a pumping Fender sound system, complete with six speakers, a subwoofer and a 300-Watt amplifier. Also standard is the Maps & More personal infotainment device, which along with touchscreen satellite navigation provides Bluetooth phone connectivity and music streaming, making it a cinch to synch with your tunes. Available as either a three-door or five-door model, the Groove up! also features heated front seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake with orange stitching, bespoke black seats with orange edging, dark-tinted glass from the B-pillar back, 16-inch 'Upsilon' alloy wheels and black gloss door mirror caps. The Rock up! is available only as a three-door model and costs £12,980, so a couple of thousand more than an equivalent standard 'High up!' model. While it may not come with a Fender sound system, it's still loud, thanks to distinctive styling, including an anthracite stripe running the length of the bonnet, roof and tailgate and a full body kit, consisting of gloss black front spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser and rear spoiler. The door mirror caps are also gloss black, apart from on vehicles ordered with Deep Black Pearl paintwork, in which case they are chrome. Smart 16-inch 'Upsilon' alloy wheels complete the look. Inside, the Rock up! features a choice of black or grey seats. As with the Groove up!, standard equipment levels are high: air conditioning, heated front seats, the Maps & More infotainment system and a six-speaker audio system are all standard, as is remote central locking.
Cost of Ownership
Any citycar stands or falls on its ongoing costs and here, the up! looks to have all its bases covered. Thanks in part to a low kerb weight of well under a tonne, even these 75PS 1.0-litre models will return a combined fuel economy figure of 60.1mpg with emissions pegged at 108g/km. With this kind of showing, it's obvious why diesel versions of this car are going to have limited appeal here.
The up! remains the very essence of a small, affordable Volkswagen, a high quality class-less car very much in the mould of the original Beetle. Highlights include superb space efficiency, a brilliant detachable infotainment system and a city braking function that'll pay for itself in peace of mind. All very clever and in execution, all very German - which might have delivered to the showrooms a very impressive but essentially rather soul-less result. Fortunately, these special edition up! models have enough character to make you like this design as well as admire it - and that'll be crucial in an increasingly fashion-led market segment. They're hardly inexpensive of course, removing one of the key selling points of this car in its basic form. But they show that specced correctly, this can be a city scoot you could really fall in love with, a car that could slot very nicely into the most trendy urban lifestyle. Here, an up! can be yours in its most addictive form.