Volkswagen's up! citycar has evolved. Jonathan Crouch checks out the most desirable 'High up!' version.
Ten Second Review
With a name device cleverly designed to point your buying considerations optimistically northwards (from the entry-level Take up! via the Move up! to the range-topping High up! tested here), the one thing this top Volkswagen up! can't afford to be is average. This improved version sets a high standard for contenders in this class, adding in turbo 1.0-litre power at the top of the range. It remains an object lesson in how to build a perfectly conventional citycar. Perfectly.
There's nothing in the least revolutionary or even particularly challenging about the Volkswagen up! There are no gimmicks, no 'next-big-thing' conceits. It's small, beautifully built, well packaged, intelligently appointed, neatly styled and powered by incredibly economical 1.0-litre petrol engines. Despite resisting trendy cuteness or, indeed, any kind of tacked on personality, it has proved to be to be every inch the success the small but too-expensive Lupo and the much larger but too-cheap Fox models that preceded it never were. This revised version gets the option of a pokier 90PS 1.0 TSI engine and some upgraded infotainment but otherwise, things are much as before. Can it make sense in pricier 'High up!' guise? That's what we're here to find out..
The up! may not be the champion of left field thinking some were expecting, but that isn't to say it's short of smart ideas. Although the engine's in the front and driving the front wheels, it's a tiny three-cylinder unit with the radiator riding side-saddle, making for a very short front end, just like the rear-engined concept. For the High up! range topper tested here, the 1.0-litre unit develops either 75bhp or a punchy 90bhp, which makes it notably nippier than the 60bhp entry-level and BlueMotion eco variants. In the 75bhp model, the 0-62mph dash is dispatched in 13.2s on the way to a 106mph maximum. Whatever your choice of powerplant, a likable 'three-pot thrum' defines the engine note, but it belongs to a refined and free-revving powerplant that's flexible enough to obviate the need for constant cog-swapping, though the standard five-speed 'box has such a light and precise action, you might find yourself changing gear for the fun of it. For those who find changing gear anything but fun, there's the option of a single-clutch sequential auto 'box. The steering is appropriately light and accurate for city driving, but those expecting it to weight up and drip with feel on the open road will be disappointed. The up! is more than capable on taking on the long haul, but it's optimised for the urban jungle. Nothing unusual there.
Design and Build
Not too much has changed with the looks of this car. There are re-styled bumpers, a sleeker rear diffuser, door mirrors with integrated indicator lights, revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and smarter rear lights. Otherwise, it's as you were, so 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. Take luggage space as an example; 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. The changes made to this revised model inside are even more subtle than those made to the exterior. There's classier background lighting, while plusher models like this one get a redesigned 'Climatronic with Pure Air' air conditioning system and the option of a 'beats with a 300W' sound set-up. Otherwise, it's all very recognisable from before, the cool dished three-spoke steering wheel fashioned from light magnesium and framing an instrument cluster of refreshing simplicity. A pity though that it's still 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. It just feels agreeably minimalist.
Market and Model
The Up! range starts at around £9,000 but you'll need around £11,500 to buy a High Up! variant, which comes with either the 75 or the 90bhp engines. Extra 'High up!' items include 15-inch 'Radial' alloy wheels, front foglights, heaed seats, ambient lighting, power heated door mirrors and various trim embellishments. At this level, buyers also get hands-free navigation and music over the speaker system. Plus a smartphone navigation interface. Other up! features include body-coloured bumpers, daytime running lights, remote central locking, air conditioning, electric front windows, easy-entry seats and a height-adjustable driver's seat. Safety stuff runs to ESP stability control, front and side head/thorax airbags and rear ISOFIX points. There's also a variable-height load floor and 60:40 split/fold rear seats, a Stop/Start system to reduce urban fuel consumption, battery regeneration and low rolling resistance tyres.
Cost of Ownership
It tells you something about the up!'s fuel-stretching mission when even the 75bhp version will return a combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg with emissions pegged at 101g/km. Go for the 90bhp TSI variant and the fuel consumption is the same but emissions change to 106g/km. The VW badge and miserly running costs pretty much rubber stamp very strong residual values. If you really want to minimise your running costs, then you'll want to look at the e-up! full electric version. A standard full charge will give you 93 miles of range and 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.
The up! has been the car that has got it right for Volkswagen in the baby car sector. If there's one city scoot that truly ticks all the boxes, this is the one. Core VW values, honey-I-shrunk-the-Golf design, fine use of space, excellent build and finish, great economy, an engaging drive and ultra-low running costs make it a convincing proposition. It may not be a game changer, but for the time being it's the game's best player. And in range-topping High Up! guise, it feels every bit the most grown-up and serious little car in a premium-obsessed marketplace - a strategy that obviously makes a lot of sense. It's a small car worthy of the VW badge.