Volkswagen up! Black & White review

Volkswagen has wasted no time launching special edition versions of its up! city car. You know the form by now - it's either Black or White. David Vivian reports.

Ten Second Review

Special editions were once to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. They were usually a marketing device designed to tickle up the appeal of a slow seller or a model nearing the end of its sell by date with a bundle of extra kit and an eye-catching sticker price. Today, they're rather more carefully considered as an expedient means of adding a little more gloss and glamour to range toppers from the outset. Such is the case with Volkswagen's already plush and well-appointed High up! version of its up! city car. There are two ways to go if you want your up! with an extra helping of style - and neither requires colour reproduction.

Background

When Volkswagen presented the Up as a concept at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, the swell of informed opinion was that what would eventually become the replacement for the disappointingly dreary Fox would be nothing less than a revolution. It had a rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels and the kind of imaginative packaging to rival Toyota's iQ, incidentally also breaking cover in concept form at around the same time. But while the Toyota carried through its bold ideas to production - not with unconditional success it should be said - VW had a more or less complete rethink and elected to plough a far more conventional front-wheel drive design path, but one that nonetheless took in a few interesting 'new tech' detours and some scaled down big car thinking. It may be more Kia Picanto with a Wolfsburg address than a blue sky miracle, but the up! has reset the city car bar and looks bound for the kind of success that stubbornly eluded its Fox predecessor.

Driving Experience

Based on the range-topping High up!, the Black and White editions are powered by a lightweight and very neatly packaged (the radiator rides side-saddle) 1.0-litre all-aluminium three-cylinder unit developing a punchy 75bhp which dispatches the 0-62mph dash in a nippy 13.2s on the way to a 106mph maximum. Although lacking the smoothness of a 'four' and sufficient bottom-end torque for the briskest of launches from the traffic lights, the compact triple thrums away happily enough, revs freely and has sufficient roll-on flexibility to make life away from the urban scramble an agreeably relaxed affair without the need to overwork the standard five-speed 'box, though the slick, positive shift action hardly constitutes a chore. That said, if you prefer, you can let the optional single-clutch sequential auto 'box do it all for you. The steering possesses a fingertip lightness at low speed that facilitates painless parking yet stays accurate while becoming a little weightier at higher speeds on country roads. As VW has sensibly prioritised ride comfort over kart-like handling, the up! does soak up scarred surfaces with some grace, if at the expense of body roll. Even so, grip from the skinny tyres is surprisingly strong, especially at the front, the up! always feeling secure and safe.

Design and Build

You can't argue that the Black and White don't do exactly what it says on the tin. Painted in black pearl or pure white metallic, both models feature chrome door mirror caps and door side strips and 16-inch alloy wheels with body-coloured centre sections. Inside there is a body-coloured dash, special 'stripes' upholstery and carpet mats. It's certainly a little more adventurous than the standard fare but doesn't detract from the premium finish and spot-on ergonomics. The switchgear is very neatly laid out and feels great to use and the whole cabin has a classy, up-market ambience you simply don't experience in most city cars. No, it doesn't have the retro-inspired aesthetic flair of a Fiat 500's, but if you value solidity and no-nonsense simplicity above vogueish interpretations of the past, it may prove preferable. The interior's spaciousness is a conspicuous cut above, too. The up! is marginally shorter than a Hyundai i10 but you'd never guess it from the inside, especially in terms of rear legroom. Headroom's generous, too, though very tall rear occupants might find their heads brushing the headlining. Quite how VW has managed to pack so much room into such compact dimensions is something of a marvel (though undoubtedly helped by the very space-efficient engine-radiator arrangement), but to also include a class-leading 251-litre boot verges on the miraculous. Fold down the rear seats and this space extends to a genuinely useful 951 litres. If the standard three-door bodystyle doesn't suit your needs, there's also a five-door version.

Market and Model

The mainstream three-door up! range falls in the £8,000 to £10,500 bracket but expect to pay over £11,000 for the cosmetically tweaked and larger-wheeled special edition Black and White models we're looking at here. This is a little more than you'll pay for rivals from Fiat, Ford and Hyundai but, whichever model you choose will come with body-coloured bumpers, daytime running lights, front and side head/thorax airbags, a CD stereo with aux-in and rear ISOFIX points. The High Up! spec of the Black and White models adds ESP stability control, remote central locking, air conditioning, electric front windows, easy-entry seats and a height-adjustable driver's seat. They also get variable-height load floor and 60:40 split/fold rear seats, a Stop/Start system to reduce urban fuel consumption by up to six per cent, battery regeneration and low rolling resistance tyres. Pampering touches for the driver include heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake grip, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors and the 'Maps & More' removable personal infotainment device.

Cost of Ownership

Although the Black and White editions get the most potent version of the up!'s 1.0-litre engine, it doesn't mean they're anything other than thoroughly miserly in their consumption of fuel, returning a combined figure of 60.1mpg with emissions pegged at 108g/km. To trump that by a significant margin you'd need to go for the 60 bhp BlueMotion model's 68.9mpg and 96g/km. Expect very strong residual values as well, thanks to the VW badge and the high build standards.

Summary

The up! range has expanded quickly, a five-door range and GT model following hot on the heels of the original three-door line-up. Eschewing the cutesy retro vibe that seems key to the appeal of some rivals, VW's baby seems to hit every mark with unerring precision and fully lives up to its maker's reputation for excellent engineering and quality. In range-topping High Up! guise, it feels feel much more grown-up and classy than most tiddlers, taking the premium ethos into a segment that, for too long, has had to make do cheap 'n' cheerful. The Black and White editions add that final lick of sophisticated style without breaking the bank. After the forgettable Fox, VW seems to have hit the bullseye this time round.