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Volkswagen Up! five-door review (2012 onwards)
Summary: The VW Up! five-door does everything the three-door does but with added practicality and usability on top. An even better Up!? You bet.
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We like: all the strengths of the three-door with more convenience and practicality, manageable price premium, quality feel, near-perfect overall driving manners, new safety features
We don't like: front seats block the view for those in the back, styling more sober than three-door, jerky automatic option, only seats four
The five-door version of the Volkswagen Up! is a more important car than the three-door version soon to hit dealer showrooms. Five-door sales already outnumber three-door and, as the city car sector undergoes big growth in the future, this advantage will grow.
Which makes the launch of this Up! five-door a more significant event than is first apparent. Making a convincing five-door version of a super-short city car is a challenge, but it's vital Volkswagen succeeds here if the Up! range is to sell in the huge numbers it has planned.
Visually, it's easy to spot the Up! five-door. Whereas the three-door has a groovy kick in the shape of its rear side pillar, the five-door has a more conventional shape, giving a flat side shoulderline and more mature, grown-up look. The difference it makes is striking.
There are no other changes for the five-door model though. This is partly how Volkswagen has kept the price premium down: normally, you pay £500-£600 more for a five-door, but here, the premium over three-door is just £375. Is it a worthwhile spend?
We drove both 60hp and 75hp versions of the Up!'s 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine. Both were terrific, much smoother and sweeter than the throbby alternative found in the Peugeot/Citroën/Toyota city car trio. It's no ball of fire but a torquey power delivery masks this.
We also drove the new automatic option. Using a robotic-shift version of the regular manual, with an automatic clutch, it's as jerky and unintuitive as you'd expect of this low-price automatic breed. It's better if you override it with the control lever - the throttle-blip downchanges are great - but the manual is still preferred. VW DSG it is not.
Ride and handling
As you'd expect, it drives just like the three-door Up!. This means a taut-feel but impressively absorbent ride (it soaks up potholes very well), good body control and firm reassurance through the neatly dished, flat-bottom steering wheel.
The Up! is planted at speed, feeling like a much bigger and more mature car, yet is nimble through corners and has a pleasing fleetness. The low-inertia feel from the short front end gives it uncommon agility during nip and tuck driving: just what you want from a tiny city car.
The Up! is the best-built, highest-quality city car on sale, by far. Its degree of superiority is huge, thanks to Golf-like detailing and finish that's enhanced by clean, modern design. It's a feel-good interior that simply doesn't feel built down to a price.
Adult-sized rear doors open up the rear of the Up! for the first time. The sills are high and adult legs may find the opening a bit short but it's not really that much worse than a bigger supermini: it's a much more practical car than you'd expect, even though seating capacity is restricted to four.
Once in place, the rear gives lots of footroom and decent headroom. The seat is comfy too, meaning only tight knee space will give grown-ups reason for complaint. Kids won't have a problem here: it's a pity the tall, one-piece front seat backs block so much of their forward vision, then.
At least visibility is improved for those in the front: the cut-back of the rear C-pillars means over-shoulder vision is clearer, which helps when overtaking and spying hidden city centre traffic. The low sides and wide, deep windscreen mean the view out is transluscent. It can be enhanced upwards by an optional panoramic roof.
Those who remember the original Mini will love the rear windows of the Up! five-door: they're not wind-down, but side hinged, via finger-biting latches. This budget-conscious touch helps keep the list price down and, on the move, creates a nice low-noise throughflow of fresh air for those up front.
The usual Up! luggage bay plaudits and grumbles remain: it's a big 251 litres (the much larger VW Golf is 350 litres), and the split seats open it up to 951 litres, but the load lip is high and the infuriating parcel shelf gets in the way: it doesn't lift up with the tailgate. The electric latch on the glass bootlid is a nice premium touch though.
Economy and safety
The Up! can return up to 68.9mpg in BlueMotion stop-start guise, and even the standard car returns 60mpg. It's thus as fuel-efficient as the best in this sector. Volkswagen expects the automatic to be even more economical than a regular manual, perhaps to compensate for its jerky shifts.
A full set of five Euro NCAP crash test stars is highly admirable, but the real innovation is Volkswagen's laser-assist emergency city braking system. At speeds up to 18mph, this will automatically stop the car if you miss something in the way up ahead. At just £400, it's virtually a must-have.
The MSN Cars verdict
The Up! five-door is as good as the three-door where it counts, and that bit better in the important areas for new car buyers. Improved rear access makes it a more workable car and clever design means even the price premium has been kept in check. The upward march of the mighty Up! continues...
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.0 litre, three-cylinder|
|Torque, lb ft||70|
|Top speed, mph||99-106|
|CO2, tax||96-108g/km, 10%|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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