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Volkswagen e-Up! review (2014 onwards)
Volkswagen e-Up!: summary
The Volkswagen e-Up! not only boasts zero-emissions appeal but is a refined, classy car in its own right. The price, however, is high…
We like: surging city-friendly drive, refinement, well equipped, better than a regular Up! in so many ways
We don’t like: eye-watering price is the single biggest barrier with this car; for many, it will be insurmountable
Volkswagen e-Up!: first impressions
Ey up! There’s now an all-electric Volkswagen Up! on sale in the UK, the first mainstream zero-emissions VW to be launched here. Barely distinguishable from a standard Up! (LED running lights and some blue highlights to the badges are the giveaway), it’s charged with bringing electric vehicle (EV) motoring to VW buyers who love the brand but don’t want something odd, standout or "different".
The e-Up! is among the nippiest city cars you can buy
So, although it’s a pure EV, it’s largely pure Up!. Think powerful city car with a convenient two-pedal transmission and the equipment levels more akin to a luxury-car spec sheet. You don’t need to learn any special tricks to drive it, don’t need to master a brochure to understand what the dash is telling you, don’t even have to adapt your driving style if you don’t want to. VW says it's the compromise-free way to city-focused EV motoring.
Thing is, the e-Up! is a car that has raised eyebrows not for all this, but for its list price. This is a £19,250 city car – and that’s after the government £5k Plug-In Car grant. Volkswagen justifies it by the equipment, the engineering, the promise of latest-gen electric car sophistication… but also admits it will be a niche model. Unlike the Nissan LEAF, Volkswagen isn’t seeking volume with this car. Instead, the e-Up! is intended to introduce us gently to the firm’s idea of electric motoring.
And so we have a five-door Up! with an 82hp electric motor and floor-mounted lithium-ion battery. There are no battery lease costs (partly explaining the price), no complex tricks to learn – and if you love the idea but find it too pricey, Volkswagen will sell you one for £199 a month if you’re able to stump up a £7k deposit. The Up! is already a five-star car for MSN Cars; the key to the e-Up!’s appeal will thus be how it performs…
Volkswagen e-Up!: performance
The acceleration on tap in an e-Up! proves quite addictive. As with all electric cars, it delivers maximum pulling power from the off, which makes it feel like you’ve got a Golf GTI motor up front – it really does pick up and go with hilarious vibrancy. The stats say it’s nearly a second faster to 62mph than the most powerful petrol Up!; more telling is the fact it accelerates from 50-75mph 50% faster than the regular car.
Because it has a single-speed transmission, that diesel-like 154lb ft of torque is delivered in one strong and continuous surge… and because it’s an instantly reacting EV, there’s not a moment of delay when you press the throttle. Even that turbo Golf GTI can’t react this sharply.
Both of these traits come into their own in town: the e-Up! is among the nippiest city cars you can buy. See a gap, just go for it: the car will zip along with the ebb and flow of town driving perfectly. At roundabouts, this makes it brilliantly responsive and, in the nip and tuck of urban traffic, you sense only a motorbike could move faster.
In regular driving mode, there’s little engine braking – unlike in the BMW i3, lifting off the accelerator doesn’t significantly slow the e-Up!. Unless, that is, you want it to: tap the gear lever to the right to access D1, D2 and D3 modes, for progressively more regenerative (battery-charging) braking. There’s a full-on ‘B’ mode for maximum braking – virtually bypassing the need to use the brake pedal at all, as engine braking slows the e-Up! to a standstill.
Volkswagen e-Up!: ride and handling
The powerful electric motor challenges the e-Up!’s handling in a surprising way: despite traction control, you’re still conscious of the tug on the front tyres when you’re booting it. This is rather entertaining and makes it feel like a GTI pocket rocket.
The batteries don’t compromise space at all, and it even has a 250-litre boot
The crisp steering feel helps here, as does an agile chassis which provides neat handling and a tidy nature. It’s not over-stiff and will roll into corners, but work with the e-Up! and a combination of compactness and the impression of being well sorted makes it a very sweet car to drive.
You can at times, however, feel the effect of those low-mounted batteries on the chassis – turn in hard into a corner and the weight transfer of 230kg of lithium-ion cells gives a little wobble on the rear end, a bit like the weight transfer in a rear-engined Porsche 911. It’s not dangerous but does remind you this is an 1,139kg car that you can’t quite throw around with the abandon you do in the standard 929kg car.
The extra weight does enhance the ride though, particularly in town where there’s a welcome feeling of damped suppleness over bumps. The fact it rides them so quietly, with such a feeling of solidity, also helps; it gets a bit more jittery at speed but remains composed and settled.
Volkswagen e-Up!: interior
Volkswagen has decked the e-Up! with an equipment list befitting a £22k car: everything is standard, including touchscreen sat-nav, DAB stereo, Bluetooth, City Emergency Braking, climate control, cruise control, parking sensors, heated seats and even a heated windscreen.
It therefore has everything those target suburban commuters demand, and it’s all fitted within the Up!’s familiar, cheery, solid interior. It doesn’t quite offer Golf levels of substance or perceived quality, but it is well assembled and intelligently designed. Everything is clear and easy to use, the dials make sense and the driver-training Think Blue meter is a useful way of judging your green credentials and driving style.
Refinement? Superb – it’s of course quiet, as it’s an EV, but Volkswagen has also made sure the characteristic whine of an EV is subdued. Little noise from the suspension and tyres gives it an extremely cultured feel at lower speeds; the only significant intrusion at speed (it’s perfectly, indeed surprisingly happy at 80mph) is thus wind rustle.
The e-Up! only comes in five-door guise, something you sense VW has done to showcase how impressive interior space is. The batteries don’t compromise it at all, and it even has a 250-litre boot almost identical to the standard car's (the regular one is 251 litres: what’s a litre of space between friends?).
Two recharging cables come as standard, which live in a bag in the lower half of the double-decker boot. There’s no spare wheel, just a compressor kit. The plug lives where the petrol car’s filler flap does – and the charging plug is the same as on a BMW i3, Smart ED and Renault Zoe (rather than the alternative design Nissan uses on the LEAF).
Volkswagen e-Up!: economy and safety
As with most EVs, Volkswagen says the range is up to 100 miles; in the official NEDC driving test, it’s rated at between 75 and 99 miles. The batteries charge up in nine hours using a conventional plug, or from flat to 80% full in 30 minutes using a fast charger. Oh, and if you’re after the ‘most economical’ electric car on sale, look no further: the e-Up!’s average consumption of 11.7kWh/100km is better than any other EV yet launched.
The e-Up! is a super city car
Because the e-Up! is primarily a city car, fitting the autonomous brake assist City Braking System as standard is a real safety boon. Particularly as the silence of the car means unaware pedestrians may see it used more often than you’d think…
Volkswagen e-Up!: the MSN Cars verdict
The e-Up! is a super city car. Switching to electric has enhanced its already considerable talents; it’s addictively fast and nippy around town, as refined as a luxury car, solid and stable, packed with equipment and, courtesy of some neat LED lighting, looks even better than the standard car, too.
The range is an issue, of course, but shouldn’t be: because it’s so clearly focused on the city, the need to push the range between charges shouldn’t be huge. Which just leaves the thorny issue of price… yes, the e-Up! inevitably looks expensive at £19,250 after government grants. A Renault Zoe starts at £13k (after incentives, but before battery lease) while a posher carbonfibre BMW i3 will set you back around £26k. Being an early adopter ain't cheap...
- On Bing: see pictures of the Volkswagen e-Up!
- Find out how much a used Volkswagen Up! costs on Auto Trader
- Read another Volkswagen review on MSN Cars
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