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Volkswagen Lupo 1.0 review (1999-2006)
Engine:1.0-litre in-line 4-cylinder
Date of test:June 2002
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What is it?
Volkswagen's smallest car, the Lupo is based on the old-model Polo's chassis, but it is significantly shorter than the latest Polo, and comes as a three-door model only. It's built on the same production line as the closely-related SEAT Arosa, and apart from trim variations and a different nose, they're near enough identical twins. Volkswagen offers a unique high-performance Lupo, the 1.6-litre GTI, though otherwise all the engines are the same, too. And cheapest of the power options is this 1.0-litre version.
Where does it fit?
The Lupo competes chiefly with Ford's 'city car', the Ka. That too comes as three-door only, with the further disadvantages of offering only one engine option and a limited model range - not that Ka sales seem to suffer unduly. SEAT's Arosa competes too, but focuses on sporty value rather than taking VW's angle of chic luxury. The ageing Citroen Saxo and Peugeot 106 are also similarly-priced rivals, but although they were once thought of as superminis, nowadays they're too cramped and fall naturally into the city car class. Lower-spec Toyota Yaris models can also be thought of as Lupo rivals.
Is it for you?
For those seeking a city car that's seen as a 'cut above' other models, the Lupo may well attract. The VW badge guarantees a good image, which explains prices notably higher than the all-but identical, if slightly more basic SEAT Arosa. However, there are compromises to be accepted; don't expect the Lupo to fill the role of even the smallest of superminis, because its boot is simply minuscule. There's a decent amount of space inside, but again practicality is restricted by the limitations of three doors. And if you're a racer, the 1.0-litre engine will soon frustrate.
What does it do well?
For such a small car, the Lupo offers impressive refinement. Road and wind noise are kept well under wraps, and although the engine is noisy when extended, it's never harsh, or even less than smooth. The interior is built to fanatically high levels, making Lupo easily the most solid-feeling of city cars. It's funkily-designed too, and trimmed in bright, cheery colours. Ride quality is good, absorbing even low-speed city-centre bumps, and it's naturally very easy to park - visibility is good, and short overhangs make slotting it into spaces a breeze.
What doesn't it do well?
The engine, although smooth, is not very strong, so the 1.0 Lupo is pretty slow; even to achieve 0-60mph in a yawning 17.7 seconds forces you to work it hard, so it intrudes more than you'd expect. Motorway refinement, too, is dented by 'short' gearing, while the gearshift itself is notchy and a little slack. Handling is uninspiring and suffers from too much body roll and a lack of precision, while steering is light and lacking in feel. What's more, it's not particularly well-equipped, considering premium prices; its SEAT cousin, the Arosa, features more kit, yet is cheaper too - which makes little sense...
What's it like to live with?
Although on paper the engine offers good fuel economy, if you try to overcome its lack of pace you'll end up spending more on fuel bills than you'd initially expect. Even motorway trips aren't as fuel-efficient as they could be, due to the short gearing. Servicing may cost more than for its Ford rival, though insurance is cheap and retained values are excellent; you'll lose less with the VW than you will with other makes. Then there's the bonus of superb build quality, which should ensure that it stands up to the rigours of town driving a little better than its rivals.
Would we buy it?
We probably wouldn't go for the Lupo 1.0-litre guise, mainly because, while it feels like a much larger car in many ways, the lack of power inevitably limits its appeal. It's not as comfortable on motorways as it could be, and there's little power in reserve when you really need it. The handling, too, is less than sharp, though that's more forgivable, because the ride is very good in compensation. There's also that brilliantly well-built interior and comfortable seats - but the ridiculously small boot knocks it back once again. With more power (using, say, the 1.4-litre unit which is also offered) the Lupo would appeal more; in this guise, the compromises are a little too great, unless you don't drive quickly, don't carry much luggage, but do want VW quality on a budget.
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