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Volkswagen Up! review (2012 onwards)
Summary - Groundbreaking new design may lack visual inspiration but it hits the city car package right on the head
We like - Superb use of interior space, refined drive for a small car, great environmental credentials
We don't like - Poor equipment levels in base Take Up! version, 60hp engine lacks flexibility, seats with leather-look option get clammy
You'd be surprised about the number of 'new' models that are more accurately heavily reworked versions of the previous car. It's cost effective and even Volkswagen does it every other time it launches a 'new' Golf.
This doesn't really matter most of the time, but if you need to make a giant step forward, a completely fresh start is called for. And that's what you get with this new city car, the ironically named VW Up!
Sitting beneath the Polo and up against the Ford Ka, Fiat 500 and slick new Kia Picanto, the Up! is packed with clever design and technology. It's also sharply priced for a VW, as it has to be at this very competitive end of the market.
The all-new three-cylinder petrol engines squeeze between the front wheels, freeing up more room for passengers. The seats are lightweight and thin for the same reason. The result is a small car that promises to be a standard setter, as long as it nails the basics.
The 1.0-litre engine is offered with either 60hp or 75hp. The more powerful unit is only offered in high-specification Ups! that cost in excess of £10,000, so we have concentrated here on the cheaper model.
In city use the distinctive sound of three cylinders gives the Up! an amiable personality. It's entirely at home here, nipping in and out of traffic with sufficient gusto, though occasionally there's a need to drop right down to first gear to keep the momentum up.
The lack of torque becomes more obvious out of town and you need to get busy with the gears but it shifts sweetly and this adds to the fun. Admittedly the 75hp engine does largely address the issue, even if the 60hp is perfectly adequate.
At least, with one person on board. For regular use with more people and luggage, the 75hp engine makes sense. There are no plans for a diesel, but a super-efficient BlueMotion model follows soon.
Ride and handling
The ride and handling is a big surprise. For a city car the Up! is very competent indeed, dealing with bumps well and proving comfortable in all conditions.
The steering has electrical power assistance, which of course makes manoeuvring easy. Once up and running the steering is accurate and responsive - the Up! is surprisingly entertaining to drive, given the right circumstances.
Cheap, hard plastics often let down the interiors of small, budget cars. The Up! suffers from none of this. Admittedly the dashboard has a solid rather than soft feel to it, but there is an abundance of the Volkswagen quality that you'd find in a Golf.
The instruments are classy, the single fresh air vent at either end of the fascia pleasingly engineered and the pockets and boxes all well finished. You may have bought a budget Volkswagen, but it doesn't feel cheap.
Air conditioning is standard on the Move Up! trim level, as are electric windows, central locking, a dual height boot floor and split folding rear seats. These extras are well worth the additional £1,000 over the cheaper Take up!
A good option is the 'Maps and More' package. A few hundred pounds gets you a Navigon removable sat nav system incorporating Bluetooth for phone and music. There is even a suite of apps being developed specifically for the Up!.
It's strictly a four-seater, but a genuine one. Headroom and legroom both measure up for adults in the back seat. Boot space is also impressive, especially if you opt for a version with no spare wheel.
Combined with good support from those thin seats and impressively low noise levels, the up!, even with the 60hp engine, is as viable for a long journey as it for city use.
Economy and safety
The cost and weight disadvantages of a diesel engine mean that Volkswagen offers just the two versions of the 1.0-litre petrol engine, though a natural gas version is sold in Germany.
Any model, including the BlueMotion, tops 60mpg, with the 60hp car here returning a claimed 62.8mpg. Unfortunately the CO2 doesn't quite squeeze under 100g/km. You'll need the BlueMotion if that's important.
There are no EuroNCAP results yet but there is a decent quota of front and side airbags. Unique on a city car is the £400 option of City Emergency Braking.
At speeds of up to 19mph, a laser in the windscreen detects when you are likely to run the car in front. The brakes are primed, maximum braking is available as soon as you touch the pedal, and the Up! will even brake itself if you don't react.
The MSN Cars verdict
It may be no style icon, but the new Volkswagen Up! moves the city car idea as far forward as the original Mini, Ford Ka and the Smart did in their time. So forget the silly name. Beneath the surface, this Volkswagen is a truly great small car.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.0 litre, three-cylinder|
|Torque, lb ft||70|
|0-62 mph, secs||13.2-14.5|
|Top speed, mph||100-107|
|CO2, tax||99-108g/km, 10%|
|Ratings||Volkswagen Move Up!|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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