The VW group is on a mission to become the biggest car company in the world. And key to world domination (insert evil laugh noise here) is having a competitive small car in your line up.
Remember the Lupo the company made in the Nineties? Well, chop the L and the O of Lupo and you’re left with up. Or up!, complete with exclamation mark and un-capitalised first letter, as VW insists it be written. It’s the company's newest, smallest car, and we got our hands on one of the first in the country to find out whether it’s up to scratch.
If when you first see the up! there’s a degree of familiarity about it, that’s because this car first appeared as a concept in 2007. For production, the engine and driven wheels have moved to the front. But the simple, sophisticated-form language and gum-shield lower grille remain. It’s an impressive-looking thing, having a quality all character small cars need, but managing to look sophisticated too and not lurching into the realm of the toy-like that so many in this class seem to.
Open the door expecting VW quality and you’ll not be disappointed. The up! starts at £7995 but you’ll still get a lot of equipment, good-quality plastics and shiny black lacquer trim - we drove the new Beetle at the same time and they share some interior components. Okay, it’s not a Golf, and with its wind-down windows, VW admits most people will upgrade to the middle range "move up!" trim level which costs nearly a grand more than the base version. That gets you electric windows, remote locking, aux-in and a CD player along with air conditioning and stability control, so it’s worth the extra.
Inside, it feels larger than you’d expect – particularly for those in the front. The view out is light and expansive and it’s a doddle to park because the rear falls away vertically. The boot looks tiny, but there’s a false floor, which you can remove and stack suitcases vertically if you’re carrying stuff for a weekend away.
But the big deal with this car as far as we’re concerned is VW’s Maps and More infotainment device. We’ve long bemoaned manufacturer-fit sat-navs and why they have to cost several thousand pounds.
VW has finally done away with this notion. So for just £275 on low and middle-spec up! models - it’s standard on the range toppers - you can buy this TomTom-sized, removable device which plugs into a dedicated connector mounted on the dashboard top. Not only does this give you full turn-by-turn nav, traffic and POIs, but the big screen then acts as interface for the radio, media and your phone – and adds a "think blue" eco-driving coach, which we found rather fun and actually quite addictive.
If you take only one thing away from this article, it’s that if you’re the type of person who reads this website and is thinking of buying an up!, whatever you do, get the Maps and More option. It’s brilliant and a bargain. You can even use it as a gps device when on foot or your bike.
We tried both engine options in the up! The lower spec car has 60 horsepower, the other 75. While we definitely felt the extra power of the bigger engine, the 60hp car never felt truly slow and in many ways was actually a sweeter drive. If you’re not going to spend much time on the motorway, it would be our choice. In day-to-day driving, both engines should be capable of cracking 50mpg, more if you’re gentle and use that eco-coach to help you.
Beyond that, the up! does everything you’d expect of a tiny car, and more. It steers sweetly, rides exceptionally well given its short wheelbase and the engine thrums along with a characterful but not annoying burrr. Only if you’ve stepped from something bigger might you find it a little unrefined at motorway speed.
Should you buy one? If you want a small city car that’s easily capable of the odd longer trip, then probably yes. In the market, the up! comes close to wiping the floor with the competition. Rivals such as the Fiat 500 and Toyota iQ feel like its real competitors, but are at a price premium beyond it - so long as you don’t buy the top of the range car (black in our pictures) - which costs a steep-ish £11,180.
Our choice for now would be a mid-range, 60hp ‘Move up!’ spec car, in the no-cost Candy White paint colour. Add some better wheels, Maps and More and you’ll still have change from £10k.