(Pocket-lint) - Say it quickly: "ee-up". That Volkswagen feels happy to call its smallest electric car after the Yorkshire phrase for "hello" shows that Germans do truly have a sense of humour. We jest, of course – Yorkshiremen and women don't say "ee up", they say "ay up" – as Volkswagen's press sheet for this car wryly points out.
Yorkshire greetings aside, the e-Up! poses a question: should you go electric? It's been difficult to make a like-for-like choice between petrol, diesel and electric models, as most electric cars to date have tended to be standalone – the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Tesla Model S are all electric-only models. You can't have a petrol version.
However, a few ranges are starting to appear which offer like-for-like choice – and Volkswagen has recently added electric versions of both Up! and Golf to its range. Bar some badges and wheel trims, you really won't be able to spot the difference between them and their internal combustion-powered counterparts, so they could be the perfect option for electric car fans who don't want to shout about their propulsion choice.
But taking the electric plunge will take some getting your head around, especially when it comes to price. At £19,270 – and that's after the £5,000 UK government rebate – the e-Up! is one pricey small car. By way of comparison, the higher trim level version of the petrol Up! – on which the e-Up! is based (and that's enough of the unwarranted exclamation mark after its name, by the way) – starts at £11,760 in five-door form, and although Volkswagen would point out there's a host of extra kit that comes with the electric version, you're still looking at the chunky end of a seven grand premium just to go battery powered. Perhaps more troubling for VW will be the fact that the larger, stand-alone Renault Zoe kicks off at a little over £14k.
So even before you've got in the driver's seat, the e-Up is, er, up against it. Is it really worth so much cash?
To save that seven grand you're going to have to be doing an incredible amount of driving over the car's life – at current prices, 10,000 miles in a petrol Up is likely to cost you about £1,000 in fuel.
Either that, or be extremely committed to the green cause, which isn't entirely clear cut – electric cars aren't truly zero emission because their electricity is most likely produced by a gas or coal power station.
From our perspective then, where the e-Up is going to make most sense is in the experience it provides. If it provides something better, extra or different over a petrol Up, then you shouldn't rule it out.
And after jumping into the car and heading off down the road, there are some obvious benefits: the most obvious being performance. We love the 3-cylinder petrol engines in the regular Up, but they're never what you'd call fast. And while the e-Up is still no race-car, step out of the petrol version and it does feel like a rocket.
In part that's to do with the characteristics of the electric motor, which can deliver its full quota of torque from zero rpm. So it rips off the line and zips into gaps. In the context of city driving, which where we'd expect most e-Ups to spend their lives, it makes for a really great ally. It's relaxing and easy in traffic – and really quite zippy and fun if you get the bit between your teeth.
It goes without saying that it's quiet too. Sitting in traffic there's no noise, and on the move while accelerating there's just a gentle whine, which we never found annoying.
The overall cabin refinement isn't as good as the larger electric Golf we tried the week following, but that's largely down to the insulative properties of a larger car, than the actual drivetrain setup.
Obviously with an electric car you'll never have to go near a petrol station, but instead a charging station. Volkswagen allies the e-Up with charging cables for both the older-style 5-pin electric charging sockets, and the newer 7-pin style. Which, for us, meant charging in our local city-centre multi-story, which (although just installed) only features the older-style charge connectors.
A city car at heart
The e-Up still feels much more at home in the city than outside of it. While we think VW's smallest car is very refined and sophisticated for what it is, outside of the city limits performance becomes a bit strained.
The e-Up is not your best friend on the motorway. The top speed is capped at 81mph, which – let's be honest – is about the speed most people in the UK drive on the motorway anyway. That limit means that occasional strays into the outside lane to overtake people can feel a little dicey. And of course, if you peg the e-Up's accelerator peddle to the floor a lot, you start to run the battery down quite quickly.
With an 18.7 kW/h capacity, the e-Up's range makes longer ventures tricky too. It has an official range of 93 miles, which realistically means you'll get 75-100 miles in the summer, and 50-75 in winter.
During our time with it, the computer showed a full charge to equate to 87 miles. After 52 miles, there were 19 miles left showing on the computer. And we never played chicken with the car beyond 15 miles of remaining range – that'd be too much like seeing how far we could get with the petrol warning light on.
Which is all fine for simple urban and suburban errands and commutes, but means occasional longer range ventures need planning. If you want to go, say, 30 miles and know there's no charging station at your destination, then it all feels a little hair-raising as you approach home again, with the range meter diving into the teens.
As a second car, the e-Up will make loads of sense. But if it's your only purchase, think carefully.
However, the good news is that – should you be prepared to plan a little more than in a regular car – the e-Up's technology means charging options are extensive.
Charging takes nine hours (from a flat battery) if you simply plug it into the standard socket at your house or garage. But if you buy the optional wallbox, that drops to around six hours.
However, the best news is that, and unlike certain plug-in hybrids like the Volvo V60, the e-Up has fast, DC-charge capability – which means that the roadside fast-chargers you'll find at most UK service stations can charge-up from a flat battery to 80 per cent full in just 30 minutes.
Inside, there's not a massive amount to giveaway that the e-Up is an electric car. Using the standard Up's layout, the electronic version adds the gauge pack, with a rev-counter replaced by a kW/h usage needle; centre gauge computer display; and the Garmin-based detachable touchscreen with a neat readout of the remaining battery level. It will also coach you to help with more economical driving to maximise remaining range.
The e-Up also comes as standard with what VW calls CarNet. With an iOS or Android device, CarNet allows you to get info on charge status, battery management, driving data, door locking and pre-set the climate control to pre-heat or cool the cabin prior to your departure.
If it all sounds quite simple, then that's because it is. The e-Up is simple and intuitive, which is hugely important because, for many people taking a step into the electric car world is a slightly scary one. The e-Up makes it easy to not only understand what you need to do as the driver, but what the car's doing – that generally gives you more confidence in exploiting the car to its maximum.
Beyond that, the e-Up interior is the same as the regular Up, which means it's simple but cheery. There are some big-car features such as anti-collision software which automatically applies the brakes if the car's system thinks a crash is imminent below 19mph.
There's the odd reminder that this £19k car is based on one designed to sell at around half the price – so, for instance, not getting an electric window button for the passenger side window, on the driver's side feels rather mean.
It's not hard to like the e-Up. The electric powertrain does little to diminish the regular petrol Up's cheery yet grown-up nature. And in some areas that electric-drivetrain adds to, rather than diminishes its character. Certainly the extra power and acceleration is noticeable.
In many ways, an electric city car makes most sense of all. If you don't have pretensions to go beyond the city limits, and you've got another petrol or diesel car for longer trips, then cars like this appeal because they're easy to park and punt into small spaces. And with its zero vehicle tax and benefit-in-kind company car tax, the e-Up will make decent sense for some people.
However, in the final consideration, we find it hard to rationalise the extra cost above the petrol Up – which in itself is hardly a gas guzzler. Put any badge snobbery aside and a Renault Zoe looks better value if you want to go electric. And at this price level, the compromises of a cheap city car compared to the bigger car you might be expecting to buy for that £19k, weigh rather heavily.
Ultimately, with equally competent electric car rivals available for less money and with the bigger e-Golf available for just a few grand more, the e-Up's charms fail to outweigh the fact it doesn't make the greatest financial sense for a private buyer.
Volkswagen's smallest electric car is not without merit, but the regular, entry-level petrol-powered Up is still our pick of the range. If the price changes then, ultimately, so does our conclusion.