IT WOULD be quite easy to imagine that the life of a motoring journalist revolves around laughably powerful supercars with 20 cylinders that run on Bambi tears – conspicuous consumption in other words. And while there may be a grain of truth in it (apart from the Bambi tears) what excites more than a 300mph manhood compensator is a genuine, real-world car that moves the game forward. Largely because it’s the kind of car that both of us could potentially afford.
And when it’s a small car like the Up, then all of us could probably afford it. The Up is Volkswagen’s replacement for the Fox, which was certainly small on the outside and big on the inside but compared to some rivals was a little short of charm. No such problem with the Up however. It is deliciously compact, slotting under the mental barrier of 3.5 metres in length and yet it in no way looks flimsy or delicate: this is a small car with a genuine toughness about it.
The Up Black is one of a series of models in the range that brings with it its own style – personalisation helping with that all-important charm factor – so there are black body-coloured bumpers, black detailing on the wheel covers…you can see where the theme is going. The Up Black is one of the highest spec models so you get 16-inch alloy wheels, pearl effect paint, air con and the clever touchscreen nav and media device. The rear window on most Ups is a single black pane, so with black bodywork it all blends into one to create an Up that looks very slick indeed.
But the result is a car that starts to win you over from the first time you clap eyes on it, a small car with a personality but not one that has been manufactured by slapping a load of coloured plastic on it.
The charm offensive continues on the inside. A cheap small car may look great from the outside but the cabin is the one area where its true colours being to show. But don’t expect such compromises in the Up. Plonk yourself down in the driver’s seat and you’ll be sitting in a well-shaped, comfortable chair looking out over the smart instruments and the minimalist but attractive dashboard. All the controls are grouped into the centre of the dash, but the quality is there: the Up Black has a gloss black finish across the width of the car and the buttons themselves are illuminated and feel good to touch. The Up never makes you feel like you have to put up with it just because it is inexpensive.
Perhaps more crucially the Up is also remarkably space efficient. From the front seats you will simply never doubt that you are at least sat in a normally-sized supermini. Head and legroom are all very generous, and width is not a problem either. And you can actually fit human beings in the back seats too; the Up sensibly chooses to be biased in favour of rear passengers over boot space. Even then there is 251 litres on offer, expandable up to 951 when you leave the back-seaters at home.
All this would be effectively pointless if the Up didn’t function out on the road, but the Up is much more grown up than that. For starters there is a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit up front, and while it is small in capacity it is big on heart and character. The lower output 59bhp version is happier in the city rather than out of it, but the 74bhp version has useful extra pep and handles higher speed roads with more conviction. Either way the three-cylinder layout results in a delightful thrum and a happiness to rev that suits the Up’s youthful appeal. The gearbox is super-slick and easy to use and the pedals all have that oiled efficiency you expect from a Volkswagen.
And it drives like a bigger car too. It feels grown up; the steering, although electrically assisted, isn’t overly light and responds with accuracy. The ride is surprisingly grown up too, something which is a challenge for smaller cars but you won’t spend your time wincing as the Up covers pockmarked urban rat runs. It knows how to have fun too, tracking through bends with confidence and with the underlying security of ESP on most models.
The Up has been a mammoth undertaking for Volkswagen but the hard work clearly shows. This is a thoroughly modern city car – calling it that unfairly suggests that’s all it is good for. It is cheap in all the right places – namely in your wallet, and feels expensive everywhere else. Living with a small car was never so easy.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Volkswagen up! Black, £11,305 on the road
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine producing 74bhp
Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 107mph, 0-62mph in 13.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 rating: 108g/km
- Power2 (lower than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy5 (high fuel economy)
- Insurance groups5 (very low costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: