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First Drive: Volkswagen up! 5dr car review


SMALL cars are now a big deal as buyers seek to save money and not battle with parking and all the rest in our increasingly crowded cities. A new wave of small cars boasting big car refinement and road manners has done much to change the urban motoring landscape for the better.

Cars from the likes of Kia, Hyundai, Ford, Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and Toyota make up the bulk of what’s available. Missing someone? Noticeable by its absence from that list is Volkswagen, which is odd considering it has what seems like a model in every other class.

However, along with Volkswagen Group family members Skoda and Seat, Volkswagen has finally entered the fray with it’s amusingly named up!. And yes, for all you sticklers for correct English, the name isn’t a typo.

Granted, with its many rivals now well established in this fiercely competitive market, the need to produce something that is more than just ‘edgy’ and down with the kids is important. And having broken the ice with its three-door model, does the five-door up!, well, stack up?

The short answer is yes, especially as the diminutive Volkswagen is only 3.5m long. Launched initially in city car-friendly three-door form, the up!’s modest footprint offers buyers the ability to zip in and out of traffic with the minimum of fuss. Crucially, though, there’s no hint of compromise regarding the ownership experience. The up! is a small car, but it shares all the refinement and quality attributes of a Volkswagen. And that’s a crucial difference separating the up! from its rivals.

So, three doors good – five doors better? Volkswagen would certainly like you to think so, especially if you’re seeking some extra versatility when carrying passengers. The traditional three-door format is a popular one in city motoring circles, but those extra two doors can make the difference if you’ve got a (very) small family, for instance. Gone are the days when you’d rush to ditch your city car when the family headcount suddenly increased.

But what makes the up! different from so many other city cars? Volkswagen hasn’t always had an easy ride with its urban motors, and it’s an understatement to say that the up! Has been a hotly anticipated car. Unlike in the past, this time Volkswagen chose to distill all that is good about its cars into a concentrated package. They’ve learnt the hard way that making an obviously cheap-looking and feeling car and sticking a VW badge on doesn’t fool anyone.

And boy is the up! a premium piece of kit. The compact and lightweight platform is powered by an impressively advanced 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, available in two states of tune (60 and 75 horsepower). This is no gruff, underpowered lump, either. Motorway cruising is big-car quiet, and there’s plenty of oomph for the traffic light grand prix. That the engine sounds rorty and full of character when accelerating hard, yet manages to remain hushed when cruising is an important achievement.

Factor in a slick five-speed manual gearbox, the option of an clutchless manual ‘box that, admittedly, takes a little getting used to and suspension that soaks up the bumps in a way that would many family saloons blush with embarrassment, and the up!’s polished and mature character is nothing short of astounding given its size and asking price.

Okay, so it’s fair to say that Volkswagen has nailed the driving experience good and proper. And while you might not consider yourself a keen wheelsmith, you’ll appreciate the up!’s Golf-like sophisticated ride quality if you spend a lot of time doing battle on poorly surfaced urban roads.

It’s clear that, from behind the wheel, the five-door up! is the real deal, and the practical benefits of those two extra doors are genuine, too. Volkswagen boasts of comparable head and legroom for rear seat occupants as the three-door car and, if sat behind a driver or passenger of average height, there’s little reason to doubt this. In fact, once inside, the experience is a pleasant one, making it great for accommodating that hypothetical new family.

Also, such performance elevates the five-door up! above the usual “only good for giving friends trips to the local pub” description, as there’s enough space for two grown-ups in the light and airy cabin and it never feels like a compromise. As such, you could easily travel a lot further than to the King’s Arms without feeling claustrophobic.

Aside form the extra two doors, this up! shares the same trim levels and kit of its three-door cousin, which includes solid-feeling switchgear, legible instruments, a quality audio unit, plus the likes of air-con, remote central locking, parking sensors, MP3 player and Bluetooth phone connections, integrated portable sat-nav and a sunroof depending on the model chosen.

A small car with big ambitions, Volkswagen’s five-door up! delivers the same smile-inducing driving experience as the three-door model, while the inclusion of those two extra doors adds a welcome extra layer to the ownership experience and is proof that Volkswagen is back in the small car game.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Volkswagen up! 5dr, from £8,400 (approx.) on the road. On sale September 2012.

Engine: 1.0-litre petrol unit developing 60bhp.

Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 99mph, 0-62mph 14.4 seconds.

Economy: 62.8mpg.

CO2 Rating: 105g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats4 value verdict:    stars

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