Chris Thomas gets to spend some time with the smallest member of the VW family
Can a car ever truly be a member of the family? Advertisers would love to have us believe so!
Over the years we have been bombarded with portrayals of small cars masquerading as the helpful family pet. But putting all the clichés to one side there's a valid point to be made here. No honestly, I'm really not one for comparing cars to cute creatures and my obsession with motoring does precede me but the VW Up! has truly got under my skin.
Regardless of my opinion, this small offering from Volkswagen really is the micro of the moment. The 1.0ltr, 3 cylinder engine with Bluemotion Technology (incorporating start/stop function and energy recovery under braking) isn't going to set the performance world on fire with its circa 60 brake horsepower and 0-60 mph time of 14.4 seconds but that isn't the point of this car. The jewel in the Up!'s crown is the fuel economy, all 68.9 miles per gallon on a combined cycle – yes, that's right, nearly 70 miles per gallon!
If that hasn't got your attention then how about no road tax to pay in the UK. And it sits in one of the lowest insurance groups. Finally the 'on the road' price for the Move Up! (our test car) starts at £9,935 ($15,000 €11,600). This small car has got its boxing gloves on and is seconds out and swinging!
Our little Up! came in striking Tornado red with anthracite and it really did stand out on the street of mixed cars where we live. The shape and styling although distinctively a VW, stands alone from the Golf and its nearest sibling the Polo.
When you walk around the vehicle it feels unnaturally small for a car with five doors but the interior is like a Tardis and even with two adults in the back it doesn't feel too cramped like a Fiat 500 Twinair. Open the doors and the first thing you notice is the low floor clearance allowing easy access as opposed to having to clamber over the sills; this would be extremely useful for those with mobility problems.
Sliding in, the driving position is upright but comfortable with the large windows giving a commanding field of vision. When you turn the ignition you are obviously not met with a V6 like roar but equally the engine does not sound tinny like a lot of other 3 cylinder power plants currently available on the market.
On the move it soon becomes clear that this unit is a real hoot, with just the right amount of revvyness to keep the driving fun and surprisingly good power once moving which belies the slow 0-60mph time. This is where I really started to fall for this car and it took on a personality of its own in my eyes, the suspension soaking up pothole ridden roads but communicating enough feel to provide driving satisfaction.
A silky smooth gearbox that consumers have learnt to expect of VW is certainly present here and is further complemented by the light, but precise steering. All these aspects teamed up with skinny tyres give further agility to the controls and more importantly a precise turning circle that would tackle even the tightest of inner city car parks.
Our week with the Up! happened to coincide with one of the many arctic bouts Britain has encountered recently, however the traction and stability control worked superbly and the car made light work of the snow covered roads. Don't get me wrong, this is by no means a 4x4 but equally the car seemed to possess more than enough tools to keep you mobile during even the worst suburban winter.
The only criticism I have is that the heating system took a long time to warm the car and unfortunately there were no heated seats... a particular wish list of mine on cars (these are available as an option on the top of the range model).
This is a real day to day car with hidden gems that demonstrate the VW designers thinking about making life easier for the driver. For example, when you open the boot of the car you are met with a shallow space, the bottom seemingly level with the seal of the door. It feels tiny and you begin to wonder what the point of the boot space is until you realise this is a two tier system and that you can remove a cover to reveal a much deeper storage section.
For normal daily use you would not need the extra space and rather than having to reach down into the car you can simply place your luggage at waist level. Alternatively you could store your shopping separately instead of piling bags on bags which is a particular bugbear of mine when you have fragile shopping such as eggs!
The car we tested came with comparatively few extras when stood against other recently reviewed vehicles however the two stand outs were the sat nav (Maps and More £300) and the City Emergency Breaking (£225). The sat nav and media system comes in the form of a fixed screen just above the centre console with touch screen and interface being by far one of the easiest I've operated. There was no fiddling needed, the on screen icons were large to the touch and navigating your way around the system was straight forward and logical, well done VW!
City Emergency Breaking is a driver aide to compensate for human error. Luckily I didn't need it but the basics are that the car has a small radar mounted at the top of the windscreen which judges the distance and speed of the car in front. At speeds under 20mph, if it senses that you are not going to stop and hit the car in front, it will brake for you. Now this system is not an excuse to not pay attention to the road however in busy city traffic, general distractions, cars with no break lights and drivers cutting in and out of lanes are all common place and if this system can help protect you and your passengers then in my eyes it is only a good thing.
I'm not sure what I was initially expecting of my time with the Up! but as you can probably tell, by the time it left us I was completely sold and a little sad to say goodbye. In a market where the rise of the small car is more and more prominent it truly feels that VW have stolen the run with this car from the economy to drivability and technology. If I were an urban dweller who enjoyed weekends out of town and needed more than two seats, I know where my £10k would go. The only way is Up!