Review: Volkswagen UP!

An impressive, all-embracing city car

05 Jan 16 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Inexpensive to run

  • Great for city driving

  • Spacious for a city car

Cons

  • Noisy at high speed

  • Expensive compared to rivals

  • Small boot

Our expert rating

The Volkswagen Up is a city car, and was heralded as a replacement for the unloved Volkswagen Fox. The Up was introduced in 2011 and since then it’s become one of the better small cars.

Performance

The Up is at its best in town, where its size and perky power units make it great for zipping through streets. The tight turning circle makes it exceptionally good for parking as well. It makes a good fist of thing on the open road, too.

Overtaking on single-lane carriageways needs a bit of planning, though, and you have to be prepared to change down a couple of gears.

Wind and road noise are a little too intrusive at speed, but overall the car is quiet in built-up areas. The Volkswagen is inexpensive to run and refined when you’re not hammering it.

It’s hushed at idle and returns at least 60mpg on an average run. Its VED tax isn’t costly too - £20 a year at the very most.

Back of a VW UP!

Ride and handling

The ride quality is decent for such a small motor and it handles roads reasonably well. The Up’s dynamics are good and there is very little body roll. This means it can take corners well, but there is not much feedback through the steering wheel. Indeed, it can feel a little too feathery on faster roads.

In town it feels easy and light to move around, coping well with badly scarred road surfaces. The gear stick also has a smooth action to it. The Up is one of the safest small cars on the market with a solid five-star crash test rating from safety body Euro NCAP.

It scores well for both adult and child occupant protection, with safety equipment including front and side head/thorax airbags and ISOFIX child-seat mounts on the back seats.

The VW UP interior

Interior space

In the front, the Volkswagen Up’s seats provide a considerate amount of space and support for the driver and passenger. The car can seat four adults in comfort over short distances. On longer trips, the rear seats are better suited to two children, as adults will start to feel a tad cramped.

There is a lack of storage up front with only one drinks holder in the centre console, but the boot makes up for this. There’s 251 litres of load space, and when the seats are folded this balloons to 951 litres.

What’s more, unlike some small cars, the Up can be bought with three or five doors. Go for a five door version and it will help out on the practicality-front, especially if you are lifting your tot in and out of the rear seat.

Three main trims are available on the Up: Take, Move and High. Try and go for the flagship High trim because you get heated front seats, a leather steering wheel, electric door mirrors, sat-nav and fog lights. Street Up, Club Up and Rock Up editions have been added to the line-up more recently, all of which are based on the High Up, but offer a few extra additions.

The Volkswagen UP side profile

What to know before you buy

The Volkswagen Up is still too new to have any real problems. Just be aware that there are no dual electric window switches fitted to the driver’s side door, which can be a pain. Also, the performance of the Up’s in-car technology is not always great.

The Volkswagen’s removable sat-nav and infotainment unit has been known to suffer the odd gremlin. For example, the Bluetooth can have a habit of cutting out and skipping tracks during iPhone music playback.

Also, try to buy a Volkswagen Up with a manual gearbox as the auto is too jerky. Another thing to consider is the piano-black finish on the Up’s steering wheel and dashboard. It looks classy, but it does reflect the sun’s rays on bright days and can be a distraction.

Alternative cars

Elegant looks and first-rate build quality mark the Volkswagen Up out from competitors, such as the mechanically indistinguishable Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii. The Volkswagen Up is not bad value, but the Skoda and SEAT offer more or less the same for not as much cash.

The Up does have a far nicer cabin than both, though, because it’s in the same class as higher-up-the-chain Volkswagen models. The Hyundai i10 is also worth a look. Its width will give rear seat passengers more space than the Up, but, again, the Volkswagen’s interior is better.

That said, the Up and cousins, the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, only get two seatbelts in the back, compared with three in the i10. Boot space is similarly sized on all cars with the seats up, and all are just as cheap to run.

Generally, the better driving experience in the Up, Skoda and SEAT has the edge over the i10. However, the superior cabin and generally better put-together Up means the Volkswagen eclipses all of the rivals here.

The VW Up compared with the Hyundai i10

Overall verdict

On the whole, the Volkswagen Up is an impressive, all-embracing, city car with heaps of pleasing qualities and characteristics. It’s neatly styled inside and out, it’s well screwed together and there aren’t many challengers that can equal it in terms of refinement.

The Volkswagen Up isn’t the cheapest motor in its sector, but it’s still an accomplished small runabout.

Expert review

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall