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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Up! - 3-door

Our Opinion

We like
Packaging, handling, three-pot engine performance/economy, five-speed gearbox, refinement, manoeuvrability, comfort, ride, efficiency
Room for improvement
Inadequate face-level ventilation, wind noise with driver’s window fully down, expensive for class of car, average air-con performance, optional Maps and More system fail on pre-OS6 iPhone

Gallery

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Volkswagen logo18 Jan 2013

Price and equipment

This car’s value depends on your point of view.

Objectively, the $13,990 Up three-door is about the size of the $11,790 Suzuki Alto five-door – a gap that widens to $3200 if you match the Indian-made Japanese car by ordering rear doors. Ouch.

If this is your top concern then the VW is a value fail. Look elsewhere.

On the other hand, see the Up as a branded urban style icon in the mould of the (much more expensive) Fiat 500, and it actually seems like a canny buy – a scaled-down Golf, if you will.

To that end, there are a number of options packs to keep that premium feeling alive.

The recommended $500 Maps and More portable touch-screen unit features sat-nav, additional analogue-style gauges, a comprehensive trip computer that promotes greener driving, 32GB storage and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming – although the latter is not compatible with all mobiles.

Another $2500 buys you the Comfort Style pack (15-inch alloys, fog lights, leather trimmed steering wheel/handbrake/gear shifter, vinyl instead of cloth seats, heated front seats, and floor mats), Comfort Style adds $600 (cruise control and rear parking sensors with visual display), metallic paint costs $500 and a sunroof is $1400.

Yep, you can buy an Up five-door with around $20,490 before on-road costs. That’s $2.5K under the cheapest Fiat 500, though.

But forget the standard air-con, electric front windows, powered door mirrors, remote locking, AM/FM/MP3/CD audio with auxiliary input, height (but not reach) adjustable steering and full-size spare the Up blazes a trail at this end of the market with autonomous emergency braking, which stomps on the brakes from 5km/h to 30km/h to avoid low-speed collisions. Hill Assist’s included too. Brilliant!

But while it achieves a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, rear seat airbags are unavailable.

And nor is automatic transmission.

Interior

Basically, VW took a Polo-sized vehicle and chopped about 25cm from each end, to create a narrower four-seater hatch with almost as much room inside (but with a tiny engine bay and smaller boot).

Boasting a longer-than-class-average wheelbase, then, even 200cm people can enjoy ample space up front and tolerable accommodation on the twin rear perches in this 3.54m-long car, as long as the occupants ahead are willing to compromise, since feet can be tucked under the front seats.

Three cupholders add convenience.

A large dash-top vent that deflects airflow off the windscreen to reach the rear passengers aids ventilation.

In our $14,990 three-door (fitted with Maps and More and metallic paint as tested), entry/egress is easy via sliding front seats with the magic of memory so it will glide right back to where it was. Thank you, VW!

Some observations: The Audi R8-esque flat-bottomed steering wheel is plastic but pleasant anyway the driver doesn’t get a passenger electric window switch or one-touch control there is just one overhead grab handle (front passenger), no map pockets, no adjustable front-seat headrests (but the rears get them), and just one interior light.

Yet the interior ambience reeks of quality and solidity, the seats are adequately supportive, the driving position first class, the Beetle-esque motif instrument faces are always legible, there are storage slots aplenty, and side/rear vision is great.

At 241 litres, the boot is deep, comes with a fake floor to hide stuff under, and easily expands to 951 litres with the split backrests folded to create a surprisingly capacious load carrier. Just remember to tap down the parcel shelf when you close the hatch or it will block your rear vision every time.

Other drawbacks include a lack of sufficient face-level centre ventilation, feeble air-con on hotter days and thick A-pillars that can create blind spots for the driver.

Finally, a note about Maps and More: it may offer handy eco driving tips, detailed trip data, and the fun of changeable analogue gauges, but the Bluetooth connectivity demanded Apple’s OS6 during our tenure or otherwise wouldn’t work.

Engine and transmission

VW has created an all-new modular platform that will also underpin the next-gen Polo and its offshoots.

Why is this important to know? Because it gives insight into how refined and multi-faceted this chic city runabout is.

The light and compact 55kW/95Nm 1.0-litre triple-cylinder petrol unit is box-fresh, with an easily accessible wad of low-down torque for wheel-chirping step-off acceleration, a propensity to rev beyond the 6200rpm red line, and an appealingly gruff exhaust note.

The sweet short-shifting five-speed manual gearbox needs to be rowed along to make the most of the available power, but on the move, Up is notable as a strong and smooth performer.

While around town you can bumble by at quite low speeds in top gear, the tiny capacity and lack of power require extra care when joining fast-moving carriageways. And you can feel the weight of extra passengers.

Yet, with just two people and the air-con on, the Up’s overall performance exceeded expectations.

Fuel consumption too is exemplary we averaged between 5.7 to 6.1L/100km driving the car like we stole it – though note more expensive 95 RON premium unleaded petrol is advised.

Ride and handling

Here’s where the Up shows its VW family traits.

In a word, the electric power steering is superb, full of feel and feedback, yet is also light enough to turn into the tightest of city spots. Those angular lines and deep side windows certainly help.

At speed, the handling is just as impressive, since the car tracks solidly and goes precisely where the driver points it.

Throw in the security of exceptional body control and tyres that actually telegraph to you when the limits of roadholding grip are approaching, and the Up ends up being a cracking good drive that can be hurled through corners at ludicrous speeds. The ESC/traction control threshold also allows for a bit of dirt-road drifting fun.

There’s almost nothing to criticise here – the loping suspension, long wheelbase and 165/70 R14 rubber make for a pliant ride there’s not much in the way of road-noise intrusion and even over rough surfaces the Up isn’t out of its depth.

The only complaint we received was from the rear seat, for a bouncy ride over suburban speed humps.

Safety and servicing

It may only have airbag protection for the first row of occupants but the Up still scores a five-star ENCAP safety rating.

Capped-price servicing is offered, with no more than $369.50 paid each year for the first six years or 90,000km, with some costing $280, for a total spend in that period of $1874.50.

VW’s warranty period is for three years with unlimited kilometres.

Verdict

If the reinvented Beetle kick-started the retro revival in the 1990s, the Up might be what the classic Bug would have evolved into if the original was allowed to live on in its original format: affordable and brilliant engineering simplicity.

Yet that ‘baby Golf’ label also rings true.

After weeks of driving across two states well over a 1000km, the Up revealed itself as every inch a contemporary VW – and a big step up from the similarly sized Alto and Holden Barina Spark.

Posts have been shifted in more ways than one then. Welcome to the new baby-car benchmark.

Rivals ranked

1. Ford WT Fiesta CL: , From $15,490, plus on-roads, German engineering, class-leading handling and a strong 1.6-litre engine make the rorty and roomy Ford a great value all rounder.

2.

Nissan Micra ST:, From $13,490, plus on-roads , Rough around the edges but cheap, spacious, spirited, and well equipped, the three-cylinder five-seater ST is a bargain new-car buy

3. Holden MJ Barina Spark CD Series II:, From $12,490, plus on-roads, Forget the breathless manual – the (slightly torquier) auto version lifts the roomy Spark, but it is still dull to drive and cheapo inside.

Specs

Make and model: Volkswagen Up
, Engine type: 999cc 3-cyl DOHC 12v petrol
, Layout: FWD, transverse
, Power: 55kW @ 6200rpm
, Torque: 95Nm @ 3000-4300rpm
, Transmission: 5-speed manual
, 0-100km: 13.2s
, Fuel consumption: 4.9L/100km
, Will it fit in my garage? L3540mm/W1641mm/H1476mm
, Weight: 929kg
, Suspension f/r: Struts/torsion beam
, Steering: Electric rack and pinion
, Price: From $13,990 plus on-roads

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