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First look: New low-cost VW aims to be ‘Smarter’

People's car: Volkswagen's latest concept aims at entry-level buyers.

With the engine in the back of a supermini, Volkswagen gets the Bug again

12 Sep 2007

WHEN it comes to a Volkswagen people’s car for the modern era, forget the Beetle and look at this little number – the oddly-named Up! Revealed this week at the Frankfurt motor show after a fast-tracked development period, the VW Up! City car is primarily designed for developing countries, with a more upmarket version designed for beautiful young things to nip around European cities.

It is the first rear-engined car built by VW since the original Beetle, which was designed in the 1930s and turned into an icon of the 20th century, putting the company on the automotive map.

Furthermore, it drives the rear wheels and has seating for four adults within its compact dimensions.

The front-engined New Beetle may have looked like a big Bug, but it was hardly a low-cost replacement and, after its initial flourish, has failed to retain the public’s attention.

However, new VW Group boss Martin Winterkorn has high hopes for the Up! Concept and expects it to go into production within three years.

3 center imageTechnical chief Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, who is also a VW board member, said response to the concept vehicle would determine its future, even though his boss seems to have made up his mind already.

“The response of show visitors will be a decisive test to determine whether the concept has the same kind of potential possessed by the Beetle at one time or by the Golf today,” said Dr Hackenberg.

The concept car is based on a completely new platform and drivetrain and is 3450mm long and 1630mm wide.

That may be 750mm longer and 70mm wider than a Smart ForTwo, but it is surely no coincidence that the VW almost mirrors the forthcoming Fiat 500 (which is the same width but 100mm longer).

Engine choices revealed at Frankfurt are a turbocharged two-cylinder and a turbocharged three-cylinder, both of very compact design and with outstanding fuel economy – said to be less than 3.5 litres per 100km for the twin-pot unit that will probably be standard in the emerging markets.

No doubt there are other drivelines in mind, including hybrids, but VW has hardly been forthcoming with technical information – not even capacity let alone power outputs or transmissions.

What we do know is that the styling team was overseen by VW Group’s acclaimed Spanish design chief, Walter de Silva, whose most famous recent work has been the Audi family of vehicles.

Mr de Silva said that the Up! Concept marks the debut of a new styling direction with simple features while retaining an instantly recognisable Volkswagen ‘face’.

At the rear is a tailgate section constructed entirely out of a transparent material, with a glowing Volkswagen badge inset into the centre.

“The Up! is not a car whose form will become obsolete within a very brief period of time,” said Mr de Silva. “It is a clear and strong statement for future Volkswagen design.” VW says that the concept is intended ‘as inspiration for a new family of small, extremely efficient vehicles’.

The Spartan interior is an indication of its main purpose to take VW into massive developing markets like China and India.

Each of the individual, lightweight passenger seats, which feature inflatable pockets to maximise comfort, can be folded and removed from the vehicle if necessary in order for larger loads to be carried.

Like the similar rear-engine rear-drive Smart, pushing each of the four wheels as far into the corners as possible not only freed up space and reduced front and rear overhangs but also overcame some of the inherent vehicle instability of such a small car.

Of course, being a concept car, there had to be some electronic gadgetry to keep us amused, so here it is – what VW calls a unique way in which ‘both the driver and passengers interface with the vehicle’.

Software linked to a touch sensitive screen has the ability to sense specific hand movements of the user to access the climate, entertainment and vehicle function controls.

A second screen, mounted ahead of the driver, relays information on the vehicle’s systems along with an instantaneous read-out of the amounts of CO2 being emitted.

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