The VW Up is one of the most stylish and desirable city cars on sale, but it’s relatively expensive and some alternatives have a little more space in the back
The Volkswagen Up is a little city car, but although it’s the company’s cheapest model, it still has the kind of high-quality, upmarket interior you would expect of a Volkswagen.
Underneath, it’s the same car as the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, and the Up originally went on sale in 2011. This revised version arrived in 2017, and although you might struggle to spot what changed in the facelift, it does have remodelled bumpers. Importantly, it also has a range of new infotainment systems and the option of some more powerful engines.
The Volkswagen Up is an alternative to city cars like the Kia Picanto, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo, and you can choose between three- and five-door models. Mainstream Ups come with a selection of economical petrol engines, but there are a couple of very interesting models at the top of the range. The Volkswagen Up GTI is a cracking little hot (well, hottish) hatchback, while at the other end of the spectrum is the fully electric, zero-emission e-Up model, both of which are reviewed separately.
Inside, the Up has a simple, minimalist look, but it’s smarter than the Picanto and everything feels more solid than in the bargain-basement Suzuki Celerio. You can also choose from a wide variety of optional styling packs on some models that make everything just that little bit smarter. You want black alloys, a two-tone paint job, or a different-coloured dashboard? Not a problem…
You won’t want for the latest in technology, either. DAB radio is standard across the range, and High Up and Beats models have a slick 5.0-inch colour screen, through which you can run lots of features from an app on a smartphone mounted in a cradle on top of the dashboard.
Given how small the car is, you may well be surprised how easy it is for pretty much anyone to get comfy in the Up, even if they’re quite tall. On every model, the driver’s seat has height adjustment, and although the steering wheel only adjusts for height, not reach, you can easily get a decent driving position.
Even more surprisingly, it’s a similar story in the rear seats. Admittedly, you can only get two people in the back – unlike the Hyundai i10, which will take three – but there’s enough head and knee room for tall adults to get reasonably comfortable.
The Volkswagen Up will even do a passable job as a family car, and it’s reasonably easy to fit a child seat through the rear doors in a five-door model – once you’ve found the hidden Isofix anchor points, that is. However, you’ll have to move the passenger seat right forward if you want to fit a bulky rear-facing seat.
This is even a pretty practical little car, with a fair amount of storage dotted around the cabin. The door bins are reasonably roomy and the glovebox is generous, but there are only two cupholders – one for the front seats and one in the back.
The boot, too, is roomy for this size of car. Its 251-litre capacity is on a par with what you’ll find in the likes of the i10 and Picanto, so it’ll have no trouble swallowing a baby buggy or a large suitcase. What’s more, as long as you avoid the most basic Take Up model, your Up will come with what Volkswagen calls a ‘variable boot floor’. This can be mounted in a variety of positions and means you can lift it up to reduce the height of the boot lip you have to lift luggage over.
Need to carry more stuff? Well, if you fold down the back seats, you can fit in a bike with one wheel removed. The seats fold in a two-way (60:40) split, too, so you can carry long luggage and a passenger in the back at the same time.
It might look a bit like a shoebox, but the Up is one of the smartest and most comfortable city cars you can buy
Ignoring the GTI, you can get the Up with three one-litre petrol engines. If you spend most of your time driving around town, the 60hp and 75hp models will suit you perfectly, but if you’re out of town a lot, you should go for the more powerful 90hp turbocharged unit. It’s strong enough to keep up on the motorway and with faster-moving traffic; and although Volkswagen claims it’ll return around 60mpg, it should average around 42mpg in everyday use.
As you would only expect, the Up is a great city car, partly because its small size makes it really easy to manoeuvre, but also because you get a good view out. What you probably won’t expect is that the Up is also pretty comfortable, and you won’t feel too many of the bumps and potholes that litter our city streets. Last, but not least, it’s also remarkably good compared to other cars of its size for cruising on the motorway.
Likewise, compared to the alternatives, the Up is a very safe little thing. Euro NCAP awarded it a maximum five-star safety rating – although that was back in 2011 and the tests have been made significantly stricter since. You can also add the City Emergency braking pack, which will automatically apply the brakes for you in an emergency. It costs a fair amount, but the extra peace of mind it adds is almost invaluable.
The end result is that, overall, the Up is one of the best city cars you can buy, doing an impressive job of combining big-car features with small-car convenience. However, it is more expensive than alternatives – including the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, which are almost exactly the same car.