Volkswagen Up Review
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
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Smart interior
- Comfortable to drive
- Impressive build quality
What's not so good
- Expensive top-spec models
- Only four seats
- Sluggish automatic gearbox
Volkswagen Up: what would you like to read next?
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.
You won’t find any particularly plush plastics in the Up’s cabin but at least its smart layout looks good and you can customise it with 12 different dashboard designs
You’ll be able to squirrel away just as many family bits and bobs in the Up’s clever cabin as in many larger cars. Sadly, unlike some alternatives, you can’t get it with seating for five
It might be small, but the flyweight Up packs an impressive punch in the practicality stakes – five-door models are roomy enough to carry four adults and a large suitcase at once
Despite its small size there’s an impressive amount of space for four people in the Up. There’s loads of headroom in the front and you get height-adjustment for the driver’s seat as standard on all models. Unfortunately, the steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach so you might find it a little tricky to get comfortable if you’re very tall – this isn’t particularly unusual in small city cars, however.
You can’t get adjustable lumbar support to help reduce back ache on long journeys or a height adjustable passenger seat on any models, but it’s the same story in a Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10.
Both three and five-door Volkswagen Up models have to make do with only two seats in the back but at least this means there’s plenty of shoulder room for two tall passengers. Knee room is a little tight, however, and passengers over six-foot tall will struggle for headroom. A Hyundai i10 is roomier and comes with three seats in the back.
It’s a real struggle to fit a child seat in three-door versions but the five-door’s wide openings make the job much easier. It’s still a bit of a pain to fit a large rear-facing seat, however, and you’ll have to slide the front passenger seat almost all the way forward before it’ll lock securely in place. The Isofix anchor points aren’t particularly easy to locate either, but at least you won’t have to stoop down too far to strap in a child.
The Volkswagen Up’s cubbyholes are surprisingly spacious for such a small car. The door bins are big enough to hold a large bottle each and the glovebox has space for two medium-sized ones. You also get a handy phone holder in the glovebox and a second phone-sized tray ahead of the front cupholder.
Five-door models come with two shallow door pockets in the back but anything larger than a phone will easily slide out if you take a corner quickly. Both three and five-door versions come with a single cupholder for the back seats but you can’t get a folding rear armrest on any Up models.
Both three and five-door models can carry 251 litres of luggage with all four seats in place, although a Suzuki Celerio has a 267-litre boot. Nevertheless, the Up’s boot is big enough for a baby stroller or a large suitcase and a few soft bags. There’s a large boot lip to lift heavy luggage over, but you do get an adjustable boot floor as standard on all but entry-level cars.
There’s enough space under this false floor to hide a few valuables but nowhere to secure the toolkit. As a result, it’ll slide around as you drive, making plenty of annoying clunking noises and denting the inside of the load bay while it’s doing it.
The back seats fold down in a two-way (60:40) split so you can carry a passenger in the back and some long luggage in the boot at once. With both back seats folded down the Up’s boot floor is completely flat (so long as it’s not the basic model without the adjustable floor) and big enough to carry a bike with one wheel removed.
Its 951-litre total capacity (959 litres in five-door models) is slightly less than you’ll get in 1,010-litre Picanto and 1,046-litre i10 but it’s significantly roomier than the 812-litre Toyota Aygo. Its square shape makes it easy to pack full of large boxes or suitcases.
There are a couple of tether points to keep fragile items tied down and some shopping hooks to stop your groceries rolling around in the back but there isn’t quite enough space under the boot floor to store the parcel shelf.
The Up’s an absolute breeze to drive around town. It’s small, maneuverable and comfortable but the basic 60hp engine feels sluggish and the automatic gearbox is jerky at best
All Ups produce a rorty three-cylinder buzz when you accelerate but only the most powerful 90hp version has a bite to match its bark
You can get the VW Up with a trio of raspy three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engines ranging from a rather wheezy 60hp model to a much perkier 90hp turbocharged version. You can also get a fully electric e-Up version which is reviewed separately.
The 60hp model is fine if you spend most time around town but it’ll struggle if you head out onto a motorway – accelerating from 0-62mph takes a rather sluggish 14.4 seconds. VW claims it’ll return 64.2mpg but expect to see around 40mpg in the real world because you have to use all the revs to accelerate. The 75hp model is slightly faster and returns nearly identical fuel economy, which makes it a no-brainer unless you’re a young driver who needs to keep a close eye on insurance groups.
For that reason, most youngsters will rule out the turbocharged 90hp, which is a shame because it’s the only Up that feels truly at home on the motorway. It can accelerate from 0-62mph in a much more athletic 9.9 seconds. As a result, it feels less strained at motorway speeds and won’t have too much trouble overtaking slow-moving traffic. It’ll return around 40mpg in normal driving.
All models come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard but you can pay extra for a five-speed automatic on 60hp and 75hp versions. It helps take the stress out of heavy stop-start traffic, but parking would be easier if it jerked less at low speed. As a result, you’re better off saving the money it’ll cost you – unless your licence dictates otherwise.
The Volkswagen Up excels around town. Its suspension does a good job ironing out bumps and potholes – despite the Up’s small size – and its large windows and upright seating position give you a reasonable view out, obscured only by the chunky pillars (where the doors meet the windscreen) which can get in the way when you’re pulling out of junctions.
Better news comes in the form of the Up’s tight turning circle that helps it make light work of tight parking spaces – things get even easier if you go for the optional reversing camera that’s available on all but basic models. Rear parking sensors and cruise control come as part of the optional Cruise and Park pack, but the latter’s a must-have if you spend lots of time on the motorway.
In fact, fast cruising is something the Up is rather good at compared to other cars of its size such as the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto. The VW also feels more stable at speed and leans less in corners than the Hyundai and Kia. The Up’s not quite as grippy or as much fun to drive as the larger Ford Fiesta, but it performs very well for such a small car. You’ll hear a fair amount of wind and tyre noise on the motorway but the Up’s no louder at speed than most city cars.
Going at that sort of speed it’s reassuring to know the Up was awarded a five-star safety rating by Euro NCAP back in 2011. Newer five-star-rated cars will provide a little extra protection (the tests are even stricter now), but on the flipside, the Up’s optional automatic emergency city braking will automatically stop the car if it detects an imminent collision, so is worth going for.