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.
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The Volkswagen Up is a bit like one of those little bottles of Veuve Cliquot you find in a hotel minibar. It’s the company’s smallest, cheapest model, but 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 is an alternative to city cars like the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo.
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 all 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 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.
It might look a bit like a shoebox, but the Up is one of the smartest and most comfortable city cars you can buy
You can get the Up with two one-litre petrol engines. All but the range-topping, sporty GTI come with a non-turbocharged 60hp version which feels more than comfortable in town, but will need to be worked hard for overtaking on faster roads. The GTI, meanwhile, comes with a noticeably stronger 115hp turbocharged 1.0 and is a proper hoot to drive. There’s also a pure-electric Up which we’ve reviewed separately.
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.
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.
Still, why don’t you head over to our Volkswagen deals page to find out how much you could knock off that list price?
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 Up with two one-litre petrol engines. All but the range-topping, sporty GTI come with a non-turbocharged 60hp version. The GTI comes with a noticeably stronger 115hp turbocharged 1.0 and is a proper hoot to drive. There’s also a pure-electric Up which we’ve 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 50-odd mpg if driven carefully. The 115hp GTI has much stronger performance both in and out of town. it might not sound like much, but in a car as light as the Up, it’s more than enough. Expect to see 50mpg in this too.
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.
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