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
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 Ups produce a rorty three-cylinder buzz when you accelerate but only the most powerful 90hp version has a bite to match its bark
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.