The Volkswagen Up! has been a popular supermini choice in the city car class since its launch in 2011, having contributed close to 100,000 units in Europe every year. Brought in to replace the Volkswagen Fox, which had been sold in Europe since 2005, it was a necessary breath of fresh air into the Volkswagen range and has allowed them to continue to have a solid footing in the city car class.
Whilst competitors have redesigned and reworked their equivalent models, Volkswagen have recognised that the Up! has needed very little change to its design and instead have focused on keeping it's stylistic choices and technological offerings current. Whilst that might mean no more steel wheels (not necessarily a bad thing!) it also means that VW have kept their promise from its launch of giving people "plenty to smile about!"
The overall design of the Up! isn't particularly unique, a low and square-ish shape, but there's something distinctly VW about it. Whether it's in the shape of the headlights or the bold aesthetics when you see the GTI, it falls perfectly into the line up and allows buyers to take some of the best of VW without breaking the bank. It's small size makes it an ideal city car, able to nip through traffic and park in smaller spaces.
An age old question, but not many cars are still offering the buyer the choice between 3 doors or 5. This means that as well as a difference in doors it does also give a difference in price for the different options, £410 to be exact. The 5 door option then also allows you to choose from a larger number of trim levels and features.
The Volkswagen Up! has one of the less clunky feeling interiors when it comes to small cars. The infotainment screen is inline with the rest of the dashboard, unlike the Kia Picanto where the screen is mounted half above the rest of the console, but is not a touch screen and doesn't have the option to be one across the range. However, it does come with a cradle above the dashboard for you to put your phone in and then use the Volkswagen in car apps to provide sat nav and media playback.
In the city car segment of the market it can be difficult to create an interior that rivals that of bigger cars but the Up! uses many of the same styling elements as the VW Polo.
Given the different options for trim levels there's a car to suit everyone. The bright metallic paint colours available paired with the trim specific bold interior fabrics make the Up! a fun choice when comparing small city cars and gives it a distinct personality that still differs from the larger cars in the range.
The choice of a smartphone sat nav system rather than an integrated one is appealing to most drivers as it's likely they're taking calls and staying connected or streaming whilst they drive anyway. One system for all definitely makes more sense for the modern driver.
The car is designed to fit four adults comfortably and makes no excuses that there isn't a fifth seat in the car. It falls in line with most other small city cars on sale today with the exception of the Hyundai i10, which prides itself on having the space for a smaller fifth seat in the back.
The front of the cabin definitely has enough space to give the feeling that you're in a bigger car. The driver and front passenger seats offer ample room in both height and leg room, measuring approximately 993 mm for headroom and making it feel much less like you're crammed into a small car. The dimensions according to VW themselves actually shows the front seated space to be 1417mm in the 3 door version but this drops to 1369mm when you switch to the 5 door models, presumably to account for the placement of the two extra doors. The driver's seat also has height adjustment as a standard, so drivers of all heights can make sure they're at their most comfortable. Combined together it makes it one of the best city cars.
The boot space is a respectable 251 litres and every Up! model has an adjustable height for the boot floor. Although the Kia Picanto has a larger volume at 255 litres, it also always has a large drop when lifting items in and out which can make it awkward for things like pushchairs. Having the adjustable floor height means that you can also split the boot space into two and use underneath the divider to store things that you want to keep out of sight.
The good news is that as the car stays higher at the back it provides quite a lot of headroom for passengers in the rear seats. The bad news is that it only has 4 seats compared to the Hyundai i10 offering of 5 for a city car. Generally, if you're looking at city cars it's not because you need masses of space or regularly transport a full car load of passengers so it may not be an issue for every buyer. The space between the seats is just that, unlike in the Smart ForFour which utilises this as additional storage space for the rear passengers, but keeping the rear seats as one bench definitely gives the feeling of a larger area.
All trim levels have only one engine option, which takes the pressure of choosing away from you, but does restrict who might be attracted to the car in the first place. The Up!, Black Edition, Beats Edition, and the R-Line all have the 1.0 litre 65PS petrol engine. Not an overly enticing offering but ideal for someone using this purely as a city car where power isn't necessarily a priority.
The GTI steps it up a little and has the only turbo engine in the range for those who don't want to compromise power for the size of the car. It gives you a 1.0 litre TSI petrol engine with 115PS, a much punchier offering and more suited to those planning to venture out onto the open road.
For both engine options the fuel economy sits very comfortably at 55mpg for the 65PS and 51.4mpg for the 115PS, not a huge difference for a large change in power.
What is interesting to note is that there's no automatic gearbox option with the Up! on any of the trim levels. This does let it down a little and allows rivals like the newly launched Toyota Aygo X or Honda Jazz hybrid to dominate that area of the market.
The Up! trim has 15" alloy wheels, 5" colour touch screen and smart phone integration for sat nav. The only additional is whether you then opt to go for the 3 door or 5 door version, a difference of £410
The Black Edition gives you additional styling consisting of 16" black alloys, tinted rear windows, and contrasting colour mirror caps. With only a jump of £280 from the entry level trim (5 door version) it gives a good amount of extras to how the car looks without breaking the bank.
Stepping up again the Beats Edition focuses on, as you've probably guessed, on the sound system. Beats is a registered trade mark so other high quality sound systems, branded or not, will have a different approach to improving audio quality in cars. It elevates the sound quality in the car by giving the 6 speakers a digital 8-channel amplifier, a subwoofer, and a 300W total power output. You also get the Beats badge on the B-pillar, a light coloured interior with Beats "Flash Red" cloth (mostly cream and grey fabric with red stitching), and a slightly smaller choice of exterior paints.
The R-Line gives 16" alloys, heated front seats, electrically adjusting and heated door mirrors, leather covered steering wheel and gearstick, and the body coloured bumpers are styled specifically for the R-Line trim.
Reaching the top of the tree takes you to the GTI, already recognisable thanks to the same trim levels available in other Volkswagen models, and probably the trim that makes the Up! the most exciting.
17" black alloys, GTI sports bumpers, the GTI badge, and the chrome bezel for the front fog lights make the GTI look different from the other models from the initial first glance. The interior boasts a black and red checked "Jacara" cloth on the seat inserts, "Pixel Red" rather than black for the dash insert, and comes with front and rear carpet mats.
It is also the only model with a turbo engine, bringing it to 115PS from the meagre 65PS that the other trim levels offer.
The Volkswagen Up! has several important safety features as a standard across the range, including curtain airbags for front and rear passengers and warning signal and light for any unsecured seatbelts for occupied seats, and some of the higher trims have additional features. For example the tyre pressure loss indicator is included with models of the Black Edition and above.
When looking specifically at Euro NCAP ratings, the Volkswagen Up! isn't a stand out in in the supermini class. It has dropped from its initial 5 star rating in 2011 to a 3 star rating in 2019, but when compared to others in the class, it still perform relatively well and better than rival city cars such as the Hyundai i10 or the standard Kia Picanto.
The Volkswagen Up! has several models in a sliding scale of prices.
The entry level Up! 3 door comes in at £13940 and if you want to upgrade to have another two doors you're looking at £14350. The 5 door model, being more desirable, gives a few more trim options; the Black edition at £14630 followed by Beats at £15040 and the R-Line at £15980.
Both the three door and five door then offer the GTI, coming in at £17645 and £18055 respectively. A difference of £4115 between the entry level and the highest spec available is not necessary unusual but the Up! does give more trim options than competitors like the Toyota Aygo X.
As with other models in the Volkswagen range there are additional costs for changing paint colours and adding on additional features, such as parking sensors or heated seats where available.
Overall, the Volkswagen Up! is a solid contender when looking at best city cars on sale today.
With a strong choice of trim levels across a fairly narrow price scale there's something to suit everyone looking for a small city car. The low insurance groups mean that it's ideal as a first car or those who don't want a huge cost when getting a car, but the GTI (which falls into insurance group 17 instead) reminds the buyer that small doesn't have to equal boring.
It's worth noting that the all electric Volkswagen E Up was placed on indefinite hold for new orders in 2020, at the very beginning of the new car backlog, due to an overwhelming volume of orders and incredibly long wait time for consumers.
A testament to the car's popularity and the desire that buyers have to carry it with them into the future.