Car review: Volkswagen up!

Dr Tony Rimmer says Volkswagen's new city car could be a good option for GPs looking to downsize.

The up! combines economy and practicality in a smart package

Volkswagen has always been a popular brand for GPs. For many years, the ubiquitous Golf has been the family doctor’s favourite. Practicality allied to good performance and value is topped off by above-average quality – and this applies to the whole range. Drive a VW and you’re perceived as being smart but not flash.

During the current recession, we are all having to tighten our belts. GPs are looking for better value and many of us are downsizing to smaller cars.

This market sector is normally dominated by Japanese and Korean manufacturers and has lacked a good value product with branded quality and class. Fiat’s 500 and BMW’s Mini qualify, but they are not exactly practical or cheap.

The up! (the exclamation mark is part of the name) is an all-new city car that combines economy and practicality in a smart package from a trusted brand. With prices starting from £7,995, it is preparing to take the small car market by storm.

Available as a three- or five-door model, there are three levels of trim available. Most basic is the Take up!, followed by the middle range Move up! The fully kitted High up! completes the range.

Engine choice is limited to two variants of a new 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol unit producing 60 or 75bhp. Economy is claimed to be excellent, with a maximum 68.9mpg on the combined cycle for the BlueMotion variant.

Fast facts

Volkswagen up!

Body Choice of three- or five-door hatchback 

Engine 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol

Power 60 or 75bhp

Economy (combined) 60.1 to 62.8mpg

Price £7,995 to £11,180

Initial impressions

So what is it like, this Germanic paragon of virtue? Does it do anything that can’t be done by the established competition? Does it live up to early reports and indications that it could be the class leader? To answer these questions, I’ve been driving all three variants around my practice area.

Initial impressions are good. We all like our cars to look stylish and although city cars are compromised by their diminutive size, the up! looks smart and has a certain ‘practicality with flair’ about its appearance.

The interior has a definite quality feel and even though the Take up! has wind-up front windows, equipment is generally good. The High up! has a clever detachable ‘Maps and More’ mobile ‘personal infotainment device’. This is basically a satnav with on-screen links for your mobile phone and various aspects of the car’s functions.

The inclusion of options like this helps car buyers specify cars to a level comparable to the larger and better equipped models we may have driven before.

What’s it like to drive?

There is a general impression that a small car will never drive as well as a larger, classier model. This is where the up! plays its trump card. The smooth three-cylinder engine combined with a sporty chassis endows the little Volkswagen with a mature but fun drive.

If you are a rural practitioner, long journeys are normal and the up! cruises comfortably like a much bigger car. Manoeuvrability is excellent and slotting into any tight parking space on home visits has never been so easy.

It may not be as sporty as a Mini, but you will appreciate the well-controlled ride much more than ultimate grip around corners. The high-revving engine is not unlike the Fiat 500 two-cylinder TwinAir model, but with better real-world economy. Space inside the bright and airy cabin is optimised and provides comfortable accommodation for four. This is certainly not something that can be said for either the Mini or the 500.

Some negatives

No car is perfect and there are a couple of negative features to the new up!. The five-door model, although being a little more practical, only has hinged rear door windows, not wind-down ones. The basic Take up! model looks a little too bland from the front and may visually disappear in the general city car commuter pool.

Volkswagen will not have it all its own way, though. Sister brands Skoda and Seat have launched their own versions of the up!, called the CityGo and the Mii respectively. They are a little more basic in their specification but undercut the VW by around £500.

So here we have a smart, well made, fun to drive, economical city car that holds its own on motorways as well as the urban crawl and doesn’t cost the earth. With all of us experiencing static or falling practice profits, the up! deserves to succeed.

  • Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey

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