Keeping up! With the Volkswagians

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You all know how I feel about entry level cars, especially entry level city cars. They are usually poorly made, poorly designed, ugly and slow, powered by a coup!le of starving anaemic hamsters on a treadmill. In short, they are cheap and nasty. They are paper thin bits of folded foil with 20c pieces for wheels and handle like demented slugs. So, when I was asked to take the up! for a spin I wondered if I was in for more of the same.

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I took the key which is a cheeky white plastic fob with a flick-out key and the 3 control buttons VW uses across its range. As you approach, you realise it’s quite sweet looking from the front and it looks like someone washed a Polo which then shrank. The back however is a different kettle of fish. The rear is all but covered by a single piece of frameless glass half of which is black, and the hatch opener is a simple plastic button and handle combo. The vertical tail lights have an intriguing inset for indicators and reversing lights. The closer you get the smaller it looks especially parked close to a normal sized vehicle.

VW’s up! is cute and small, and weighs a mere 880 kgs. That’s just as well because the engine is a paltry 1L 3 cylinder jobbie putting out a stunning 55kw/95Nm of oomph. It’s sounding dire isn’t it? The exterior is sans embellishment but somehow manages to avoid looking as if it was merely a collection of leftovers from the bargain basement’s odd-bins section. It looks well-made and clearly comes from the same brand as the Passat or Golf. Our car was the 2 door so entry is easy even for a tall person. Unusually these days, steel wheels are standard.

From the outside there is little evidence that the up! costs a piddling $13k so how about the interior. No, still nothing to give away the up!’s humble price. The interior looks fine with nothing having fallen off during the stress of having the door opened. The first thing to hit you is the (optional) PID which looks like a kind of inbuilt Navman but more about that later.

One of my pet hates is horrible cheap fabric with sickening swirls intended to be playful but instead looks like faded pub carpet from the 50’s. So you can imagine my relief at seeing a simple plain fabric with a simple stitching detail on the seats. The steering wheel has the same high quality feel of a Polo of Golf. Speaking of Golf, no, the door does not sound like a Golf when I closes. It doesn’t sound tinny but it doesn’t sound solid “like a Golf”. The cabin seems to be rather well sealed too because you really have to put some shoulder into pulling the door shut behind you. Once you are comfortably ensconced, other highlights also become obvious such as the coloured plastic panels on the top of the door and dash board. They are painted with metallic tones and sparkle in the right light, and I like them very much.

The air conditioning is manual but you soon get used to not being able to set and forget a temperature. To be honest that rarely works anyway. VW have been very clever and have saved money where they were able, so both front seats are the identical. This means the adjustments are on the same side of the seat regardless of which side of the car it’s fitted to. There’s more, the window switches, yes they are electric, are a lone switch on each door arm rest. If you want to open the passenger’s window you have to lean across and press the other button. I think that is a saving too far.

As for the rest of the switch gear, it has the same solid feeling as any other Volkswagen. Perhaps the plastic isn’t quite the same quality but the way they feel when you push, slide or pull, is exactly the same. Another winner is the golf-ball vent to direct the air conditioning exactly where you want it. The weather wasn’t particularly hot but the temperature control seemed to cope well.

The luggage space is tight with the seats up! (251L) but remember you’ll not loading the up! full of people and gear and going away for the week. That’s simply not what it is designed for. However, at a pinch, 2 could sneak away for a romantic weekend. With the back seats down there is an impressive 951L. Think of it this way, you could fit almost a tonne of champagne if you could un-bottle enough of it and the luggage area didn’t leak. The seats aren’t uber-comfy lounge chairs but they don’t pretend to be. What they are is, like the rest of the car, well designed and made for a price. up! is an honest unpretentious car.

There is something quite wonderful about the drive that I can’t quite put my finger on as is isn’t any one single thing. The engine seems to have a very wide and forgiving range. The 5 gears also seem unconcerned with specific intervals at which they must be shifted. Most of the time taking off from the lights involves letting out the clutch and planting your foot to the floor then waiting for her to catch up. It was here where the experience started to remind me of Citroen’s famous 2CV. In a lot of ways the up! is a 21st century solution to the same problem, a cheap to buy, cheap to run car that is easy to own. The up! also has very soft suspension that frequently reaches the end of its travel. As you go over a speed bump with more gusto than you should, it gives a little bump in the way in then again half way through as she bounces skyward. It is this softness that case the up! such an incredibly good ride especially for such a diminutive set of wheels. I won’t try and tell you that the steering feels super sharp but it does feel very good. It’s electric so is very easy at parking speeds with the assistance changing the faster you go. What surprised me most was the handling. The soft suspension had no effect on either the steering or the brakes and it simply went where it was pointed.

There are only 4 airbags but there is a full suite of electronic nannies to be had. There is also VW’s version of City Safe which casts a beam in front of the car and slams on the anchors if it thinks you’re going to hit someone or something at low city speeds. I was asked if the up! felt safe. I feel safe on a bike at 110kph so I certainly felt safe in the VW.

Similarly, you’ll feel the same thing as you go round a corner. You feel like you’re going to scrape your door handles off but at no stage does she let go, and you feel safe. You simply have to have the confidence that that no matter how hard you push her, she will not end up! as someone’s garden decoration, having darted through the shrubbery. Do you get the impression I was beginning to fall for her? Yes, I was falling for her, and why not. Everything about the UP! is fun. The brakes and gears are a delight, much more so than a super cheap entry level city car has the right to be. Because of the lack of power and torque you will need to work those gears. Around town it’s not much of an issue and on the highway the 5 speed needs taking down a cog or two when you come to hills. You’ll also need to plan overtaking although if I were you I’d wait for an overtaking lane. At times like that all you need to keep in mind is the 4.9L/100k fuel usage. Since our test car didn’t have the optional cruise control you would have to actually concentrate on what you’re doing which isn’t such a bad thing, though these days you expect things like cruise control and auto headlights and wipers.

The 3 cylinder naturally aspirated motor is like a little puppy bouncing about the place eager to please. It just wants to keep going. It has that familiar 3 cylinder sound which is strangely pleasing, and a leisurely 13.2 second 0-100 which is to be expected. In its defence, it feels much quicker when you’re sitting behind the wheel but perhaps that’s because you expect the UP! to be sluggish.

The centre instrument panel does not contain a tacho but if you absolutely have to have one the add-on dash mounted unit can display it for you. The PID unit is a stroke of genius which is hugely undersold. Many of its functions are voice controlled including the Satnav. Unlike many Satnav units, you are able to set directions in the up! by speaking to it and it’s not just limited to a few pre-set destinations. There isn’t a any of the psychotic behaviour we’ve experienced with many built in units. It also shows trip info and fuel usage but of course you can’t do it all at the same time. The other remarkable thing is the speed of the unit. Most Satnav models are sluggish at best, and complicated too. They need big hugs after each and every input and sulk uncontrollably if they don’t get their own way. The UP! unit can be removed in 2 parts leaving only the contact points on the dash. My one and only beef was the lack of a USB input on our base model audio unit nor are you able to BT stream. The PID has an SD reader though so it isn’t a total loss. I’d suggest paying a little extra for the upgraded stereo.

There are some figures to ponder: from the 35L tank you should get about 550k’s around town which means about $10 for 100k’s of travel. Hybrid’s make this kind of claim but I’ve not driven one yet that was able to deliver on it. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the way the UP! makes you feel. It is the only city car I haven’t been embarrassed to be seen in, rather the opposite in fact. I was happy to drive it, even a little eager. It’s meant to be good at taking you shopping or out to coffee. It’s also meant to be easy to get into tight spots too, and it is. There are several tight spaces I regularly use and the UP! is the only one I have been able to drive straight into. The turning circle is a tiny 9.8m and is at least a metre smaller than the Polos and Golfs. We seemed to be able to sneak into spots usually reserved for those on 2 wheels.

For me the UP! gets extra points for cute looks, great ride, exceptional fuel economy and amazing value. You all expected me to hate it, but by the end of the week I found myself wanting one badly. I asked the VW official how they did it for the price and he said everyone asks that but said nothing further. Quite simply a better car can’t be had for the price, from any brand, in any country.

I’m going to make a big call: up! is going to be huge for VW and possibly one of it’s biggest ever sellers. It will steal sales from the Koreans and Chinese because it is better in every way. There will be “hot” up! models and people will adore them. You mark my words up! is a landmark vehicle not just for VW, but for the motor industry. The up! is inexpensive but not cheap.

Drive away price:- $12,999

feature

VW up!!

Engine

6

Transmission

6

Ride

8

Cargo capacity

5

Handling

7

Looks

8

Versatility

7

Fuel consumption

9

Equipment

8

Interior feel

8

Exterior feel

8

How it makes you feel

8

TOTAL

88/120

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2 thoughts on “Keeping up! With the Volkswagians

  1. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who was conducting
    a little research on this. And he actually ordered me lunch simply because I found it
    for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to talk about this subject here on your blog.

    Like

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