The Volkswagen up! is the German brand’s smallest car, and for the very reasonable price you pay, the expression ‘though she be but little, she is fierce’ is most definitely apt. It’s a cracking city car that is surprisingly spacious, very reliable and has a turbocharged engine that is punchy when you need it to be. With cars available for less than £10k, this is a small car with big potential…
Some city cars are cute, some are sleek, and some are quirky. The VW up! is a bit of everything in that regard. It arguably has more personality than the bigger Polo, but is a bit more sensible than the stylish Fiat 500. One thing is for sure – it’s definitely a cheery car to look at.
You always feel acceptably smart pulling up in it, no matter if you’re heading to the drive-thru or to a business meeting. If you want more razzle-dazzle, then you may want to consider the sporty up! GTI, or the top R-Line trim, both of which inject some spice into the car's character.
What's it like to drive?
For such an inexpensive car, the up! is fabulous to drive around town. The city car market has become much more saturated since the first up! came into our lives, but you’re still hard-pushed to find another small car that handles potholes or bumps as well as this. The suspension is really very good (and trust me, some small cars can empty your coffee cup over the lowest of speed bumps), plus it’s so nifty and quick.
The most recent version offers two turbocharged petrol engines so there’s plenty of oomph to get you onto the roundabout or to execute a quick U-turn. The GTI is more powerful and faster and therefore that bit more fun, doing 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds.
The most noticeable drawback (which is to be expected considering the city car category) is motorway driving in the up! As city cars go, it’s actually quite good because it handles well and the ride comfort is excellent. But this is a car with a city-focused engine, so it needs a little work to keep up with naturally faster traffic – not that it can't do it!
The up! is cleverly designed, imaginatively embracing the less luxurious materials that keep the price point down, to create a light, minimalist and urban feel inside. Expect to see exposed metals and cool, chiselled hard-touch plastics that are very UE-Boom or Bose-esque.
It feels sturdy and well made, which is important. Even though you wouldn’t be using it as the main family car, you get the feeling it would be easy to wipe down and keep clean if you did end up doing the messy school run every now and then.
The affordability of the up! does come with the snag that it doesn’t include much tech. You have to pay extra for USB ports, which is a bit stingy. But in a nod to the youth of today who spend 99% of their lives on their smartphones, VW offers a smartphone holder that connects to the in-car Bluetooth.
Sync your phone with the special VW app and it becomes the infotainment screen, sat nav and music player. It’s quite ingenious and is a smart workaround of the price to limited tech trade-off. The Beats stereo in the newer models is a winner too.
The up! is cleverly designed, imaginatively embracing the less luxurious materials that keep the price point down, to create a light, minimal and urban feel inside
When it comes to practicality, the up! holds its own against rivals – mainly because it has a decent-sized boot. Thanks to the shape of the car, the boot is also square, which means it can swallow a couple of carry-on suitcases, and the boot floor is height adjustable. This reduces the load lip, which is very helpful if you don’t have much upper-body strength and need to slide stuff without finesse.
You only get two seats in the back, so this limits the practicality of the car, although it does mean that the rear passengers get more space between them. The back seats fold down 60/40, and you can choose to get the five-door model if you want easier access. The boxy shape helps tall adults fit into the back, and shoulder and headroom is pretty good considering how small the car is. Up front, it's pleasantly spacious and there’s seemingly never-ending storage bins and cubbyholes too.
Running costs and reliability
The up! petrol engines have the inbuilt start/stop function, which improves fuel economy around the city – especially when you’re sitting in traffic. It’s very cheap to run, managing 55mpg, while even the GTI is close to 52mpg claimed (very impressive for a hot hatch).
If you really want to save money (and the environment) then you can buy the electric version, the e-up! Although it's now discontinued (it ran from 2017-2020), it is the most cost-effective used up! you’ll be able to get your hands on.
The up! is considered very reliable by owners and also comes with a three-year/60,000-miles warranty. It scored a full five-star rating from safety body Euro NCAP when launched, so you can trust you’re well looked after in the safety department, too.
What we love
We appreciate a trend-setter here at cinch, and the Volkswagen up! was one of the first city cars to feel tough and premium. It’s kept all of its charm over the years, with minimal design changes.
The up! continues to be one of the best, most affordable small cars, and it takes the hassle, stress and discomfort out of commuting.
It takes the hassle, stress and discomfort out of commuting!
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For a stress-free city life, first-time drivers or sharing between parent and teenager, the VW up! is a brilliant budget-friendly car to buy.
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