The first electric city cars didn’t pass muster. Now, Volkswagen has finally given us one to get excited about
FRANKLY, we’ve waited far too long for an alternative to the infernal G-Wiz. The original electric city car has been on London’s roads for a decade now, ferrying glum-looking owners for whom the zero-emissions dream was expensively shattered the very first time they drove it.
The Nissan LEAF isn’t the answer; it’s too big. The electric Smart has no back seats. The Renault Twizy doesn’t have doors. For years we’ve been crying out for a user-friendly electric car that’s light on gimmicks, strong on performance – and now, finally, we have one.
Volkswagen’s first mainstream electric car, the e-Up (stop sniggering, Yorkshire-folk) is ingenious. It takes the superb design of the regular Up – the best city car you can buy – and electrifies it, compromise-free. It still seats five, and has a boot that’s just one bottle of Badoit smaller. It even has climate control, heated seats, cruise control and sat nav, all as standard.
It hides its electric heart well. Volkswagen has purposefully kept it as standard-looking as possible. The giveaways are the blue bits on the badge, sparkly alloys and a smart set of daytime-running LEDs. Some will want to buy the e-Up for these alone.
Step inside and you still wouldn’t guess it’s electric. It feels just like a regular, slightly posher, Up. Volkswagen doesn’t want to put anyone off with funny controls or undecipherable displays.
While the G-Wiz comes with a hefty price tag and can be worryingly difficult to control, the Up has five Euro NCAP stars, stability control and a sensor that automatically slams on the brakes when pedestrians step out in front of you. And there’s a high chance they will, given it’s completely silent. To those new to the concept, the quietness is very odd: turn the key, nothing happens. Pull the auto-style gear-lever into drive, press the accelerator and simply glide away. Not even a Rolls Royce is this quiet.
Volkswagen did its test route in reverse. The high-speed dual carriageway bit came first. We accelerated, with surprising vigour, on to the A5 and sat at 70mph, dicing with sales reps in their Audi A4s. It was faultless. This EV has legs.
Then we got to the in-town bit, where we discovered the e-Up is a bit of a GTI in disguise. Off the line, it’s quicker to 62mph than even the fastest petrol-powered Up. It produces 82hp but, significantly, puts out 154lbft of torque.
Its battery operation means all these torques are delivered the moment you press the accelerator – the e-Up shoots from standstill like a scalded cat. Seriously, not even a supercar can dart into roundabouts this sharply. Other drivers may hoot you, but then you’ll have sped off so fast you won’t be in their way for very long. It’s superb fun.
You can do all of this for 93 miles before the batteries go flat, says Volkswagen – and as it’s a city car, this range is more than enough for its intended use. Factor in all the free parking, free recharging, zero congestion charge, and it’s probably cheaper than the Tube in the long run.
There’s just one problem. It costs £24,250. The Government grant cuts this to £19,250, but it’s still an eye-watering upfront cost. However, you’re in luck; Volkswagen has a finance deal for £199 a month. All you need is £8,000 for the deposit – which, coincidentally is the same as the G-Wiz used to cost… Even at that price, I’d recommend it.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: VOLKSWAGEN E-UP
0-62MPH: 12.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 81mph
CO2 G/KM: 0g/km
CHARGE DISTANCE: 93 miles
DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Four Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY One Star