Fuel-efficient, inexpensive, able to seat four and easy to park was British Motor Corporation’s original brief to designer Alec Issigonis for its Austin Design Office Project 15 back in 1957. Out of the Suez Crisis, ADO 15 became the original BMC Mini and carmakers have rarely managed to produce a car that’s as well-packaged since.
But now Volkswagen is back in the small car business and its diminutive Up model (badged “up!’”) has arrived late to a tiddlers party that includes the Citroen Aygo, Fiat 500, Smart Fortwo and Toyota iQ. It is arguably the most Mini-like car we’ve seen in recent years.
Small, cheap and practical is back in vogue. Our own modern fuel crisis is encouraging downsizing again and the Up looks set to make a big impact amongst trendy bright young things. It is rocking some good looks too, albeit in a sensible kind of way. It also properly seats four people, unlike some of its competitors, which at just 3,540mm in length makes the Up one of the smallest four-seaters on sale. VW have managed to achieve this by designing a car that has a long wheelbase with very short body overhangs and which has the engine mounted well forward to maximise cabin space. At 251 litres the boot is unusually big too for this size of car.
“The perfect layout of a small compact car is based on a box with a wheel at each corner,” says Up designer Volkswagen Brand Design Chief Klaus Bischoff. Which is how the Up manages to pack four adults in so effectively and also why the car’s boxy looks won’t appeal to everyone. The design is functional, clean and simple with a “smiling” bumper and an unusual rear end boot lid. The result is a city car that is “cheeky” and “cute”, which is all important for a car in this segment.
The Up is powered by a three-cylinder petrol engine with a choice of 60 and 75 PS outputs. There is also a Bluemotion version of each – which adds Stop/Start a battery regeneration system and eco tyres – for an additional price. We’ve been driving the top-end High Up! which comes in at £10,515 with a 75PS engine. It’s worth mentioning that the entry-level Move Up! costs just £7,995 with a 60PS 1.0-litre engine. There is also a middle option Move Up! (geddit) available.
Inside, the Up is comfortable and spacious. It genuinely isn’t cramped, even when locating a child seat in the rear (as we were). It’s worth noting that we found the extra wide doors to be remarkably useful for toddler extraction. The old adage that you have to have a five-door car when you have kids doesn’t seem to apply to this car.
The dashboard and instruments are refreshingly unfussy. In front of the driver is a three dial binnacle and in the centre console, heating and ventilation controls and that’s pretty much it. Our car though has the “Maps & More” personal infotainment device (PID) that sticks up from the dash and is exceptionally simple to use. It docked with our phone in a jiffy and graphically it looks very nice.
Unsurprisingly, in the City is where the car is most at home. Around town the ride is fine, though it can be a little harsh over speed bumps. Out on the open road the Up proved itself eager and surprisingly quiet. Speedy it isn’t but it is perfectly comfortable on the motorway and was great for shortish trips out of London.
VW thinks the Up could become a design icon, just like the original Mini. For now it’s enough to know that it has a quality feel that belies its sticker price and feels like a lot of car for the money. In a world of increasing technological complexity it is refreshingly simple. And if you’re after a small city car it will be difficult to resist.
VW HIGH UP
0-62MPH: 13.2 SECS
TOP SPEED: 106MPH
CO2 G/KM: 108G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 60.1MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY ****