2013 VOLKSWAGEN UP REVIEW
Vehicle style: sub-light hatchback
Engine: 1.0 litre petrol inline three
Fuel Use (l/100km): 4.9 l/100km (claimed, manual)
Volkswagen has thrown itself into new territory with its new Up hatchback - the first sub-light car for the German automaker.
Undercutting the Polo significantly, it’s now also the cheapest way to get a shiny new Volkswagen badge sitting in your driveway.
But does it cut the mustard? Yes, at the price and for what it is, we’re impressed, and we’ve no doubt it will sell in good numbers.
Volkswagen has simplified the line-up by offering just one model grade with one engine, one transmission and two bodystyles (three door or five door). The range starts at a mere $13,990.
There are, however, some glaring gaps in the Up’s spec sheet that we’d want filled before we’d consider it a contender for ‘best in class’.
What first strikes you as you enter the Up’s cabin is the sense of quality. Plastics look durable, fit and finish is generally good and the instrument cluster is clear, legible and nice to look at.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel might only be urethane, but it’s a nice shape, comfortable to hold and a good diameter.
Another nice feature of the Up’s cabin is that the ventilation and audio controls are located at the very top of the centre stack, closer to the driver’s eyeline.
Interior space is quite good. The Up might be around half a metre shorter than the Polo, but its wheelbase is nearly the same and some clever engineering means that the Up’s interior feels just as spacious as the Polo’s - if not more.
It’s strictly a four seater, however back seat passengers get great amounts of headroom and surprising legroom. Getting into and out of the five-door Up is also painless.
The boot is a handy size too, measuring 251 litres, including a generous space beneath a false floor. This expands to 951 litres with the 60/40 split rear seatbacks folded.
There are some substantial negatives though.
There’s only one air-vent each for the driver and front passenger, the driver doesn’t get a switch for the passenger side power-window, the rear windows in the five-door don’t roll down (they only pop out at their trailing edge) and there’s no footrest.
Bluetooth telephony and a USB port aren’t standard equipment either. Instead, Volkswagen has equipped all Up models with a laser-based anti-collision system, which can avoid rear-enders at speeds up to 30km/h.
This inclusion is a commendable one, but curiously Volkswagen has elected to not fit the Up with full-length curtain airbags. Instead, only dual front and front-side airbags are standard, and rear occupants get no airbag protection.
Cruise control is absent from the standard spec sheet too, but is included in the optional $600 Comfort Drive package which bundles it with rear parking sensors and a trip computer.
The $2500 Comfort Style package adds 15-inch alloys, foglamps, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats and a leather-bound steering wheel and gearknob.
But really the only option we’d want in the Up is the $500 'Maps + More' package.
The Maps + More system is based on a Navigon-supplied removable touchscreen display, which slots into the top of the dashboard and can display sat nav data, trip computer data, and music player controls.
It’s also the only way to get Bluetooth phone and audio integration in the Up, as well as a means of playing music from removable media (although it’s only able to read off a micro SD card, not a USB input).
On The Road
Propelled by a 55kW/95Nm 1.0 litre naturally aspirated three-cylinder petrol engine, it’s unreasonable to expect the tiny Up to be a firecracker on the street.
Still, with only 880kg to haul around and a surprising amount of midrange torque, there’s plenty of zip to the Up’s performance. It needs revs to work at its best, but it will happily cruise up moderate inclines with just 2500rpm on the dial.
In fact, although it has 5kW less power and less displacement than the Nissan Micra’s 1.2 litre three-pot, the Up’s motor feels just about as punchy.
Unfortunately, when it comes to driveability the Nissan Micra and Suzuki Alto each have a big trump card - the availability of an automatic transmission.
They might only be primitive four-speeds, but for manual-averse commuters, that’s better than nothing.
A single-clutch automated manual gearbox is available in Europe for the left-hand drive Up, but according to Volkswagen Australia, this unit was not available at launch for the local market and is still under evaluation.
That means a five-speed manual is the only transmission choice. The clutch is light and so is the shifter throw (although a little notchy through the gate), but constantly rowing between gears in heavy urban traffic can become an irritation.
The ride quality on inner-city streets isn’t anything special either. There’s a slight firmness to the Up’s initial bump response, and while it isn’t uncomfortably stiff, certain things like hard-edged manholes and tram lines transmit a bit of a thump into the cabin.
The Up corners quite flatly though, and the responsiveness of the electrically-assisted power steering is great. It’s just a shame it’s not quite as compliant over bumps as the Barina Spark or Micra.
First Drive Verdict
The plucky little Volkswagen Up has plenty of things going for it.
Its interior oozes quality, it’s got plenty of room inside, it’s the only car in its segment to get collision-avoidance technology and it’s blessed with a superb engine.
But - and there’s always a “but” - these positive attributes are offset by the lack of airbags for the rear passengers and obvious cost-cutting in the cabin. (No roll-down rear windows, really?)
It becomes far more enticing though once the box for Maps + More is ticked, and given the amount of features added for just $500 we think prospective Up buyers would be mad not to get it.
The Comfort Drive package is also worth considering if your commute involves a bit of highway driving and you need cruise control, however we reckon the other option packs are pointless on a sub-light car.
Ultimately though, cars in the sub-light segment sell on the premise that they’re cheap, and the Up is by far the most expensive car of its type - especially if you start delving into the options list.
But (again, there’s a “but”), if you want the most technologically impressive light hatchback for less than fifteen grand, you’d best walk into a Volkswagen dealer.
Look out for TMR’s full review of the Volkswagen Up.
- Up Three-door manual - $13,990
- Up Five-door manual - $14,990
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.