SCOOP! Volkswagen Up! 3-dr (55 kW)

A forgotten suitcase – in another country entirely – and a flight to catch are two very good reasons to exploit Germany’s unrestricted stretches of autobahn to the maximum, as if an excuse is needed in the first place. And this is how, a few weeks ago, I found myself racing between Stuttgart and Lausanne, and then on to Munich, behind the wheel of Volkswagen’s new Up! city car. Now, you may think a small, three-cylinder, 1,0-litre econo-box and autobahn are things that don’t belong in the same sentence, and so did I, but there I was, throttle pinned to the floor for miles on end, and with 180 km/h-plus indicated on the large speedometer. That’s flying.

So then, right up front I can confirm that there are talents that the Up! has that are not immediately obvious judging by its boxy looks and entry-level price status. Besides the surprising performance from the 55 kW engine (a lower-output 44 kW is also available), the Up! also brings new levels of big-car comfort and quality to this segment. The premium-feel perhaps also stems from the fact that it is produced in VW’s Bratislava factory in Slovakia, the same factory that produces high-quality vehicles such as the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.

Swing open the large doors and you’re greeted by an interior that could shame a few cars one segment up. Typically Volkswagen in execution, there’s a restrained, upmarket style to it all. The seats are superb, with good lateral support and soft padding where necessary. This marque always does good driving positions and the Up! is no different, with plenty of adjustment on offer.

The facia layout – again the work of South Africa’s Oona Scheepers – is slightly more quirky than what you'd usually see in Volkswagen vehicles, being similar in overall look to the recently introduced new Beetle's. There is an oversized speedometer in the binnacle in front of the driver, for example, flanked by quite the cutest and smallest rev counter I’ve ever seen. The steering wheel on my test unit was also a nice-to-grip flat-bottom item with racy black plastic inserts.

The model I drove was the high-spec, so-called “black-up!” edition, which comes with an interior fitted with black plastic inserts and a standard removable Navigon satellite-navigation touchscreen that also integrates handsfree telephone and media player functions. The system is very handy, but I wish the screen was a bit more sensitive, or the virtual buttons a bit bigger.

A full trip computer is also part of the deal, allowing us to monitor the Up!’s remarkable fuel efficiency – a claimed combined cycle figure of 4,2 L/100 km is quite achievable (though obviously not at 180 km/h) and combined with a 35-litre tank, should give a range of over 800 km! The Up! is also the first car in its class to offer an automated emergency brake function which, when activated, slows the vehicle automatically when travelling at low speeds (5 – 30 km/h) in bumper-to-bumper conditions.

Given the tight exterior dimensions and two-doors only body, you may think cabin space is tight. In front, there’s absolutely no problem. The surprise is, however, that I could even do the sit-behind-myself test in relative comfort in the back. That said, it is a strict four-seater. The boot is obviously not huge, but surprisingly deep, and probably bigger than most in this segment. We fitted two average-sized suitcases in there.

On the road, the Up! has a grown-up, bigger-car feel compared with the likes of the Toyota Aygo and Suzuki Alto. Although there’s that characteristic off-beat three-cylinder thrum from the engine, it is smooth and willing to rev all the way to the red line. In fact, in terms of the way it sits on the road, it comes across as every bit as refined and quiet as a Polo. Even the ride feels familiar, which is quite an achievement given the car’s relatively short wheelbase. Of course, the steering is tuned for easy twirling in the city, so there’s little feel. And the comfort-oriented ride means it leans a bit in the corners, but the target market will prefer it the way it is.

I really find this vehicle quite hard to fault. The problem is, however, that this excellence comes at a cost. The Up! is a bit more premium-priced than its main rivals and therefore likely to sell (at entry-level) in the R110 000-R120 000 price bracket in South Africa. This is problematic not only because a small three-door car at that price may be a hard sell, but also because Volkwagen already markets the hugely popular Vivo for similar money. Keep in mind that the Vivo is locally made and therefore hugely important from local business and employment perspectives, and it is completely understandable that Volkswagen SA is taking great care with formulating the Up!’s business plan. Right now introduction of the three-door model looks unlikely in the immediate future, but Volkswagen SA is working on it. More likely for local introduction, possibly, is the new, slightly larger and more practical five-door model.

But I think that may be a mistake. I may be wrong and I don’t have all the facts and figures in front of me, but my common sense tells me that the five-door Up! wouldn’t succeed terribly well… if the Vivo remains on the market in three- and five-door forms, too. And if the five-door Up! is more expensive than the three-door model.

The question then, is how seriously does VWSA really want the Up! in South Africa. Cars of this size are, after all, relatively low volume sellers. If VW does, however, want to bring the Up! to South Africa and not affect Vivo sales too much, I think the three-door model, not the five-door, is the way to go…

As far as I know, the three-door Vivos are not volume sellers, but the five-door models are. Perhaps then, Volkswagen should scrap the cheap three-door Vivo models, and introduce the three-door Up! instead? Surely if you’re going to buy a compact city car, the three-door Up! should be sufficient. And just as surely, if you’re looking for a cheap car with five doors, you’d also want space (Vivo)? The Up!’s South African future will unfold soon enough. Until then, we’re missing out on the best car in its class.


Model: Volkswagen Up 3-dr (55 kW)
Engine: 1,0-litre, three-cylinder, petrol
Power: 55 kW at 6 200 r/min
Torque: 95 N.m at 3 000-4 300 r/min
0-100 km/h: 13,2 sec
Fuel consumption: 4,2 L/100 km
CO2: 98 g/km
Top Speed: 172 km/h
Price: around R120 000
Service or maintenance plan: TBC
Service intervals: TBC

Click here to watch a video of the Up! being driven from Rome.

  • Strongarm_keith

    The bottom line is .. It’s new technology and Volkswagen can get away with selling us the now 10 year old vivo stripped out at prices close to double the price….. I bought a polo in 2003 it cost 85000 with a few extras added on. Less than 10 years later the equivalent model ( without the extras ) now would cost 140000 and about 160000 with the extras…. Did the tooling ask for a salary increase ? Buy a rio or Hyundai…. Far better value and cheaper.

  • RedBaron

    “we’re missing out on the best car in its class” Enough said.

  • Mlondozie

    Sjoe! This is going to be tough for VW. Old technology or not the Polo Vivo is outselling all the competition in SA. Buyers believe that VW will continue marketing and selling the Vivo for many years to come and all the manufacturing items were already in place for VWSA to make an absolute killing. It would cost a huge amount of money to set up the same structures in SA to manufacture the UP! and importing it will see a minimum of 70% import duty from our greedy government making it the same price as the new Polo. In my opinion SA consumers need to boycott VW and buy other brands. When VW realises the consumer is not as stupid as they bargained on and their sales are dwindling they may then decide to stop offloading old technology on the SA car market.

  • Anonymous

    Hannes, you’re missing the point somewhat. The Up! could easily be sold next to the Vivo, as both 3-door and 5-door. Some people prefer “family practical”, others prefer “unique practical”. I’m one of the latter, would easily buy an Up! at slightly above Vivo prices, for it’s uniqueness. But I won’t buy a 3-door…

  • John-Mark

    The VW UP ….and up yours too!!!! . Not for SA for very good reasons. The VW Vivo, Far, far more durable and for SA market. Like the pre-retired VW CITI in many ways. Can you imagine these UPs on the N1 JHB to CT??? Rather the VW Vivo. The Vivo fits perfectly for SA conditions.

  • Value buyer

    Vw make good cars, no doubt about it. The Polo Vivo is a good car, and whilst it may seem expensive, remember that our labour costs are higher per unit than those of Germany or Austria where the UP! is made. I would look at both cars carefully when making the decision, but might go for the UP! due to the latest technology, and the better finish. Having said that, I did 300 000km in my Polo Classic before leaving it to another driver, and it was a great vehicle, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another VW, the value is long term.

  • Toscanofigueira

    Volkswagen make cars as good as Fiat, Renault, Peugeot… Volkswagen have a very good and wide marketing strategy and created image a long time ago with the first Bettle. Volkswagen cars have good finish but are not reliable showing lots of various problems. I would never buy a Volkswagen because Im not found of their cars design and I know quite well the problems they have.

  • David

    According to Car Magazine’s Autobrand survey conducted here in South Africa, VW beats the following manufacturers: Isuzu Volvo Mitsubishi Ford Mazda Chevrolet Nissan Opel and Renault. Fiat, Citroen and Peugeot was not included because of a lack of a big enough statistical sample for these manufacturers.

    Although not as good as Toyota (The other big gun in local sales) VW does have a decent reputation here and find many eager buyers for their products. Because of their popularity, older models are very easy and cheap to maintain and spares are freely available.

    The last VW I drove was a 98 Polo and keeping her on the road was an absolute breeze. The two Hyundai Tiburons and one Mazda I owned after that was very reliable but service parts was a lot more expensive.

  • Toscanofigueira

    This is not a car… is a joke! Rather a Smart!

  • Jaco

    A joke? The respected British publication WhatCar? just chose it as their CAR of the year, not joke of the year. This is what they said about it:

    “In the end we couldn’t look past the Volkswagen Up, whose blend of refinement, quality, space and maturity sets new standards at 10,000.

    VW’s baby feels at home in town, but is far from averse to motorway cruising. It is an astonishing proposition for not a lot of money.”

  • Toscanofigueira

    “this is the kind of small city car that bends on the corners… weak and for the average drive only”…
    By motor trend magazine USA

  • Anonymous

    An excellent magazine Motor trend. Would you like to guess their car of the year winner for 2012? No need to guess I will tell you. It is the VW Passat.

    This is from their test of the UP!
    “The real surprise though is the refinement. At idle, the engine is virtually imperceptible, and at freeway speeds, road and wind noise are brilliantly suppressed. Predictably, the steering is fingertip light, but extremely direct, while the manual gearbox is snappy and tactile. The suspension is genuinely supple — it rolled about in bends but rode brilliantly on all surfaces we encountered. This bodes well for the Up!’s everyday driveability.”

    Is that egg dripping of your face mr Liar?

  • Karin

    This little Up! will be a winner. It will fill the gap that the hugely popular Renault Clio left when Renault decided to upgrade to bigger and more expensive Clio’s). I have a Polo Vivo, which is a great car (except the fact that it now needs it’s 3rd set of brake discs @ 30 000 km!!, my cost ‘wear & tear!) I am ready to trade in the Vivo for an Up! but would really want a 4-door. The Up! is perfect for single people, and even oldies like me (59). I think there is space for the Up, as well as the Vivo, though the Vivo has become much more expensive recently. Regards, Karin Pieterse

    • nigel

      “needs it’s 3rd set of brake discs @ 30 000 km!!, ”

      Thanks for the honesty, as Volkswagen Owners are always triumphing how reliable their Cars are.

      Right from the Mark I Golfs, VW’s have been prone to accelerated brake malfunctions.

      • Colin Ashby

        Never had brake problems on my vw’s and I have driven almost 1.8 minion kms.

    • OdysseyTag

      Good news is that there is a 4-door derivative of the Up available in overseas markets though it’s yet to be seen if VWSA will introduce it.