A funkier Up! that’s far more cheery than angry…
Volkswagen’s Up! is a firm favourite of the CAR team, consistently scoring high overall marks whenever we test one. Not only did a five-door variant comprehensively see off a challenge from the more expensive Smart ForFour in a recent comparison test, but the three-door Move model is our reigning choice for budget car in the annual Top 12 Best Buys awards.
This modern Beetle, if you will, is chock-full of character, partially thanks to its quirky looks, but mostly because of the way it drives. And earlier this year, Volkswagen South Africa increased the size of the Up! range by adding five-door models to the line-up; the most distinctive of these is the Cross Up!. The Cross Up! offers many design cues usually associated with SUVs, so it’s ideal for those who prefer the appearance of a bundu-basher, yet could do without the compromised ride, heavy fuel consumption and cumbersome dimensions that come with an SUV.
Among the visual elements that add ruggedness to its design are mirror caps painted in silver, anodised-silver roof rails, black protective side mouldings, 16-inch Cross alloy wheels and a ride height that has been raised by 18 mm. The few extra millimetres of ground clearance and 50-profile tyres are ideal in the concrete jungle, allowing it to hop onto kerbs and park on grass verges. Inside, the cabin-wide facia panel can be specified in Deep Black Pearl or Tornado Red, as per our test unit, which matches the exterior brightwork, and side sills with “Cross” lettering.
Specific to the Cross version is a leather-trimmed steering wheel and exclusive cloth seat upholstery in red or grey. The front chairs in this test unit were fitted with optional seat-heaters, which proved quite handy in the middle of an icy Cape winter. When you enter the cabin for the very first time, you are quite aware that the ride-height is raised over other Up! models. The resultant loftier seating position is a boon for those who prefer not to drop down into their cars or clamber up on egress, and will most likely appeal to urban professionals in tailored wear or perhaps even those of advancing years.
Those heated seats are among the very few items that you can specify over and above the standard trim, which includes four airbags, a stability-control system, power steering, front electric windows, remote central locking and a radio/CD. Unfortunately, VW still doesn’t offer a USB port or Bluetooth connectivity as standard in this latest Up! – both bizarre omissions when you consider the target market. The latter is available as an option; the former isn’t; and owners will have to use an auxiliary cable.
Although the Up! doesn’t possess an abundance of boot space, the rear seats do fold down in a 60:40-configuration. Handily, a double-level boot floor allows owners to stow valuables out of sight should you need to park with the rear seats in their folded position. Despite its somewhat tough exterior appearance, kerb-hopping is just about as much as the Cross Up! will be able to tackle because the front-wheel drivetrain is identical to that found elsewhere in the family. The 1,0-litre triple is a characterful mill that is well suited to the task at hand, the raised ride-height doing nothing to blunt performance compared with its siblings.
Despite its meagre displacement, the engine and gearbox are well matched and the Cross Up! feels at home both in the urban grind, where you can enjoy the snappy gearshift action, as well as on the open road. Even at motorway speeds, the engine doesn’t feel as though it is being thrashed to maintain 120 km/h (at sea level, at least). And the added height has not adversely affected stability, either. What the increased suspension travel and higher-profile rubber have done is endowed the Cross Up! with a ride quality that is commendable, and probably the best of all Up! models.
VW must have upset a few manufacturers when it launched the Up! range. Here is a thoroughly modern alternative to the sea of aged budget cars that we've become accustomed to locally, and at competitive prices to boot. Initially, the sole three-door body-style hindered sales, but since the introduction of five-door options, and now this Cross derivative, the appeal of the range has been widened to cater for most tastes on a budget.
For most members of the CAR test team, the Cross Up! is the most complete version yet. Practicality, good standard specification and a pliant ride all add up to an agreeable little car that easily trounces its rivals.
*From the September 2016 issue of CAR magazine