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Will adding two doors subtract from the appeal of the latest additions to the stylish Smart and Up! stables?

While these boutique superminis share some commonality in their purpose as compact runabouts for fashion-conscious folks who need to cart either young kids or friends, there are two very distinct characters at play here. But, can either of them strike a point where individuality and practicality happily meet?

Styling

With its contrasting deep-red body panels and gloss-black crash-cell structure, bulging wheelarches and a friendly face of a front-end, there's an extrovert air of fun about the Smart. Its myriad colour-customisation options make it by far the more adaptable, and therefore individual, of the two.

By contrast, the Up! appears far more restrained. Where the Smart's bubble-like profile and bold pallet are unashamedly oddball, the Up!'s combination of clean lines and a black panel of glass for a hatch is more iPhone-like in its nod to uncluttered design and user-friendliness.

We're not entirely sold on the VW's paint treatment, though. The application of maroon finishes for the car's alloys and wing-mirror caps neither increase the quirk factor, nor significantly add to the car's visual charm; it's novel, but you'd probably do just as well opting for the cheaper Up! Move in a more playful hue.

It's a similar story inside both, where the oddball-versus-minimalist approach dividing them is even more evident. Smart's interiors have long been a study in quirkiness and, in this respect, the latest model doesn't disappoint. From its neoprene-like mesh-covered dash to the floating panel for the audio system and goggle-eyed air vents, to the rev-counter pod and such delightful details as the magnifying glass slider for the climate-control settings, it's definitely the most characterful cabin of the two. Other small details such as Mercedes-inspired fonts on the TFT information readouts and solid material quality further reinforce the Smart's sense of occasion.

The Up!'s cabin is tame by comparison, but that's not a bad thing. The facia's layout is an exercise in ergonomic simplicity and there's just enough charm to keep it from looking anodyne. Again, some of the Colour elements are an acquired taste, especially those off-white mesh seat panels with contrasting red inserts, but there's still some character to the application of body colour-echoing white trim panels as a nostalgic nod to the Beetle. What's more, the lighter trim, although looking a little vulnerable to marking, gives the cabin a far airier ambience than the Smart's black-on-black interior scheme. Although it doesn't quite possess the tactile variety of the Smart's cabin, the Up!'s perceived quality is impressive despite its budget bearing.

Packaging

While these cars happily trade blows in aesthetic terms, it's on the packaging front where things begin to tilt in the Volkswagen's favour. As with the Golf, VW's engineers have managed to squeeze a surprising amount of interior utility into a compact package. Although it's 25 mm shorter in the wheelbase, 65 mm lower, 20 mm narrower and just 45 mm longer than the Smart, the Up! boasts appreciably more interior space than its rival. Simple measures such as scalloped front seatbacks see the Up! best its rival's rear kneeroom by 23 mm.

By making the rear seatbacks marginally thinner than those of the Smart, the Up!'s boot and utility volumes are 54 and 192 dm3 better, respectively. A boot space-eating JBL woofer forming part of the Smart's optional audio system doesn't help matters, but there is some solace to be had from the fact that the unit can be unplugged and removed from the load bay to free up a bit more room.

Replacing the three-door Up!'s huge doors with more sensibly proportioned items has not only proved a boon in terms of access to the rear, but also makes egress from the car much easier in the tight parking spaces for which it's perfectly made.

Although both cars feel quite spacious up front, the Smart's mechanical layout stymies its interior packaging to a noticeable degree. With its engine mounted aft and its cooling system sitting in the car's nose, there's a good deal of connecting plumbing pushing up the cabin floor. This means that rear passengers of just above average height will see their knees digging into those flat front seatbacks and heads brushing the roof lining – problems of which occupants of the high-ceilinged, deep-footwelled Up! will be blissfully unaware.

Ride and comfort

Having recently sampled the ForTwo, we were gobsmacked what a difference a spot of extra wheelbase makes to the Smart's ride quality. There's little choppiness encountered on rippled surfaces and the car’s more conservatively profiled footwear means the overall ride quality is acceptably supple.

Although 17-inch alloys shod with 40-profile rubber should equate to a decidedly fidgety ride, the Up!'s arrangement, although marginally firmer than that of the Smart, is well damped and doesn't succumb to rebound on scarred road surfaces. Again, opt for the standard car's 55-profile, 15-inch wheels and the ride becomes exemplary.

There's little to separate the two in terms of overall NVH, but once the speeds begin to climb, the Smart's less mechanically refined powerplant becomes rather tiresome. To this end, its optional JBL sound system really comes into its own. Although its label may not exude the guitar 'n amp-related cool associated with the VW's optional Fender system, it is the more versatile of the two. The latter unit is hobbled by the fact that, unlike its rival system, it offers neither USB nor Bluetooth functionality, a massive oversight in a segment squarely aimed at younger, tech-savvy buyers.

Performance and efficiency

While an additional 3 kW here and 4 N.m there are usually of little consequence, in these flyweight superminis, such margins can prove the difference between progress that's relatively leisurely or annoyingly ponderous. There's little separating the two in terms of gearing, with close-set ratios in the first three gears giving way to a precipitous drop thereafter – the usual fare for nippy city gap-taking at which both cars excel.

The Up!'s engine does, however, offer just a bit more top-end oomph than that of the Smart. This, along with its willingness to hold onto revs, means it can comfortably undertake both city and long-distance duties, the latter being a rather laboured affair in the Smart owing to both its tendency to drop out of the rev range quickly on a trailing throttle and its poorer NVH compared with the thrummy but refined Up!.

The previous Smart's biggest bugbear, its ropey semi-auto 'box, has made way for a Renault-sourced five-speed manual unit. While it may not possess the Up!'s short, snappy action, it's a doddle to use round town. By virtue of a marginally more powerful engine requiring less coaxing and gearbox stirring than that of its rival, the Up! bested the Smart by 0,6 L/100 km on our mixed-use fuel route.

Dynamics

The first thing you notice when piloting these two back to back is the surprising weight in the Smart's steering. That does lend it a bit of feel that's perhaps lacking in the Up!'s tiller. It does, however, lack a good self-centring action and consequently requires constant correction when speeds crest 100 km/h – a strong contrast to the light but precise, fuss-free action of the Up!'s steering. Counting in the Smart's favour is one of the tightest turning circles we've experienced.  Neither car entertains when driven hard, but with a lower driving position – creating an impression of a lower centre of gravity – the Up! feels more spritely.

Value for money

In as much as its standard-equipment list is a relatively short one, the limited amount of optional extras you can tack onto the Up! is its saving grace in terms of value for money. Our test unit, kitted with the optional sound system, sunroof and driver's pack (cruise control and parking sensors) just pips the R200 000 mark.

The Smart's myriad options and wealth of advanced safety features such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive braking can easily see the price spiralling out of control if you start ticking boxes. Our unit's options, which included the JBL audio system, safety suite, styling pack and sunroof, to name but a few, nudged the car's price over the R240 000 mark. The Smart comes with a three-year/60 000 km service plan as standard, while a Barloworld-approved Avis six-year/60 000 km service plan for the Up! costs around R8 700.

 

 

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 4
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: 1 front + 1 rear
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Tyre pressure sensor monitor deflation detection system: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 4
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: rear
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Optional
  • CD player: Optional
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Optional
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front (rear fixed)
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 761 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 5
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 165/70 R14
  • Reartyres: 165/70 R14
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 3600 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1641 mm
  • Height: 1504 mm
  • Wheel base: 2420 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 144 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 9.8 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 251-959 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 959 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 818 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1330 kg
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 35l
  • Fuel consumption urban: 5.4 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption extra urban: 3.8 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption average: 4.6 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 106g/km
  • Emission control phase Euro EU level: EU 4
  • Power maximum: 55 kW
  • Power maximum total: 55 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6200 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 67.2 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 95 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 3000-4300 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 95 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 116.1 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 13.5s
  • Maximum top speed: 173 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 999 cc
  • Engine size: 1.0l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.0
  • Engine + detail: 1.0
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 3
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i3
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 12
  • Warranty time (years): 3
  • Warranty distance (km): 120000 km
  • Service plan: Optional
  • Service plan time (years): opt 3-5
  • Service plan time (distance): opt 45000-210000 km
  • Maintenance plan: Optional
  • Maintenance plan time (years): opt 3-5
  • Maintenance plan distance (km): opt 45000-200000 km
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Brand: Volkswagen
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 640182001
  • MMVariant: TAKE UP 1.0 5DR
  • Introdate: 2016-11-03
  • DuoportarecordID: Volkup1fh1

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