New Volkswagen Up review | first drive

A Volkswagen at $13,990 seems too good to be true. But the Up is not just another Volkswagen and, in many ways, has more in common with the original Beetle than the Golf that has set the benchmark in the small-car class for more than a decade.

The baby Up - it's even smaller than Volkswagen's Polo, it's previous starter car in Australia - is intended to be starting-price motoring for anyone who wants to hit the road. The Up comes as a three-door hatch at $13,990 in Australia, or a five-door for $14,990, but the basics are the same and quite basic.

"One engine, one transmission, two boy choices," says Anke Koeckle, managing director of Volkswagen Group Australia. "I think this is the people's car again. The Beetle was all about making it affordable to the whole world and the Up is also focussed on mobility and affordability."

VALUE

The Up is a global car and that means - just like the Big Mac - that it's the same taste but tweaked to the pockets of local buyers. So that means $13,990 for Australians, well below the Polo and right into the range of cars like the Nissan Micra and Holden Barina. It's more costly than the current bargain-basement leader, the Suzuki Alto at $11,990, but there are plenty of obvious reasons why it costs more.

The standard specification for the Up is nicely meaty, with everything from remote central locking and power steering to aircon and front electric windows. But the rear windows only pop out, they don't wind, and there is no automatic gearbox.

The big bonus comes on the safety front, with a five-star Euro NCAP rating that's expected to be repeated in Australia, and a radar-guided anti-collision system that's a major breakthrough at this price. By the end of the week it's also likely that Volkswagen will have welcome news for Up shoppers about the running costs of their car, too.

TECHNOLOGY

The Up is straightforward and simple: a 1-litre, three-cylinder engine in the nose, a four-seater cabin that's just big enough for the job, a reasonable boot and full-sized spare. 

The big technology tweak is the City Emergency Braking system, which uses a forward radar to detect imminent collisions and car brake automatically at up to 30km/h. VW says it is a major advance and it's standard for Australia.

The engine makes a meagre 55 kiloWatts of power and 95 Newton-metres of torque, but it only has to move 880 kilograms. VW says the fuel economy is 4.5 litres/100km running on 95-octane unleaded.

DESIGN

The Up is a box. Nothing special at all about it. The nose has a bit of personality, with a smiley face, but otherwise it's all about jamming the biggest possible cabin into a car that's less than three metres in length.

The cabin is typically Volkswagen and typically Germanic, which means efficient and not particularly inviting. But when you look around it has everything you need, with a couple of nice touches - like the flat-bottom steering wheel - to relieve the hard plastic and painted metal surfaces.

SAFETY

The Up has already hit the five-star standard in Europe and VW says the result will be mirrored in Australian testing, which is already underway. It only has four airbags, with no head support for the rear, but there is that radar system, audible seat belt warnings, and the usual ESP and ABS, but with only drum brakes on the rear.

DRIVING

The first impression of the Up is good - the doors shut with a thunk, not a Coke-can clink like most of the true tiddlers sold in Australia. The cabin is nice enough, with reasonable seats - and height adjustment for the driver - clear instruments and typically-VW controls and switches.

It all works, and that's all you really need. The engine has the irregular beat of a three-cylinder but propels the Up well enough, at least for its size and price. It's no fireball, and sometimes you have to row the gears to get it up a hill, but it is what it is.

The same is true for the suspension, which thumps a bit over city potholes but smooths out when you get to 80km/h. The handling is, well, what it is. The brakes are fine. The level of road and noise is fine.

If this all sounds to be a bit underwhelming, it's not. But no-one shopping in the sub-$15,000 class - and often considering a better deal than a secondhand car - is expecting a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari.

The Up is a good deal at a good price, although the lack of an automatic gearbox is a big negative and anyone who wants Bluetooth connectivity for their phone - with the bonus of satnav and a classy trip computer - will have to spend more for the $500 Map+More package. For what it is, and what it costs, and what its up against, the Up cannot fail. Right now, it looks like a four-star car in Australia.

VERDICT

The spiritual successor to the Beetle, in everything but shape, is a good deal at the right time.

Volkswagen Up
Price: from $13,990
Engine: 1-litre 3-cyl petrol, 55kW/95Nm
Transmission: 5 speed manual
Thirst: 4.5L/100km (95 RON)

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Price N/A

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