What is it?
The Volkswagen Up city car, tested here in its top spec ‘Up Black’ trim. With a host of equipment, pearl effect paint and very cool 16in alloys, it costs £11,180.
Unlike the ambitious Up concept car of 2007, which was rear-engined and rear-wheel drive, the production version powers its front wheels via a front-mounted 1-litre, three-cylinder engine. In base-spec Ups, it has a modest 59bhp, but in more lavishly equipped models like tested here, it has a more useable 74bhp.
Standard equipment on the Black includes a smart ‘Maps & More’ infotainment screen, with Bluetooth, satnav and an eco-biased trip computer. An optional Driver’s Assistance pack, a £225 option on the Black (£400 on base Ups) includes emergency braking assistance, to help haul you to a standstill in city traffic below 19mph.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s the most polished budget car on sale. Its three-pot soundtrack will conjure up the inevitable ‘half an air-cooled 911’ observations under load, but when cruising – even at typical motorway speeds – noise is impressively suppressed. The ride quality and the ease of all its controls – effortless steering, spot-on pedal weightings – make it a doddle to drive. You’ll have to work the little 1-litre hard to get anywhere fast (well, fast-ish) but keeping up with traffic is rarely an issue.
It impresses when pushed too, and grips gamely. The chassis is talented enough to show the engine up a little; 100bhp (or more) wouldn’t really trouble the Up, and the full potential of its competent setup would be unlocked. Firmly cross your fingers, then, that the turbocharged Up GT (driven here) gets the go-ahead. Volkswagen is still 50/50 on whether it’ll make it to showrooms.
How does it compare?
As a day-to-day prospect, the classy Up trounces many of its city car contenders. Only the new Fiat Panda and mechanically identical stablemates from SEAT and Skoda, the Mii and Citigo, can compete. But for more unrefined, wheel squealing fun, your pick of the Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo trio is still a likeable alternative.
Anything else I need know?
Lovely as the well-trimmed Up Black is, £11K seems a lot for something so titchy. We’d recommend buying at one of the lower rungs of the Up ladder, though you’ll need at least £10,390 if you want the feistier 74bhp engine. And if you think the Black's colour scheme is to sombre, there's an identically priced and specced Up White edition. Guess the difference...