A proper Volkswagen - just a smaller one. The up! One of the best small cars? Maybe. But, this small city car has enabled the German brand to regain the initiative in this important sector and this improved version sets a high standard for the best small car contenders in this class, adding in turbo 1.0-litre power at the top of the range. Frugal, fun, clever and competitively priced, the up! is a key city car model to consider, not only for those in the market's smallest segment but also for people buying a compact car of any kind.
Under the bonnet, the main news for up! buyers is the addition of an extra three cylinder petrol engine to the VW urban car range, a pokier 1.0-litre TSI turbo unit with 90PS on tap. This sells alongside the existing normally aspirated 1.0-litre powerplants most customers will continue to want, these generating either 60 or 75PS. These feature a characteristic offbeat rasp that isn't unpleasant and rather suits this car's rather individual charisma. You'll certainly be hearing plenty of the volume engines if rapid progress is needed, for without a turbocharger to boost torque, the 60 or 75PS units need to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line.
Most will be content with the base 60PS version, capable as it is of nought-to-sixty in 14.4s on the way to 99mph, quite enough for this city car to keep up with the traffic. I'm not sure I'd see the point of finding a lot more money for the 75PS variant, given that the performance gains are relatively slight (0-60mph in 13.2s on the way to 106mph). The 1.0 TSI turbo would be a fun choice though, offering a performance for a value small car that Volkswagen says is comparable to that provided by the first generation Golf GTI.
The especially frugally-minded city car user will be interested to try the full-electric e-up! version which has a battery powerplant capable of putting out the equivalent of 82PS.
Not too much has changed with the looks of this city car. There are re-styled bumpers, a sleeker rear diffuser, door mirrors with integrated indicator lights, revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and smarter rear lights. Otherwise, it's as you were, so a length of around 3.5-metres, yet a wheelbase that takes up nearly 2.5-metres of that. Which is why, though an up! is no longer than a Fiat 500, it offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car.
How has this been done? By shortening the front and rear overhangs as much as the designers dared, something only possible at the front by mounting the radiator alongside rather than in front of the very compact engine. The result is a tardis-like value small car, with an interior just as big as that of Volkswagen's far pricier Polo supermini. Take luggage space as an example; as long as you can lump your stuff over the rather high sill, you'll find 251-litres of space or 951-litres with the seats folded.
The changes made to this revised urban car inside are even more subtle than those made to the exterior. There's classier background lighting, while plusher models get a redesigned 'Climatronic with Pure Air' air conditioning system and the option of a 'beats with a 300W' sound set-up. Otherwise, it's all very recognisable from before, the cool dished three-spoke steering wheel fashioned from light magnesium and framing an instrument cluster of refreshing simplicity. A pity though that it's still only adjustable for height, not for reach. The interior design with its large speedometer is clean and easy to get to grips with, featuring high gloss back trim and a compact centre pod for many of the minor controls. True, there's no shortage of hard plastics, but this doesn't feel like a city car that's been ruthlessly built down to a price. It just feels agreeably minimalist.
The up! remains the very essence of a small, affordable Volkswagen, a high quality class-less car very much in the mould of the original Beetle. One of the lightest value small car runabouts you can buy, it still manages to feel solid, a triumph of packaging and design that's streets ahead of any city car the brand has yet brought us. Highlights include superb space efficiency, a brilliant detachable infotainment system and a city braking function that'll pay for itself in peace of mind. All very clever and in execution, all very German - which might have delivered to the showrooms a very impressive but essentially rather soul-less result. Fortunately, the up! has enough character to make you like it as well as admire it - and that'll be crucial for it to be up there with the best small cars in an increasingly fashion-led market segment.
If you like the look and you can afford to go beyond entry-level poverty spec, then there aren't too many downsides this small city car. A few rivals can better the running costs - but not by much. And the SEAT and Skoda versions of this car are a little cheaper - but you'd likely lose what you gained in the probable trade-in value when the time came to sell. Overall then, this city car is the embodiment of friendly functionality behind a badge you probably thought you couldn't afford. With potential cleverness you almost certainly won't be expecting from something city car-sized. A thumbs up! then? That's about the size of it.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen up! Review range