Read the full review of the Volkswagen Up.
What is it? You may remember the Volkswagen Up concept. It wowed everyone at the Frankfurt motor show almost four years ago and previewed the company's idea of a budget city car.
It was rear engined, rear-wheel drive and was set to have a seriously low £4000 price. Subsequent concepts also hinted at an MPV and electrically powered versions, too.
Scroll forward and we've just driven the final production car. Plenty has changed in the process, not least because it's now a far more conventional format. It's front engined and front-wheel-drive like all of its immediate rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and forthcoming new Fiat Panda. Starting at £8000 it's also now got a price tag to match them .
The new Up is an all-new car from the ground up though. It sits on a new platform and at first will be sold with two new three-cylinder petrol engines, one with 59bhp, the other 74bhp.
Both have a five-speed manual gearbox and an optional dual-clutch auto will be available soon after the car goes on sale in January 2012.
The Up will be one of the smallest city cars on the market. At 3.5 metres long, 1.6m wide and 1.5m high it closely mirrors the scale of the Fiat 500 yet promises superior interior space for four adults.
What's it like to drive? We've driven the higher powered 74bhp car, with the five-speed manual 'box.
It's not especially fast and at times, not especially refined. Nonetheless, it's still pretty appealing, because it's got a supple ride that mops up most road imperfections and it's a small car that feels like a small car to drive: agile, accurate and effortless to pilot.
Plenty of this feel is down to compactness of course, but the light, yet direct steering plays a part, as does the snappy gearchange.
The new three-cylinder engine's interesting, too. Of course, it's not quite as smooth as a four-cylinder and you'll notice the small vibrations most at low revs, but it's free-revving nonetheless and perky enough if you're prepared to hang onto the revs to build up speed. It's capable of cruising well at motorway speeds too, even if it's not a particularly vigorous overtaking tool.
Downsides are that there's a mite too much wind noise creeping into the cabin at high speeds and rivals such as the Hyundai i10 feel sharper.
What's it like inside? The Up's dash isn't complicated, and that's a good thing. All the major controls are sited high up and are of the no-nonsense, chunky variety - as you'd expect from a VW.
It's not cheerless to look at either, especially with one of the lighter trim options. It isn't as well made as a Polo, though. There's far more evidence of cost-cutting with cheaper, shinier plastics and front seats that don't return to their original position when you slide them. There isn't even a cover for the vanity mirror.
That said, the overall quality is still a notch or two above the class norm.
The dials are clear and if you go for the top-spec model - or are prepared to pay extra for it - you get a removable touch-screen sat-nav and infotainment system that pops out of the top of the dash. In time you'll also be able to upgrade the Maps+ more system with downloadable apps.
All versions get comfort more or less right. All four seats are flat and firm but well contoured. It's possible to get a good driving position too, although the pedals in our left-hand-drive test car were a little offset to the right, so we'd hope that's sorted when the wheel swaps sides.
Rear passengers don't get treated any worse than in any city car. The front seat slides and tilts forward enough for most of us to be able to clamber in. While kneeroom isn't any more impressive than rivals' there's adequate headroom and good visibility if you're relegated to the rear.
The boot is one of the biggest in the class though and with the rear seats flipped forward it can take more luggage than some cars from the class above.
Should I buy one? The Up is now the plushest, best looking, roomiest and probably most chic city car in the market, but this needs to be balanced against value.
Even with a predicted £8000 price, it won't be the best value of the breed and the more powerful version that comes with some extra kit will probably be uncomfortably close to five figures when it goes on sale in January.
The upshot then is that VW has now re-entered the city car market with one of the leading models. We reckon the Up is going to give the Koreans a tough time and if it's sensibly priced it has the talents to be the best one of all.
New Fiat Panda
What Car? says
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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