What Car? says...
No, the Volkswagen e-Up isn’t named after a familiar Yorkshire expression – the extra vowel marks this out as the all-electric version of VW’s smallest car, the Up.
Electric cars tend to make the most sense in built-up urban areas, so you might think the little Volkswagen Up city car is the ideal starting point for one. And in many respects you'd be right. Just like a petrol-powered Up, the fully electric e-Up is blessed with tidy driving manners and turn-on-a-dime manoeuvrability.
The trouble is, a great electric car also needs to make sense financially and have a long range. After all, Volkswagen is battling for sales here against the likes of the Fiat 500, Mini Electric and Renault Zoe.
The e-Up model range is simple to get to grips with, offering a single power and trim level. Today’s version, introduced in 2019, has double the capacity of earlier e-Ups, allowing for a WLTP-tested official range of 160 miles. Volkswagen also added more safety equipment, with standard-fit lane-keeping assistance and extra airbags.
So, does the e-Up have what it takes to compete with the best electric cars available? Is it just the thing to match your lifestyle? Or would you actually be better off with a petrol Up?
That's what we'll be telling you over the next few pages of this review, as we rate the Volkswagen e-Up in all the important areas, including performance, interior quality, passenger space and running costs. We'll also let you know how it compares with the other electric cars you might be considering.
And remember, when you've decided which car is the right one for your needs, make sure you find it for the best price by searching our free What Car? New Car Buying service. It's a great place to find the latest Volkswagen e-Up deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Making an electric car based on an existing conventionally powered one can sometimes play havoc with weight balance and handling, but that’s not the case with the Volkswagen e-Up.
True, the addition of a big battery pack means it's around 250kg heavier than the petrol Volkswagen Up, but the instant availability of power when you push the accelerator pedal actually makes it feel quicker than its fossil-fuelled stablemate. It pulls away speedily from junctions and traffic lights, and is really easy to drive, building speed smoothly, with no gears to worry about.
Around town, the e-Up seems faster than its official 0-62mph time of 11.9sec suggests, and you’ll have no problem jumping into a roundabout gap. Top speed is limited to 82mph to preserve the car’s electric range, though, and acceleration at motorway speeds is rather more gradual.
You can knock the gear shifter into ‘B’ mode to maximise the effect of the e-Up’s regenerative braking system, which takes energy that would otherwise be wasted when you lift off the accelerator and uses it to top up the battery. That means you can drive using one pedal most of the time. It takes a few miles to master, but you’ll soon find that you barely need to touch the brakes unless you want to come to a complete stop.
There are three different driving modes to choose from to help make the most of your battery range: Normal, Eco and Eco Plus. Eco Plus limits acceleration, lowers the top speed and concentrates the climate control’s efforts on just the driver to conserve energy. Eco does a similar job, but with a less noticeable impact on performance.
The e-Up does well when it comes to ride quality. Bumps are dealt with better than in many much more expensive cars, and even potholes don’t unsettle it too badly, so it’s a comfortable car to scoot around town in. It’s a considerably more enjoyable ride than you’ll experience in the firm (and expensive) Mini Electric. The e-Up is actually good fun to drive, too, thanks to accurate steering that gives reasonable feedback and well-controlled body movements, although the standard energy-saving tyres aren’t the grippiest.
The latest e-Up’s electric driving range is far longer than on earlier models, but it’s not class-leading. Volkswagen quotes 160 miles in optimum conditions, beating the pricier Honda E, but we’re yet to put it through our real-world range test. While that range will be plenty for a lot of city-dwellers, there are rivals with better official ranges, including the Fiat 500 (199 miles) and the slightly more expensive Renault Zoe (239 miles).
The interior layout, fit and finish
In the quest to make electric cars more mainstream, the Volkswagen e-Up doesn't shout too loudly about its zero-emissions credentials when you’re behind the wheel. Its rev counter has been replaced with a dial that shows how much electricity you’re using (or regenerating), while the fuel gauge shows how much battery charge is left, rather than how much petrol is in the tank. Otherwise, you could be sitting in a regular Volkswagen Up.
That’s no bad thing, though. The seats are comfortable, it’s easy to see out and the driving position is mostly good, although the fact that the steering wheel moves only up and down (and not in and out) means you might struggle to get completely comfortable.
The dashboard is logically laid out, although the e-Up doesn’t have a conventional touchscreen infotainment system as you’ll find in the Renault Zoe and other rivals. Instead, there’s a small 5.0in colour screen that displays the radio station and other information such as the radio channel, as well as the image from the rear-view camera – a feature you don't get on the entry-level Fiat 500.
Just like in the Fiat 500, though, you’ll need to stick your smartphone into the cradle on top of the dashboard for anything more detailed. Volkswagen offers an app to let you use navigation and other functions, but we imagine most users will opt to use their phone apps instead. The e-Up has Bluetooth connectivity, an AUX in and a USB socket as standard.
The petrol Up’s interior comes in for praise because it’s rather smart and feels very well put together compared with other similarly priced city cars, but the e-Up can’t match the soft, tactile plastics in the Zoe.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Volkswagen e-Up is available only as a five-door, unlike the petrol Volkswagen Up, which you can have with three or five doors. Otherwise, there are no differences in practicality. The motor sits under the bonnet and the battery pack fits under the floor and rear seats, so you don’t lose boot space.
Considering its compact city car roots, space in the e-Up’s rear seats is good, with decent headroom thanks to its boxy dimensions. There are only two seatbelts back there, though, and the Renault Zoe is a more practical option if you regularly take several passengers.
The e-Up's boot is smaller than the Zoe's, so don’t expect to carry more than a few small bags of shopping. The rear seats split and fold down in a 60/40 arrangement, which helps if you need to carry larger items.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
By opting for a Volkswagen e-Up and plugging in rather than filling up, you’ll be spending less on fuel bills than you would if you bought a petrol Volkswagen Up 1.0 TSI.
However, even after the Government’s £1500 electric car grant is deducted from the purchase price, the e-Up costs thousands of pounds more to buy. That means you’ll have to cover a lot of miles to recover the difference.
What’s more, while you might imagine the e-Up would be a low-tax option for company car drivers, that isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, it’s in a much lower benefit-in-kind (BIK) car tax rate than any petrol Up, but you’ll still sacrifice more of your salary each month to run one because it’s so much more expensive to buy. It’s also in a higher insurance group.
One way to see a genuine saving over a petrol Up is if you regularly travel into London’s Congestion Charge zone because the e-Up, along with all other electric cars, is exempt from fees. The e-Up comes with more kit than the range-topping R-Line Up, too, with climate control, rear parking sensors, heated seats and cruise control all thrown in. You get a long warranty of eight years (or 99,360 miles) for the battery as well.
A full charge takes around 16 hours from a standard three-pin socket, five hours and thirty minutes from a 7kW home charger, and you can top up to 80% in just an hour if you have access to a CCS fast charger.
One disappointment with the e-Up is the absence of automatic emergency braking (AEB), a safety system we consider vital, which is available on the Mini Electric and MG ZS EV. The Up range achieved a Euro NCAP safety rating of three stars out of a possible five. The Renault Zoe did even worse, with a shocking zero stars for safety.
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