What Car? says...
A What Car? Car of the Year. Yes, the Volkswagen Up is a previous winner of our greatest accolade and was once the benchmark by which all city cars were measured.
That was back in 2012, though, and when the Up first arrived on the scene, its competition was limited: the Fiat 500, and previous versions of the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto were the main alternatives in terms of size.
These days, things are a whole lot tougher. The Picanto and i10 have moved on in leaps and bounds, the Toyota Aygo X brings a small dose of rugged appeal and the Up also competes with the closely related Seat Mii. That car, however, is now fully electric and isn’t available with a petrol engine at all, whereas the Up still is.
There's the 64bhp 1.0-litre entry-level version and the sporty Volkswagen Up GTI, which you can read more about in our standalone review. These versions are sold alongside the electric Volkswagen e-Up. However, while the GTI and e-Up come in a single trim level, the regular Up is offered with three; the cheapest option is simply named Up, while Beats brings extra kit and R-Line gives the car a sportier look.
So, does the Up still offer enough to stand out amongst its city car rivals, as well as similarly priced larger competition, such as the Dacia Sandero? And which version makes the most sense? Read on over the next few pages to find out.
Finally, if you decide you do want to buy an Up, make sure you check out our latest deals to find out how much we could save you.
More on the Volkswagen Up
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
After its 2020 update, the Volkswagen Up is offered with a choice of two petrol engines: a 1.0-litre with 64bhp, or a turbocharged unit with 113bhp that’s reserved for the sportier Up GTI model.
It’s a bit of a shame that VW chose to ditch the engines that previously filled that power gap; while the 64bhp engine has enough pep for inner-city driving, trying to reach motorway speeds is an outright struggle, and you’d have to wait for a long stretch of country road if you need to overtake a tractor.
The range-topping Up GTI’s 113bhp engine can propel you from 0-62mph in just 8.8sec. It’s certainly much more fun, whether you’re driving in or out of town. It also gets a six-speed manual gearbox instead of just five in the less powerful Up; its well-spaced ratios play a key part in the GTI’s playful verve.
Click the link for our driving impressions on the all-electric Volkswagen e-Up.
Suspension and ride comfort
One of the Up’s main virtues is its supple ride. For such a small car, it does a brilliant job of staying controlled over speed bumps at low speeds; it deals well with the potholes and broken asphalt you’re likely to find on your local high street.
The ride remains comfortable at higher speeds, such as when on A-roads or the motorway. Here, the Up damps expansion joints effectively, rather than allowing them to shudder through its body. Put simply, it rides in a much more sophisticated fashion than many of its rivals.
However, that's only true if you stick with 14in or 15in wheels. Upgrading to 16in ones brings a noticeably firmer ride, while the largest 17in alloys that are standard on the Up GTI (and optional on R-Line) cause it to crash and bang over severe bumps. The stiffer sports suspension that comes with R-Line and GTI models doesn’t help, further emphasising such surface imperfections.
The Up handles in a sophisticated and grown-up fashion that, at launch, put its rivals to shame. And while some of its peers (including the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto) have started to catch up, the Up can still hold its own against the competition.
The Up’s precise steering is light enough to make low-speed manoeuvres easy work, but weights up enough as you turn the wheel to give you confidence along faster, twisting roads. Throw in a decent amount of grip and surprisingly tidy body control (the Up doesn't lean over through tight corners as markedly as some rivals) and you end up with a car that’s genuinely fun to drive.
With stiffer suspension, the GTI model is, unsurprisingly, more agile than regular versions of the Up and you can have genuine fun on a favourite country road.
Noise and vibration
Due largely to having three cylinders, the Up’s 1.0-litre engine isn’t quite as smooth as the four-cylinder unit of Hyundai i10 1.2. You can hear it thrumming away when you rev hard, although it quietens down when you’re at more of a cruise. You notice a few more vibrations through the soles of your feet when accelerating, too.
The Up’s feelsome clutch pedal and light-but-precise manual gearchange also impress, although more frustratingly, there’s a mite too much wind and road noise at motorway speeds. The i10 in particular is a slightly quieter cruiser.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Tall drivers benefit from a wide range of seat adjustment; every Up provides seat-height adjustment as standard. Some people might find the seat a little firm, but side support is good, helping to hold you in place through corners.
It’s a shame that the Up’s steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach (it only moves up and down), and, even with the wheel in its highest setting, you might find that it blocks your view of the instrument dials. However, none of the Up's key rivals offer steering wheel reach adjustment, either.
The important controls are sensibly laid out; the centre console is uncluttered, with simple buttons for the climate control and, where fitted, heated seats.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The view out of the front is excellent; the Up’s thin pillars barely obstruct your forward view at all and the tall front windows provide a wide field of vision.
Rear visibility is slightly less impressive, although the rear pillars are still thinner than those of the Hyundai i10 and the rear window isn’t too small. The Up’s relatively square shape also makes judging its extremities pretty easy from the driving seat.
Rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are optional on all trims as part of the ‘Cruise and park pack’, which, as the name suggests, also adds cruise control. We’d recommend adding this; it comes standard on the electric e-Up.
Sat nav and infotainment
If you want a touchscreen infotainment system like you get in a Hyundai i10, you’re out of luck. Instead, the Up gives you a small 5.0in colour screen; it sits below the climate controls, and displays information such as the radio station and, when fitted, a rear-view camera image. You also get Bluetooth connectivity, AUX in and a USB socket as standard.
For navigation, you’ll need to use your phone, and there’s a cradle on the dashboard in which you can mount it, along with a selection of integrated apps. With these, your smartphone effectively becomes the hub of the car’s infotainment system. However, we imagine most users will just use their phones’ native normal music and navigation apps rather than go through Volkswagen’s app.
For music lovers, the Up Beats is worth considering because this adds – yes, you guessed it – a more powerful Beats stereo. Its sound quality is good rather than brilliant, though.
This is another Up strong suit. No other car at this price can quite match it for interior quality; even the lower-end trim levels get attractive chrome trim surrounds and patterned dashboard plastics, and feel better put together than the Kia Picanto.
Let's not go overboard, though; you won't find any dense, soft-touch materials like those you’ll find in the larger and pricier Volkswagen Polo, but the Up is as classy inside as city cars get.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
For such a small car, the Up is certainly spacious in the front. There’s lots of leg room for tall adults and head room is equally generous. There’s plenty of room for elbows, too.
Storage space is impressive, with wide, deep door pockets and a single cupholder located centrally at the bottom of the dashboard. The small shelf that divides the open-faced cubbyhole is another practical touch.
On the other hand, the Up’s glovebox provides enough room for the car’s manual, but not much else.
The Up's boxy shape prevents the roof from tapering towards the rear of the car, so there's almost as much shoulder room in the back as there is in the front. Head and leg room are reasonable by the standards of the class, but if you plan to carry adults in the back on a regular basis, the Hyundai i10 is a roomier choice. It’s worth noting that the i10 also has three seatbelts in the back – the Up only has two.
Rear access is decent in the five-door version, and each rear passenger gets a thoughtfully positioned armrest with an integral cupholder.
Seat folding and flexibility
All versions of the Up have 60/40 split folding rear seats, as does the Hyundai i10. In the three-door model, the front seats slide and fold forward for easier access to the rear, and return to the same position once they’re unfolded.
Go for higher-spec R-Line and the front passenger seat folds down as a load-through facility to accommodate longer items.
Other similarly priced rivals, such as the Dacia Sandero, provide more space overall, but lack plenty of the driving manners and fun that the Up offers.
The Up has a decent enough boot that's usefully square in shape and large enough for a few shopping bags or a couple of soft luggage cases. If you need to carry lots of luggage, though, the rival Kia Picanto is a better choice, thanks to its much bigger load bay.
Every Up has a height-adjustable boot floor. With this in its highest position, there's only a small lip at the boot entrance and no step in the floor of the load bay when the rear seatbacks are folded down. Another benefit of the false floor is that you can keep fragile or valuable items stowed safely away out of sight.
Accessibility & Motability
Usability for people with disability or their carers
Motability - Access
Wide-opening doors make getting in and out of your car easier, and the Volkswagen Up obliges with an impressive 71-degree opening angle for its driver’s door. That's far wider than on the Hyundai i10 (61 degrees) and Toyota Aygo (62 degrees).
It's a shame the top of the door sill isn't lower, though. At 396mm from the ground, it’s high for a small car, making it trickier to get in. The top of the sill is 147mm higher than the floor of the car, which is higher than average too. For example, the Smart ForFour EQ has a tiny 20mm sill.
Inside the Up, you'll find the driver's seat adjusts from 574mm in its lowest setting to 609mm when it’s all the way up. That's pretty much what we'd expect from a car of this type. If you’re looking for a lofty driver's seat, you might prefer the ForFour EQ, which puts the driver 677mm above the ground with the seat at its highest.
Motability - Storage
Despite its tiny size, the Up has a useful 251-litre boot. And boot space is the same whether you choose the electric e-Up or the petrol model.
That volume of luggage space is just a litre less than you get in an i10, and well ahead of the ForFour EQ and Aygo.
Impressively, the boot can take a folded wheelchair, even with the car’s back seats upright. And while you can’t get a fully assembled chair in, even with the seats lowered, that’s hardly surprising in a small ‘city’ car.
Motability - Ease of use and options
The Up is easy to drive, with light controls and good all-round visibility, but it’s a shame there’s no automatic gearbox unless you go for the electric e-Up.
Every Up comes with air conditioning, a digital radio and electric front windows, but you have to upgrade to R-Line trim to get electrically adjustable door mirrors. Rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are standard on the e-Up, and are available on other models as part of the Cruise and Park Pack.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Up is a little pricier than the Kia Picanto and is more closely aligned with the Hyundai i10. However, Up resale values are slightly lower than those of the i10, so it’s predicted to be worth less after three years.
The 64bhp engine's stop/start system improves fuel economy and cuts emissions by switching off the engine whenever you come to a standstill. Day-to-day running bills should be low, though, with an impressive official fuel economy towards 55mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 115g/km.
Thanks in part to its extra gear, the higher-powered, six-speed Up GTI returns an equally impressive 51.4mpg. Being one of the cheapest hot-hatches you can buy, that fact only adds to its appeal. Click the link for more about ownership costs for the all-electric Volkswagen e-Up.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level trim is simply called Up, and comes with LED daytime running lights, manual air conditioning, electric front windows, hill-start assistance and the audio connectivity mentioned earlier. This and the GTI are the only models offered with just three doors, as well as the more practical five-door body that's offered across the range.
The Up Beats is our recommended trim, and adds niceties such as ambient lighting, a multifunction steering wheel and the upgraded Beats audio system for not a great deal more money.
Top-spec R-Line gets heated front seats and heated door mirrors, front fog lights, plus the lowered sports suspension, as well as additional R-Line badging. But in fact, this then makes it too expensive to be considered as a value car in What Car? terms.
The hot-hatch Up GTI gets the more-powerful engine, 17in alloys and sports suspension, plus adds various sporty styling details, while the electric e-Up only comes in one trim, with heated front seats, cruise control and a rear-view camera all included as standard.
In the latest 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, Volkswagen as a brand finished in 22nd out of 32 manufacturers, below Toyota, Hyundai and Seat. However, the Up itself performed far better in the small car category, finishing in second place out of 17 cars included – the Toyota Aygo took the top spot with the Ford Fiesta in last.
Like all Volkswagens, the Up comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and one year’s breakdown cover. This is comparable with the cover provided by most car companies, but falls short of the five-year/100,000-mile warranty you get with the i10 and the seven years of cover provided by Kia for the Picanto. You can buy an extended warranty that covers your Up for up to five years or 90,000 miles.
Safety and security
All Ups come with stability control, twin front airbags and side airbags that extend upwards to cover the same area as curtain airbags. There are also Isofix child seat mounting points on the two rear seats.
The Up only scored three out of five stars when it was safety-tested by Euro NCAP in 2019. This relatively low rating came because an automatic emergency braking (AEB) safety system isn’t available anywhere on the range – we consider this as a vital safety feature, and it’s available as an option on the Kia Picanto. The newer Hyundai i10 also scored three stars when it was tested back in 2020, with less impressive scores the Up in each category, although it’s worth noting the latest tests are far more stringent than before.
Security experts Thatcham Research awarded the Up four out of five for resisting being stolen and three out of five for guarding against being broken into.
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|RRP price range||£14,630 - £16,640|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||55.4 - 55.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£776 / £884|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,551 / £1,769|