by Brad Leach - 26/02/13
Car Showroom got the word earlier than anyone else. In a telephone chat with one of our friends at Volkswagen in Germany.
“We’re getting ready to show the new Volksawagen Up” the line crackled from Wolfsburg. “Yep the car from Brazil, we ruled that out for Australia – too basic,” we said. “No, this one’s from Germany and it’s like nothing we’ve ever done before,” was the response from our German mate…and he sounded genuinely excited.
And, as we now know, the excitement was justified – the Volkswagen Up is not just the world’s best mini car today, we wouldn’t be surprised if history will show the Up doing to the mini car segment what the Golf has done to small cars.
A hatchback from Germany priced under $14,000? With a three-cylinder engine?
‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’…and the Up looks, feels and drives like a Volkswagen. Since the Up’s local launch, sales have been brisk – 531 in just two months – about the same as the Suzuki Alto. No doubt folks at rival car companies – particularly those whose mini cars comprise most of their sales – have been watching that quick start by the German newcomer and reaching for the industrial strength indigestion medicine!
Consumers have spoken with their wallets and every car company needs a compact car to justify a full spread of models. Volkswagen has for decades ruled the small car market with the Golf and now, with the launch of the Up, the German giant has a global compact car (although a variety of mini cars have graced Volkswagen dealerships in South America over the years).
Available in three-door or five-door (as tested by Car Showroom), the Volkswagen Up at 3540mm in length is one of the smallest compact cars in the world, but clever design sees excellent space inside
Volkswagen being Volkswagen, the Up comes to market with a ‘World First’ for this segment – standard radar-based City Emergency Braking. Operating at speeds between 5km/h and 30km/h, City Emergency Braking detects collision risks ahead and initiates braking.
But here’s the thing - rightly or wrongly, European cars are perceived as expensive to service. In the compact car segment, where most buyers are retirees down-sizing or first-time car buyers, that’s an issue.
So to underscore the Up’s competitive offering Volkswagen moved fast to introduce capped price servicing within a month of the newcomer’s launch. And typically Volkswagen, it’s a hugely comprehensive package which will cover the first six years of motoring for most Up buyers (it’s six years or 90,000kms, whichever comes first).
Here’s what you’ll pay to service your Volkswagen Up:
15,000kms or 12 months $280.00
30,000kms or 24 months $280.00
45,000kms or 36 months $332.50
60,000kms or 48 months $369.50
75,000kms or 60 months $280.00
90,000 or 72 months $332.50
Volkswagen is justifiably proud of its new 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. As usual we put the Up through the full range of driving conditions during our week and at all times the three-cylinder was quiet and refined – surprisingly so.
Maximum power is 55kW at 6200rpm and peak torque of 95Nm arrives between 3000rpm and 4300rpm. Those figures suggest a revvy engine and while the Up does work best with a few revs on board, those smart people in Volkswagen’s engine department in Wolfsburg are too clever to fall for that one and the torque curve is relatively flat, enabling the Up to have some in reserve for extra acceleration such as when changing lanes on the freeway.
Drive is to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
Combined cycle fuel consumption is predictably impressive at 4.9l/100kms although Volkswagen recommends 95 RON fuel for the Up.
Right from the get-go the interior designers in Wolfsburg knew interior space would be one of the clear differentiators for their first global compact car. So despite its compact overall length, the Up provides a wheelbase of 2420mm and the diminutive 1.0-lire engine is mounted well-forward – the result (in the five-door model we tested) is genuine space for five adults inside – for starters there’s 1000mm of front head-room and 947mm in the rear.
Instrumentation is conventional gauges with a digital multi-function display (in fact it’s very similar to the Polo so no compromise on quality there). To the left is the optional ‘Maps + More’ portable touchscreen module. Clicking it out of the cradle enables you to take the compact unit with you to download apps etc for the navigation/telephone/audio system which displays on the five-inch screen…very slick.
Audio is a six-speaker CD system with the usual connectivity features.
Seats (with integrated head restraints in the fronts) and the three-spoke steering wheel are unique for the Up. We were surprised by the relatively poor tactile feel of the steering wheel and that it only adjusts for height (no reach adjustment).
Luggage space is impressive for a car this size – 251-litres with the rear seat in place (comparable with rivals) or 951-litres with the seat folded.
There’s no Golf or Polo about the Up – Volkswagen’s global compact presents a unique look highlighted by a prominent front bumper and stylish transparent glass rear hatch.
It’s a very simple, un-adorned look (the only chrome at the front is the Volkswagen logo) featuring a very short bonnet.
Same for the sides although a character line at sill height and wheel-arch flares for the 14-inch steel wheels add some depth to things. Likewise the slight upward slope of the window line to the C-pillar – all very subtle and uncomplicated.
First-up there’s some acclimatization required when you first get behind the wheel of the Up and start the engine – your brain says that three-cylinder growl means a Nissan Micra or Suzuki Alto but all around you are familiar Volkswagen cues. But what a three-cylinder – every bit as responsive as the Micra but certainly much more refined.
Naturally around town is the Volkswagen Up’s natural environment – slick work with the five-speeder gets you into the peak hour freeway ‘game’ and once at speed the Up lopes along easily with surprisingly low noise levels and enough in reserve that you can normally crack the whip for a burst without changing down a cog. And as for parking, if you can’t handle a car only 3540mm in overall length and with a turning circle of just 9.8-metres well, maybe you should consider shredding your license.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test route, of course the Up wasn’t in the same league as the Golf R and for sure you needed to work the gearbox to maintain momentum up the climbs…but remember this baby Volkswagen is giving you 4.9l/100kms consumption (combined cycle).
Up rides on the familiar Volkswagen Macpherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension but ride isn’t as firm as one expects from European cars. Of course understeer, the default chassis setting, appears early – at the limit remember you’re riding on fuel-saving 165/70 R14 tyres – but it’s all very predictable and balanced.
All-up, the driving dynamics are predictably Volkswagen and the best in this league by a long way.
In a segment where every cent needs to be justified, we know we’re stretching things here… but we’d trade-off ‘Maps + More’ for better quality interior plastics and a better steering wheel (and buy a portable TomTom).
All-new car in an all-new market segment…but the same Volkswagen ‘MO’. That is, the best car in the segment but it’s just a little bit more expensive (entry-level Up is $1,000 more than the Nissan Micra).
After a week in our Up five-door, we reckon Volkswagen can justify the extra coin – the Up is clearly the new benchmark in this league. Just the standard City Emergency Braking is enough to leave all rivals looking under-done.
And Volkswagen has clearly heard the ‘Coconut Telegraph’ in the market and smartly introduced capped price servicing for its game-changing first mini car. Now the German giant needs to roll this out across its entire model range.
Holden Barina Spark is a worthy adversary particularly now it has an optional automatic transmission. Surprisingly, the Barina’s 59kW/107Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder doesn’t exactly overwhelm Volkswagen’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder (55kW/95Nm).
As we write, launch of the all-new Mitsubishi Mirage is just weeks away. Put it on your shopping list.
Nissan Micra certainly delivers on the value front. Even the mid-grade ST-L with its 75kW/136Nm 1.5-litre engine starts at just $14,990.
Suzuki Alto also delivers lots of car for your coin although its 50kW/90Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder is now outgunned by the Volkswagen Up. Recent price cuts (now starting at $11,790) shows Suzuki is keen.
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