The Volkswagen Up!
I've seen these three words spark many an argument in the comments section of many an article on this site. It seems that some readers are in love with this bundle of joy on four wheels. They love its diminutive stature, they obsess about how its modest power means you can drive it harder and that makes it more fun, not to mention it's the most economical way of moving about. The Up! fan club insist that the simplest, lightest, cheapest, smallest, slowest VW is in fact the best VW.
On the other side of the arguments are those who look at the diminutive People's Car and despise it. "Why can't it have more power?", "Where are the creature comforts?", "What's wrong with an automatic?". These are some of the most common questions raised. And all of them valid too. However, for myself, I'm an Up! evangelist. I love this car.
When I bought my Up! just before Christmas 2015, my wife insisted that whatever we bought needed to have four doors, and be cheap to buy and run. Aside from that, I had free reign to choose whatever I wished. I spent many hour trawling through car adverts looking for something that would meet her requirements, but still be fun for me. I found that with the Up!.
If you're unfamiliar with the car, it's a 4-door, 4-seat (there's really no room for a center rear seat), VW with similar physical dimensions to a Fiat 500 or a Kia Picanto. It has a 3-cylinder, 1.0-litre, NA engine producing a dizzying 55kW and 95Nm of torque. Mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox (nope, you can't have an auto). The small size and small engine means that it's also very light: weighing in at approximately 930 kilograms, which means the minimalist power plant under the bonnet is good for 0-100 in about 13 seconds. Although that will go up considerably depending on how many passengers you're carrying, or even what you had for breakfast that morning.
This means the car is slow. However, and this is difficult to explain, it doesn't FEEL slow (unless you're trying to get in front of someone at the lights, then it feels slow). When you're in the driver's seat, there's an energy and eagerness about the Up! which makes you believe that it wants to go faster. I know it sounds a bit ethereal, but there's something about the driving experience that makes it fun. The Up! seems to somehow want you to enjoy the drive; Yes it's slow, but it's fun.
The upside of the small engine in a featherweight car is that you can expect some very low numbers in your L/100kms column. The fuel tank (like everything else in the car) is small, only 35L capacity, but you can expect well over 600kms no matter how hard you thrash the little engine. My wife and I were even able to hit over 800kms on a couple of occasions.
As far as technology goes, the Up! is simple, but functional. There's just enough to get you by, nothing fancy, but we didn't find ourselves saying "Gee, I wish we had this." The aircon is good, keeps us cool even in Queensland summers. There's factory-fitted sat-nav, which works fine, although we tended to prefer Bluetoothing our phones and utilising Google Maps. There are also a couple of functions which try to gamify economy driving, giving you graphs and goals to keep your rev's low and your efficiency high. We don't use these features, but it's nice to know they're there.
There is ABS and AEB, which is quite impressive in such a simple car. VW claims that if you're travelling at 30km/h or less, the AEB will bring you to a full stop before you crash. Thankfully, I haven't needed to test this feature, however I can confirm that the ABS works very well. The Up! also comes with traction control and hill-start assist. Traction control is always on, however there is so little torque that it rarely needs to interfere on a dry road. The hill-start assist is fantastic; it will hold you stationary on any gradient for several seconds so that you can pull away cleanly.
It's difficult to talk about the Up! without personifying it. The car has so much charisma and spirit when you drive it, that you find yourself thinking of it more like a pet or a child than a vehicle. I bring this up now, to help explain this: the little VW isn't comfortable on a highway. It's not like it struggles to get up to speed, or feels like it's going to fall apart or anything like that. It just feels slightly out of it's depth; It's like someone who can swim, but isn't great at it. Sure, they can do a lap or two of the pool, and they have fun splashing around with mates, but it doesn't take long before they get tired and need to hold onto the side for a rest. The Up! feels like this on the highway. It can definitely handle the speeds and the traffic, but it's also noticeably out of its element. You can do a long journey in it, and my wife and I have taken the Up! on a couple of road trips (Brisbane to Stanthorpe and Brisbane to Dorrigo), but after a couple of hours at highway speeds you start to notice: the car isn't taking this in it's stride somehow. It's not struggling, it doesn't feel dangerous, just somehow you can tell that the Up! would prefer to be doing something else.
As for reliability, in the three and a bit years that we've owned the car, it hasn't put a foot wrong. We've kept it serviced, and looked after it well, but the only thing that's gone wrong with our Up!, is that it lost a wheel cover on a dirt road while we were travelling to the Bunya Mountains for our anniversary last year. I would also like to give a shout-out to VW for their handling of the Takata airbag recall. Our Up! was subject to the recall, and VW were very proactive in contacting us and responsive to our questions. The actual replacement took a little over 90 minutes one Saturday morning.
The VW Up!. A small, efficient, fun car that I absolutely love. It's hard to explain why exactly, but it has such a great personality, so much eagerness that I can't help it.