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Tested: Is VW's Up worth the money?

Road tests
Johannesburg - Volkswagen's Up microhatch occupies a tough position in the South African market, mostly because its cutesy dimensions don’t really match up with its relatively upmarket price tag. In this entry-level segment there’s no shortage of more spacious options for similar money, and its own in-house sibling, the slightly pricier and bigger Polo Vivo, has proven to be its biggest rival, out-selling the Up by roughly 10 to one since its launch in 2015.

But editor Droppa hit the nail on the head in his road test of the original three-door version exactly two years ago, when he said: “The Up’s aimed at a slightly different buyer, who places more value on charisma than utility.”

Ain’t that the truth. If the space for money ratio is a buyer’s ultimate decider, the Up loses in a big way - even with the addition of a more practical five-door model last year, and subsequent deletion of the three-door entirely from the local range. But, with the introduction of a facelifted model in November, Volkswagen has improved quality, thrown in some nifty new features, and put further emphasis on the charisma part of the equation.

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The new four-model Up range varies in price from R166 300 to R196 500, and while that’s still a sizeable chunk more than similar Kia Picantos, Hyundai i10s, Suzuki Celerios, Toyota Aygos and Honda Brios, the tiny Volksie has the competition waxed in terms standard safety kit, gizmos, and perceived quality. 

Four airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, electric (front) windows, remote central locking and a decent stereo are included right from the base Take Up version, and the R179 900 mid-level Move Up on test here adds a 12.7cm touchscreen, Bluetooth phone pairing, a USB port, better upholstery and a leather steering wheel with audio controls among other things.

At this end of the market it’s little things that go a long way, and in the Up’s case a rev counter (you’d be surprised how many small cars don’t have one), an interior light that smoothly fades on and off, excellent sound proofing, nice ‘German’ switchgear and an intricately detailed dashboard fascia panel (in two designs) set it apart from some of its drab and often chintzy bargain basement competitors.


Then there are some well priced option packs offering unheard of items in the segment, such as heated seats (R2500), cruise control (R4250), and a cool smartphone mount (R5700) which allows your handheld device to act a second display for navigation, sound and car settings.

It’s all very upmarket indeed and it’s solidly screwed together with high European standards, but there is some obvious evidence of cost-cutting such as an all glass tailgate, and rear side windows that click in and out on side hinges like a bakkie canopy’s.

At only 3.6m long and 1.6m wide the Up is among the smallest of all city cars on the market, but if some buyers who may have dismissed it for its size actually tried it out, they may be pleasantly surprised with its clever packaging.

Boot space isn’t huge at a max 251 litres but there’s a genius false floor with two loading tiers, and under that there’s a full size spare wheel. There’s a surprising amount of rear legroom too, and I made a four-up Saturday expedition without any complaints from back seat passengers.

At full occupancy the Up’s dinky 1-litre engine did struggle a bit though, especially up hills where downshifts of the five-speed manual gearbox were required to successfully make some crests. This naturally aspirated three-cylinder makes only 55kW and 95Nm, so it’s understandable that it battles with a heavily loaded cabin. 

I was impressed with its performance on lonely commutes however, and without having to wait for a turbo to boost, the power it does have comes in early in the rev range. Volkswagen could have cheated with shorter gear ratios to disguise any output shortcomings, but then it might suffer from the dreaded frequent-shift syndrome - a problem we’ve picked up in other low powered runabouts.

You’ll have to pay extra for on on-board trip computer (it comes in the cruise control package mentioned above), and our test car didn’t have one, but a top-up to top-up fuel consumption calculation saw an average of around 4.5 litres per 100km - one of the lowest real world figures we’ve ever seen.

Handling can be described as nippy when playing dodgems in traffic, but it’s also remarkably stable at high speed on freeways. On one late night journey home from the airport on a quiet stretch of N12 I ventured toward the upper reaches of the car’s speedo and found it’s quite happy to fly along unflustered by side-on winds, corrugations and other things that can sometimes get microhatches like this unsettled. The Up might look puny on the outside, but it certainly doesn’t feel puny in the way it drives.

VERDICT

Yes, the Volkswagen Up costs more than most of its same-size rivals. But it comes with a lot more stuff, and sets a higher bar in terms of quality and refinement. It’s a genuine fuel miser too.

FACTS: Volkswagen Move-Up

Engine: 1-litre, 3-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 55kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 95Nm @ 3000-4300rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 13.5 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 173km/h
Price: R179 900
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: Optional

ALTERNATIVES

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd


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