What is it?
The Volkswagen Up is a brilliant city car but until now it’s had some pretty weedy engine options. The 59bhp and 74bhp 1.0-litre variants are economical enough, but take the former out of the city and it’s like a fish out of water, being too weak to cope comfortably either with regular motorway drives or B-road overtakes. Even the higher-powered version struggles over hilly terrain. The Up is a fun little car to drive, though, and has been crying out for a more powerful engine, so VW has obliged with the car’s facelift.
With a hot Up GTI in the pipeline, VW has whetted our appetites by introducing a turbocharged 1.0-litre unit, raising its power output to 89bhp and, maybe more significantly, boosting peak torque by 48lb ft to 118lb ft. More power on this lightweight city car means its 0-62mph time is now 9.9sec – more than three whole seconds faster than the 74bhp version.
The engine is available with a manual or automatic transmission, with the car in either three or five-door form and in High Up or Beats trim, and although the powerplant sits at the top of the range, it doesn’t command much of a premium over the 74bhp unit.
We have previously driven it abroad, but here we’re in the UK, sampling a five-door High Up fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox to see if this combination can improve on a winning formula.
What’s it like?
The engine is peppy and free-revving and adds the low-down shove missing from its naturally aspirated counterpart. Turbo lag isn’t an issue and with the extra chunk of torque, which is available from 1500rpm, as opposed to 3000rpm in the normally aspirated units, it accelerates with far more urgency than the lesser engines.
Get on the throttle and the 1.0 emits a low growl, warming up to a typical three-cylinder thrum as it sails through its rev band. As with the naturally aspirated engine, it’s still best to keep it in the mid-range for quick progress, but the fairly long gearing means there’s more flexibility and you won’t have to keep shifting down in town.
The gearbox is nonetheless slick and accurate, and light steering makes easy work of urban driving, even if, typically, it doesn’t offer a great deal of feedback. Even so, the Up is happy to be flung into corners and remains one of the best city cars to drive. It’s good enough that we think the chassis could handle even more power, and VW would appear to agree, with a 113bhp version of the 1.0-litre unit being tipped for the hot model.
The Up’s suspension hasn’t been altered for this facelift, so on the whole it retains a supple ride that does well to soak up road imperfections. However, our test car was riding on 17in alloys instead of the standard 15in ones, and with the bigger wheels it picks up on more bumps, worsens fuel economy and creates more road noise at speed, so avoid them if you can.
Noise at higher speeds aside, the Up is refined and the extra power means motorway schleps are less of a strain on the engine and therefore a more relaxing affair than in the lesser-powered versions.
Air-con, Bluetooth, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearstick are standard on this High Up version. It’s well specced for the price, and the facelift has also done away with the bespoke mini tablet-style sat-nav device, replacing it with just a smartphone mount and a 5.0in colour display beneath, which will be a far better solution for most buyers. It also now comes with lashings of colour customisation options, too.
It also remains a practical small car. Room in the back is surprisingly good – two adults will ride in relative comfort – and the boot can cope with a suitcase and a few shopping bags. Plump for the five-door option if you want the most practical layout with its easier rear access.
Should I buy one?
Yes. What was already a great car now gets a better, more flexible engine. If you only drive in town you’ll find the 74bhp unit is sufficient, but the added power and flexibility of the turbocharged lump makes the meagre extra outlay well worth it, even if it does use very slightly more fuel.
It really doesn’t cost much to upgrade and it will still be cheap to run. Private buyers only have to shell out an extra couple of hundred pounds to get an 89bhp turbocharged Up over a similarly specced 74bhp version, while finance deals broken down over many monthly payments reveal hardly any difference in price.
Outside of the Up range, the Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii offer very similar packages for less money, but there are no turbo options in them yet. So if you don’t require the extra flexibility offered by the TSI, it might be worth considering them as cheaper alternatives.
Now, please, VW, give us a proper Up GTI.
Volkswagen Up 1.0 TSI High Up
Location Middlesex; On sale Now; Price £12,445; Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbo, petrol; Power 89bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 118Ib ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1002kg; 0-62mph 9.9sec; Top speed 114mph; Economy 64.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 108g/km, 18% Rivals Hyundai i10, Seat Mii
What is it?