After a couple of middling city cars – the Lupo, built from 1998-2005, and then the Brazilian-derived Fox, from 2005-2011 – Volkswagen decided to get serious with its baby model and launched the up! (so stylised by the manufacturer) in 2011. It was a joint venture with two of the other Volkswagen Group brands, Skoda and SEAT, who named their versions of the same car the Citigo and Mii, respectively. The Volkswagen is considered a slightly plusher version of the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii with which it shares so much, and while those two cars are rivals, there’s also further tough competition in this segment – such as the Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo (which, like the up!/Citigo/Mii, are all the same car, only with different badging and subtly different designs), as well as the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto and Renault Twingo.
Volkswagen launched the up! as a three-door initially, adding a five-door model some months later. From launch, the car had a choice of two three-cylinder MPI normally-aspirated petrol engines, with either 60- or 75hp. A significant facelift in 2016 for the 2017MY brought in the first turbocharged engine for the up!, which was the 90hp 1.0 TSI – this is still a ‘triple’, in terms of its cylinder count, but now with forced induction, which considerably hiked up the best torque figures of the combustion models, from the 75hp MPI’s 95Nm, to 160Nm for the TSI. All models come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, with a five-speed automatic an option on the MPI variants. Trim grades originally ran in a format that made the most of the model’s name, so they began with Take up!, followed by Move up! and then High up!. Later in the Volkswagen’s life, the High up! was replaced with the up! Beats, which uses a sound system from Dr Dre’s company on top of its generous equipment specification. All Volkswagen up! models are front-wheel drive.
Realistically, if you’re using an up! for its primary purpose of city transportation, the nicest all-rounder is the 1.0 TSI 90hp model, though it is expensive. However, it’s hard to look past the scintillating up! GTI. It’s as comfortable as its stablemates around town and yet it’s great fun to throw around on quieter roads. The only problem is that the up! GTI hasn’t been officially sold in Ireland as yet, although importing them from the UK cost around €19,000 and so there are used examples to be found here.
Volkswagen up! GTI
Engine: turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol
Maximum speed: 196km/h
0-100km/h: 8.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.6 litres/100km
• Classy interior
• Grown-up refinement
• Magnificent GTI model
• Expensive compared to class rivals
• MPI models lack torque
• Factory satnav not available on any model
Volkswagen’s previous attempts at the city car formula were pretty lacklustre (Lupo GTI excepted…), but the launch of the up! in 2011 remedied that. The tiny German machine compacts everything that’s good about the Volkswagen brand – refined manners, high-quality interior, strong drivetrains – into a small and desirable package. Vying for the overall top spot in its class with the Hyundai i10, the up! is so good it’ll have you questioning why you’d want, or need, a Polo; and if you sample the up! GTI, then you’ll be completely smitten with one of the most affordable warm hatchbacks that has ever been sold.