The city solution
It’s one of the year’s cheapest and smallest cars – and pound for pound one of the best
THE cheapest new Volkswagen since the original Beetle is here.
The $13,990 Up is the first sub-$15,000 car with five-star safety and the first tiddler you would recommend to your best friend.
It’s not perfect, with no chance for an automatic gearbox and Bluetooth only an option, but it is a tiny tot that feels solid, gets along reasonably well and should be more than just a disposable car at trade-in time.
It also has a significant first for the size and price— a radar-guided anti-collision system that can even brake automatically at up to 30km/h if it senses an imminent crash.
Pricing for the Up is even sharper than expected, with the bottom-line $13,990 three-door car coming with remote central locking, electric power steering, aircon and a full-sized spare.
It costs $14,990 to get into the five-door Up— only a $500 advantage over the recently tweaked Ford Fiesta — with just five extras including special paint at $500 and Maps+More including Bluetooth for $500.
The Up (VW would prefer we printed the name as Up! but that’s not going to happen) slides in below the Golf and Polo, measuring 50cm shorter than the Polo and handily undercutting its $16,990 starting price.
It is likely to spark a rash of truly tiny city car arrivals. VW is confident it will be popular with a range of people, from first-car buyers to seniors and people who are usually secondhand shoppers.
‘‘ We have seen there is potential for this car in Australia, and it can create a segment of its own. People in Australia are downsizing more and more. We make it more affordable and bring safety,’’ says VW Australia managing director Anke Koeckle.
The Up starter looks really good against the tinny Indianmade Suzuki Alto at $11,790, the Korean Holden Barina Spark at $12,490 or even a 1.2-litre Nissan Micra at $13,490.
Things get murkier when you chase down rivals for the costlier five-door model, especially as the Fiesta starts at $15,490 after a $1500 price cut that also added extra airbags.
Most people are going to be going for the $13,990 bottom line. The car has all the right stuff to easily justify that sort of spend.
It’s only a four-passenger car but that’s what you expect in something 3.5m long weighing in at 880kg.
The only remaining question is the running cost. VW says it uses 95-octane, not the costlier 98 premium, and Carsguide expects an imminent announcement of capped-price servicing costs for the car. This will definitely make a difference and also brings VW into line with rival baby cars from Korea and Japan.
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The Up is a box. There’s nothing special at all about it, although the designers have tried to inject a bit of personality with a smiley face.
Otherwise it’s about jamming the biggest possible cabin into a small car, including a split-fold rear seat, a boot with adjustable-height shelf to vary the capacity, and that fullsized spare.
The cabin is typically VW and Germanic: efficient and not particularly inviting. Look around and it has everything you need, with a couple of nice touches— such as the flatbottomed steering wheel— to relieve the hard plastic and painted metal surfaces.
The back windows don’t roll down, but pop out, which is probably not good for rear-seat passengers but saves money and allows more side space for crash protection.
The Up has already hit the fivestar standard in Europe – with a special award for the City Emergency package. It only has four airbags, with no head support for the rear, but there is that radar system, audible seat belt warnings, and the usual ESP and ABS, but with only drum brakes on the rear.
The first impression is good. The doors shut with a thunk, the turning circle is tiny, but the boot is surprisingly roomy.
It’s not a particularly brisk drive, but it gets along well in traffic and— provided you’re prepared to use the gearbox – is quick enough for suburban roads and highway cruising at 110km/h. The braking is solid, it grips pretty well in corners, and all the controls and light and easy to find.
There is some suspension clunky over low-speed potholes, and it’s never going to win a cornering contest, but the ride smoothes over 80km/h and its fairly quiet.
We’d much prefer to have the choice of an automatic, but the Up is what it is.
Compare it with its size and price rivals and it comes up a winner. You can say that it will cost $17,000 to put a fully loaded Up on the road but that would be a tasty little vehicle with equipment you cannot get in something like an Alto or a Spark.
It feels more substantial— read that as safer— than an Alto, Spark or Micra, as well as having parts and assembly work that live up to the Volkswagen badge. It’s not a Polo or a Golf but it’s impossible to build that sort of car for $13,990.
So what you get is an Up that resets the bar for the smallest cars sold in Australia today, and in a good way.
It deserves four Carsguide stars, not when you think about cars as classy as a Benz C or a Porsche 911, but because of how it relates to its direct rivals. And the way it beats them.
The Up has just joined the shortlist for this year’s Car of the Year judging, as well as winning a rare four-star tick.
Bring ’em on: The Up earns its four
Carsguide stars for the way it takes on rivals — and surpasses