Volkswagen Up review – 75PS High Up BlueMotion edition

9 September 2012

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door rear view

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Perky 74bhp engine still delivers 98g/km
Bad: Corner-cutting spec, and a Skoda is much cheaper
Price: from £10,875 (3dr) or £11,240 (5dr)
It might be called the Up, but the smallest Volkswagen has clearly been built down to a price. I’m reminded of this fact as I climb aboard a sweltering example, crank up the aircon, reach out to angle the central air-vents towards my sweaty brow and hit a significant snag. There are no central air-vents. There’s just one circular outlet at each end of the dashboard.

Fortunately this particular Up has restacked the cost-benefit balance with a £650 panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof. It powers open to a number of different positions via an overhead twist controller, so I zip it out to its widest blue-skies setting to let the heat escape.

My car has also had £365 lavished on a pair of rear doors, which might be less good at ventilation – the rear windows don’t wind down, they only pop out an inch at the rear – but they transform the little car’s practicality. Access to the rear in the three-door Up is fine, as long as you’re entirely comfortable touching your nose with the tip of your toe.

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door front interior

I last drove an Up at the time of the car’s launch, in March. Since then, the range has expanded, not only to include this five-door bodyshell, but also to provide a broader range of engine and trim combinations. I’ve chosen what ought to be the most seductive edition – the top-spec High Up trim with a more powerful but still frugal BlueMotion engine. With five doors, this retails at £11,240.

The lesser 60PS (59bhp) BlueMotion unit I tried before is OK, but you’ll need patience and earplugs going up hills with a full load. The 75PS (74bhp) engine is noticeably more flexible and – because you’ll be less tempted to thrash it – will probably produce better real-world economy.

Both options are essentially the same three-cylinder 999cc unit, the difference in output is doubtless all down to the engine management software.

Officially, this High Up BlueMotion emits 98g/km CO2 and achieves 67.3mpg on the combined cycle. You may struggle to persuade the economy meter to register any numbers in the 60s unless you live at the top of a very big hill – I never saw better than the mid-50s.

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door rear interior

The BlueMotion Technology label indicates the fitment of automatic stop-start, eco tyres and an alternator set up to capture braking energy. Without them, the 75PS version of the Up emits more CO2 at 108g/km, but on the upside is £360 cheaper.

Whether you spend the extra will probably be determined by your proximity to London, because only the BlueMotion version can be registered as exempt from the Congestion Charge.

The High Up specification, meanwhile, brings attractive 15-inch spoked alloy wheels, front fog-lights, heated front seats, flashes of chrome interior trim, a removable “Maps & More” navigation device, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors.

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door rear badge

The skid-avoiding ESP safety system comes as standard on all but the base model Up, while an additional £225 is worth spending on the excellent City Emergency Braking system – a laser-based system that will drop anchor if you fail to spot an impending collision at up to 18mph.

Despite sitting three rungs up from the base model, the High Up still feels like fairly basic transport on the inside. You sit on rather than in the seats, and most surfaces you might touch are firm and unyielding. The engine’s rasping note will become a familiar companion, and there are lots of little reminders of the cost-cutting I mentioned at the outset. The front windows might be electric, for example, but you can’t control the passenger’s pane from the driver’s seat.

The five-speed gearbox feels as if its innards might be stuffed with rubber bands, while the steering has been tuned for parking rather than precision. The brakes inspire more confidence, fortunately, and the car’s relatively light 940kg mass helps to impart a feeling of perky agility through bends.

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door side view

I also like the fact I can see out of the Up in all directions. It must possess one of the best glass-to-bodywork ratios of any new car, courtesy of an unusually horizontal beltline and a refreshing lack of wedge-shaped styling aggression.

When I last drove the Up I concluded that the mid-range Move Up with the 60PS BlueMotion engine was the option to go for, offering the best balance of benefits, frugality and features.

Despite the Up’s newly broadened range, I haven’t changed my opinion. While the higher-power 75PS BlueMotion engine is a much better option, alas you can’t have it without also stretching to the High Up trim level – and the big £1,435 jump from Move Up to High Up simply isn’t justified in what still feels like a budget car.

Volkswagen High Up BlueMotion five-door front view

Which brings me to my real recommendation. Despite the oversized VW badge on the nose, this is not a premium car. Forget the pretence and consider a Skoda Citigo. It’s much the same car as the Up, but a five-door, 75PS GreenTech in top Elegance trim emits 98g/km and costs £10,370 – a useful £870 less than an Up with the same engine.

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