Volkswagen’s funky urban warrior

January 14, 2017

Brendan Seery

Over Christmas, someone asked me: of all the cars you’ve drive, what’s the best? That’s a difficult question and that’s an easy question.

The easy answer is that most of them interested me…very few were really horrible. Now lest you think I am a sucker for motor company PR (those who read this column know I can be very rude about cars), let me say this: I am a true petrolhead. In other words, I love everything with wheels and engines. And if they’ve got wings, even better.

For me, driving a vehicle – any vehicle – is a privilege. Each drive is different, but all are the same in the sense that you are in control of a car and, to a lesser extent, your destiny. The wheels go where you turn them. Don’t even mention driver-less cars to me…

The more difficult answer to the what’s best question would entail a lot of detailed soul-searching to filter out emotions and assess for what it is meant to do– its mission.

Being a true petrolhead means I can live with most anything which gives me the privilege of driving. I don’t need mega-kilowatts or neck-snapping acceleration to be happy…although I don’t often say now when they’re there for the taking.

So, while there has been a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst car lovers about the proliferation of tiny “econo-boxes”, that doesn’t faze me.

So, when Volkswagen’s up! appeared here, first time around a year or so ago, I was prepared to be charmed. And I was. It’s meant for the city, with its small 0.9 litre. three-cylinder petrol engine and it does a fine job in an urban setting. It returns good fuel economy and is well made and well-equipped, as you’d expect with a VW.


Segment leader: VW’s up! really is a baby Golf

Recently, though, VW rationalised the up! range and now sells only five door cars. This has its pros and cons. I like a car with two doors (not counting the hatch of course). But it is not practical. Two doors have to be extra long to allow people access to the rear seats…which means you’re going to bash them into other cars and into walls a lot more frequently than you would imagine. And getting into the back is still awkward.


So, the up! with four doors and a hatch is, at a stroke, a funky city companion which can be used to cart a couple of your friends around for short distances.

The rear end has been slightly re-designed


I was less impressed with the new alloy wheels, which, in the version we had, were not as sexy as the ones in the three-door. Also, another oddity was that this particular car did not come with a trip computer as standard (you have to pay an extra R4 250 for the “Drive” pack to get that).

That annoyed me a bit because one of the reasons I would buy an up! would be to show off (to others and myself) how clever I had been in buying such a frugal car. If you get more than 6 litres per 100km out of this car anywhere, then you’re driving like a lunatic.


Simple, easy-to-use cabin layout and quality materials

What did strike me this time around when I was perhaps blinded by the cuteness and newness of the first up! we tested, was just how good this car is. It really is a baby Golf, which is, by far and away, the benchmark in its class. Aircon is stunning, seats are comfortable, there is not a single rattle.


Dynamically it is satisfyingly accomplished, given its modest tyres and basic suspension. It is fun to drive – and in a counterintuitive way: precisely because it doesn’t have power. So you can fully enjoy the chassis and the handling without worrying you’ll end up in an expensive, high-powered wreck.

Sure, the car is expensive when compared to those which are considered its rivals. But, you want quality, you pay.

Best of all, for an enthusiastic driver, “buying down” to an up! – and accepting that is the way the world is going – would have no “Down!” side.


It’s an urban warrior


Second Opinion

January 14, 2017

Greg Baxter

Having grown up on “baby cars”- I had 5 of the original Minis  –  I chose to drive the new VW up! instead of a bigger supposedly more capable car which we had on test at the time. I was not disappointed. The Up! is definitely a breath of fresh air in today’s car market where a lot of the new models are so distressingly alike. Firstly, the fuel consumption for a naturally aspirated car is phenomenal! For a change, I got a consumption figure better than Wheels editor Brendan Seery – just. Usually I can’t get near his figures, so that was cool! To get 21 km per lire on a small petrol motor was a joy.

To quantify this statement, I must mention that as a biker who has had 55 motorcycles in 43 years of riding, I recently downgraded my everyday bike to one with more comfort, easier handling  AND 28km per litre from 700cc. A rough thumbsuck figure tells me my bike and the up! are very close in the miserly department!

Brendan did warn me that the fuel gauge needle took ages to move- it took 270 km to move! Beat that!

The up!I drove was the top of the range model costing R194 500 ish, though the entry-level model costs around R164 000. Horses for courses, neigh?

There is a trade-off however, and this is a hole in the power delivery just after idle. I found that if I was smooth and progressive with the loud pedal (read slower) it was much less noticeable. Once up to speed, it was reasonably quick. Consider that the 55Kw is the same as a Mazda 323 1.5 of yesteryear!

The VW up! which Brendan and Greg test drove: a bit plainer than its predecessor, but still cute.                                                                                  Photo: Greg Baxter


The up! was a pleasure to drive: Quiet, good roadholding and smooth. It has a cheeky appearance and plenty of room up front.

It has ABS and EBD, electric windows up front, 5-speed gearbox, mag wheels, daytime driving lights and tyre pressure monitors.

I believe VW have now released a turbo version with almost double the torque and the power has risen from 55 to 66Kw. How would it affect that awesome consumption? Not great is my bet!