Click above for a high-res gallery of the Volkswagen up! Space concept.

It was rumored last week and now it's been confirmed: Volkswagen's up! minicar will be switched from a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout to a front-engine, front-wheel-drive arrangement when it goes on sale in 2011. According to VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, "Our engineers favored a rear engine and fought until the end for that solution." Unfortunately, the rear-engine layout had to be nixed due to cost constraints and the limitations it imposed on passenger space.

Volkswagen originally planned to launch the up! in Europe sometime in 2010, but the architecture switch has bumped back its sale date by four- to five-months, meaning it will likely hit showrooms in early 2011. While a few months wouldn't normally be a big deal, the Toyota IQ is set to debut in dealers early next year and the Fiat Topolino will launch late in 2009, putting VW behind the eight ball by almost two years.

Volkswagen plans to launch the up! in three flavors: a hatchback, minivan and sedan. The automaker expects sales in Europe and emerging markets to hit approximately 500,000 units per year, although a decision has yet to be reached on whether the up! will make it to the U.S.

Related GalleryLA 2007: VW space up! blue concept

Related GalleryVolkswagen up! Space Concept

[Source: Automotive News – Sub. Req.]