Vital Stats

Engine:
1.0L I3
Power:
74 HP / 70 LB-FT
Transmission:
5-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
13.0 Seconds
Top Speed:
107 MPH
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,072 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
33.6 CU-FT (max)
MPG:
40 City / 59 HWY (est.)
The Best Little Car We Can't Have



Despite the fact that the Smart ForTwo has pretty much been a flop here in the United States (and understandably so), we Americans are slowly but surely warming up to intelligent little city cars. The Fiat 500, which got off to a slow start, is gaining traction; Scion is now pushing its miniscule iQ in all markets, and General Motors has just opened the gates on the Chevrolet Spark. But until widespread success in this segment is firmly on record, it's no secret that automakers are hesitant to bring over their smallest offerings. It's one thing to import hundred-thousand-dollar supercars, but when you're trying to compete with a low-price-point product, additional import costs only hurt the business case.

Elsewhere 'round the globe, Volkswagen is enjoying early success with its Up! minicar, the tiny runabout that was named 2012 World Car of the Year during the New York Auto Show. And since VW brought an Up! to the States in order to proudly take the stage during that Big Apple award ceremony, the automaker sent its worldly winner on a tour-de-America. We grabbed the keys for a few days during its stay in the Motor City.
We could litter this entire review with synonyms of "small" to describe the Up!'s stature, but we'll put it in some better perspective for you – it's nearly identical in size to the Fiat 500. The Up! is ever-so-slightly shorter in overall length, a tiny bit wider and 1.5 inches shorter in height, but rides on a wheelbase that's a full 5.3 inches longer than the Fiat. That added space between the axles not only gives the car the sort of short-overhang dimensions that we love, but aids massively in interior packaging efficiency. Attractive 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 185/55-series Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tires fit snugly at all four corners, as well.

2012 Volkswagen Up! side view2012 Volkswagen Up! front view2012 Volkswagen Up! rear view

The end result is a small car that's as cute as a button with not a single offensive styling element to our eyes. We like the way the grille forms a big grin around the painted front bumper and that same design element is mimicked at the rear. The Up! isn't all bubbly like a Fiat 500, using more squared-off lines and a vertical glass hatch, but this lack of roundness goes the distance once you're inside.

The Up! isn't all bubbly like a Fiat 500, using more squared-off lines and a vertical glass hatch.

That cabin is perhaps one of this runabout's biggest surprises, where Volkswagen decided to employ a straight-to-the-point, clean-and-simple, functional design scheme rather than some of the cutesy designs found on other small cars that just turn out to be complete ergonomic messes. Directly in front of you is a flat-bottomed steering wheel with no redundant audio controls that sits in front of a refreshingly basic instrument cluster. The only stalks and buttons within arm's reach feature minimal amounts of functions. To your right is a small control unit for the climate and audio functions with minimal amounts of buttons and knobs. It's all you need, and it works.

As for niceties, this Up! packs more goodies than you might think just by looking at the interior. The small dash-mounted removable Navigon screen houses a whole host of infotainment features and, as its name suggests, navigation functionality, and those front cloth seats are even heated. They're cushy, too, though we'd eagerly welcome some additional bolstering for our American-sized backs and thighs.

2012 Volkswagen Up! interior2012 Volkswagen Up! front seats2012 Volkswagen Up! rear seats2012 Volkswagen Up! rear cargo area

For the remainder of the interior, the theme is functionality above all else. There are plenty of storage cubbies to be found in the center stack, doors and even the sills that flank the rear bench. Speaking of which, we had no issues climbing behind the front seats, and because of the high position of the front chairs, there's a good amount of toe room to keep you comfortable if you are forced into the back. We packed four adults into the Up! at one point without a single gripe to be heard. In addition to rear seats that fold flat, there's added storage space under the floor of the cargo area for a total of 33.6 cubic feet of usable space for your goods.

It's certainly not fast, this Up! – hitting 60 mph will take you a full 13 seconds (yes, even a Prius is quicker).

All in, the Up! offers a better-appointed and more spacious interior than what we find in the Fiat 500 or Chevrolet Spark, proving that while we can gripe all we want about the cost-cutting found in the North American-spec Jetta's cabin, Volkswagen does still know how to make a premium small car interior.

The automaker has employed a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine here in the Up!, good for 75 horsepower and 70 pound-feet of torque. Miniscule numbers, no doubt, but it's fine for this 2,072-pound three-door hatchback. It's certainly not fast, this Up! – hitting 60 miles per hour will take you a full 13 seconds (yes, even a Prius is quicker) – but it isn't a total slowpoke, either. Being able to row your own gears with the five-speed manual transmission helps make the most of the limited power, too.

2012 Volkswagen Up! engine

The driving experience was not quite what we expected... in a good way.

That said, the driving experience was not quite what we expected... in a good way. The Up! may use a gasoline-fed inline-three, but it has diesel-like characteristics – everything from the sound it makes to the power delivery. First gear is short and you'll want to shift sooner rather than later, but once you've plunked into second, there's a good deal of low-end grunt to get you going. The same goes for third gear, and the final two cogs are merely there to keep the revs down when you're cruising. The transmission itself is nicely tuned, though like many other Volkswagens, the clutch is a bit vague. The gearbox itself offers solid engagement, and while we can see the argument for wanting shorter throws while shifting, they don't feel unusually or unpleasantly long.

Even after you've counted to 13 and are coasting at 60 mph, the Up! doesn't tremble at the idea of being pushed farther. We had no issues cruising at 80 mph, and while driving through one heck of a rainstorm, the little Up! held its own with confidence and poise on the wide freeways surrounding Detroit. The upright design and low weight does mean there's a tendency to be tossed around by strong crosswinds, and even during pleasant weather, wind noise is no stranger in the spacious cabin.

2012 Volkswagen Up! headlight2012 Volkswagen Up! logo2012 Volkswagen Up! wheel2012 Volkswagen Up! taillight

During our few days of driving, we had no problem coasting just above the 50-mpg mark.

As for fuel economy, the Up! absolutely excels here. Where a Fiat 500 won't even hit 40 miles per gallon with its 1.4-liter MultiAir inline-four, the Up! boasts city/highway numbers of 40 and 59 miles per gallon, respectively – converted from the EU cycle. During our few days of driving, we had no problem coasting just above the 50-mpg mark, making that absolutely best-in-class by a long shot compared to what's available here in the States.

But what really sweetens this deal is just how rewarding the Up! is to drive. The steering is direct and linear, with good on-center feel and plenty of feedback. It's worlds better than what the Fiat offers. You run into a few issues with the short wheelbase when driving over uneven road surfaces – the Up! will bounce around a bit – but it's nothing unexpected for a car this size. Beyond that, the Up! offers a comfortable cruising ride for long drives on the highway. Once you're on twisty roads, don't be alarmed if you experience some body roll and understeer built in to the front-wheel-drive chassis, but again, it's nothing out of the ordinary for small cars. And even so, it's better than the lot of what's offered in this country. In fact, the li'l Up! could even give larger cars like the Honda Fit or Chevrolet Sonic a run for their money in terms of overall driver involvement.

2012 Volkswagen Up! rear 3/4 view

But here's where this delicious piece of bite-size forbidden fruit turns bittersweet. Volkswagen has reiterated over and over again that it will not be selling the Up! in the United States. And if VW thought about taking the plunge on bringing over one of its sub-Golf offerings, more robust models like the Polo would certainly make more sense for our biggie-sized tastes.

And then there's the pricing issue. The bigger-is-better Jetta sedan starts at $16,675, so the Up! would need to come in below $15,000. But in order to do that, Volkswagen would likely need to move production of its minicar to North America – Mexico, probably – in order to keep cost down as much as possible. If the Up! could start under $14,000, that'd be gravy, but that's obviously easier said than done. And adding the necessary enhancements (read: weight) to meet U.S. crash and pedestrian standards would likely affect the car's excellent, flickable dynamics. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Sadly, the Volkswagen Up! might just be the best little car we can't have.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 145 Comments
      rsholland
      • 2 Years Ago
      The true heir to the original VW bug. Lets compare: New VW Up! Engine: 1.0L I3 Power: 74 HP / 70 LB-FT Transmission: 5-Speed Manual 0-60 Time: 13.0 Seconds Top Speed: 107 MPH Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive Curb Weight: 2,072 LBS Seating: 2+2 Cargo: 33.6 CU-FT (max) MPG: 40 City / 59 HWY (est.) Original VW Beetle (I used to own a '62 sunroof) Engine: 1.2L H4 ('62 model) Power: 40 HP / 64 LB-FT Transmission: 4-Speed Manual 0-60 Time: ~ 27.0 Seconds Top Speed: 72 MPH Drivetrain: Rear engine, Rear-Wheel Drive Curb Weight: ~ 1,600 LBS Seating: 4 Cargo: ? CU-FT (not much) MPG: ~ 30
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      Nah, the best little cars that Americans can't buy will be the VW Up-e and the Up GT! ;-) Both coming in Europe in 2013. Here is the GT: 'In a word, it’s brilliant. The 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, now with 109bhp and an especially impressive 120lb ft of torque to pass through the gearbox (which has one more forward speed than standard manual gearbox cars) begins to sound like a baby Porsche 911 as soon as you use it with a bit of commitment, which its light but accurate controls instantly encourage you to do. The turbo triple feels strong where you'd expect — towards its 6500 rpm redline — but it also pulls keenly from below 2000 revs and has remarkably little turbo lag for such a small engine. Not just that, it also glides smoothly and discreetly around the city on light throttle openings. The fact that it’ll do 0-62mph in a brisk 8.5 seconds, and about 118 mph flat out is only a fraction of the story. The whole thing simply reeks of painstaking VW development. The Volkswagen Up GT rides a little more firmly than the standard car, but remains well-damped and supple. It's ultra-stable in corners and has lots of grip, but will reluctantly understeer when you get to the limit. Driving it hard is easy, but very rewarding. And thanks to the tall sixth gear (I think I saw around 3500 rpm at an indicated 90-odd mph) you feel you could drive this car comfortably and quietly across Europe. It's that good.' http://www.autocar.co.uk/car-review/volkswagen/up/first-drives/volkswagen-up-gt Both the performance and the interior space is more or less identical to the original Golf GT.
        Lachmund
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        GTI you mean
        Lachmund
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        GTI you mean
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Lachmund
          Nope, this is a GT with a single Turbo. No doubt a GT i with twin turbos and really pokey performance will follow in due course. I would expect at least a sub 7 second 0-60
          Lachmund
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Lachmund
          the concept had even plaid seats...it is meant as a true successor to the first GTI which had exactly the same weight, size and power figures...just saying
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Lachmund
          Yeah, the seats will be much more supportive than the somewhat flat and short seats in the standard model. VW do not put their GTi label on anything that slow though. Not when they can do a true hot hatch with twins at a premium later.
      Michael
      • 2 Years Ago
      The least expensive VW that gets decent fuel (35+ MPG) mileage is the $23k Jetta TDI. Something in the $15k range would be a welcome addition. Who, exactly, needs 0-60 'performance' for city driving, where this thing would excel?
      telm12345
      • 2 Years Ago
      Growing up, my mom had a Fiat Uno and my dad had a Peugeot 205 (80's). I loved the 205. I live in NYC now, so small cars still make sense to me, but I think the problem is that the average U.S. driver doesn't fit these vehicles' profile. Forget our big butts even, our average driving distance is much higher. According to DOT, the U.S. averages about 1,123 miles of travel per month. In the U.K., for example, it is only 702.5 (sourced from UK's Department for Transport, or DFT). That's 60% more. On top of that, our gas prices aren't nearly as high. So they can't really make the case to bring these cars over here. Its the same reason that Fiats, MINIs, smarts, mopeds and motorcycles can't make headway in the U.S. like they do in Europe.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @telm12345
        Here in the UK more of our miles are urban, too, and in those circumstances these tiny cars are much more economic. The Up is also over a foot shorter than the Polo, which means that parallel parking is much easier in our congested streets. I can park a car like this in less than the total length of the Polo.
          telm12345
          • 2 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Totally agree. Anecdotally, I also think we have a more suburban lifestyle here than in Europe. People seem to live more in apartments/townhouses in Europe than here.
      Lingenfelter
      • 2 Years Ago
      That face reminds me of comic book guy from the Simpsons...
        Andy Dufresne
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Lingenfelter
        "Worst... front end... ever." I have to agree... though it's not as bad as that black trim on the rear. That's just Honda-hideous.
      chryslercarl
      • 1 Year Ago
      But after owning 2 new Volkswagens ( Super Beetle and Rabbit) and 3 used ones, it would be very difficult for me to convince myself that Volkswagen is not the German word for \"Junk\".
      chryslercarl
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sad that it won\'t be available in the USA.
      JC
      • 2 Years Ago
      I actually like it.a lot...it will probably will do well in the U.S. if 1) price is great 2) to be very economical matching its tiny size 3) have a peppy engine 4) do great in crash tests...hey the Chevy Spark is selling well as well as the Fiat 500 in recent months - the Scion iQ I believe has been a complete failure for Toyota. The article states it has "premium" interior...I don't see that in any of the interior pics!
      Sorten Borten
      • 2 Years Ago
      Steven Ewing: I'd love to see the formula you used to convert the fuel economy from the EU cycle. :-)
      ANDREW
      • 2 Years Ago
      ive wanted this car since it was a rear engined concept!! i would replace my GTI with it,making it my 12th VW..DAS AUTO
        Lingenfelter
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ANDREW
        A large number of cars owned from one brand doesn't necessarily mean they are great. Why have you owned so many? Have you owned more than one at a time? Do you buy them for demolition derbys? High-milers that you buy on the cheap and drive until they need a substantial repair investment? I've been driving one Chevrolet for 9 years now, and I bought it after someone else's 2-year lease, after depreciation had it's way with it. Cost of ownership (purchase price and repairs), works out to less than 2k/year. Not trashing any other brand, just curious as to why you think owning 12 VWs is such a good thing - I'm missing some details which may make it more (or less) impressive.
      protovici
      • 2 Years Ago
      Better Up! the insurance policy if you get hit.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @protovici
        [blocked]
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @protovici
        All European cars from 2012 on have Electronic Skid Control, including the Up. I am not sure if this is compulsory in the US. Cars fitted with this have a 40% lower death rate than cars without.
        Lachmund
        • 2 Years Ago
        @protovici
        this car probably is than most of the cars around where you live
      A P
      • 2 Years Ago
      Total BS review.........if this would have been an American or Asian car, it would have been trashed for being slow and the interior plain......AB and AOL are a owned pony for VW. No VW gets an honest review......total BJs are the order of the day. I guess all that VW ad money does not go to waste.
        foxtrot685
        • 2 Years Ago
        @A P
        ummmm... You do realize that Autoblog didnt have many great things to say about their long term Jetta TDI, right? According to your logic, it would have been all praises for it and they would have awarded it best car in the world. That wasnt the case, in fact they were glad to get rid of it. A great product gets a great review, a crappy product gets a crappy review. You see how this works?
        aatbloke1967
        • 2 Years Ago
        @A P
        A P - give it up, and then grow up.
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