2012 Volkswagen Up! “Master of all small trades” road test review by Nick Johnson

The Volkswagen Up! is Volkswagen’s new city car and the first rung on the Volkswagen ladder. Volkswagen have been here before with the previous Fox model, a Brazilian built car that did the brand few favours because it wasn’t very good but this, they promise, is much better.

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - front

Price: £7,995 – £11,305

Availability: Now

The Up! (the exclamation mark is part of the branding) is competitively priced and it promises all the benefits of a city car – small size, nippy handling, superb fuel economy but combined with the quality and features of a much larger car.

Currently, the Up! is offered with two petrol three cylinder 1.0 litre engines, either in 59 brake horse power (bhp) or 72 bhp  guises. A three cylinder engine is ideal because it is light and punches above its weight in terms of power, giving real thrust and a buzzy sporty soundtrack all whilst sipping petrol to save you vital pounds.

There is a variety of model options available.  The base model is called Take Up! which is ideal if price is your number one factor, but the best news is that you still get all the hallmark Volkswagen quality albeit at the expense of any toys. And when I say toys, I mean no toys. Think manual wind up windows which if you were being kind you’d say, double as the ‘air-conditioning’ and there is no rev counter so changing gear has to be done by old fashioned sound! The next model is the Move Up! which adds electricity to the windows, proper air conditioning and driver’s seat height adjustment. The top of the range High Up! adds a removable satellite navigation system that also adds an information display (Bluetooth telephone connection, sound media) when plugged into the car.

There are some stylish special editions too with the Up! Black and Up! White; notice how they reversed the wording for these two models to avoid any embarrassing connotations!

Fuel economy is strong at over 60 miles per gallon and annual road tax is £20, thrifty!

Currently, there is only a three-door version that is available but a five door version comes out towards the end of 2012.


New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - side profile

This is an attractive car in a Germanic way which means it is handsome without being flash with some smart design touches.

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - rear


The front design with its bumper treatment is meant to evoke images of a smile, marketing spin no doubt but it still looks a quality item.

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - front

For us, it is the rear which lends itself to smart contemporary design with the way the tail lights integrate into the glass rear panel. Smart!


New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - interior

The VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) are masters at perceived quality and that is something that is always evident in their interiors. Everything works precisely, the buttons not only have a nice solid feel to them but they are also just where you want them. The plastics are of a high grade too, no sandpaper feel here!

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - dashboard

Ok, so it can’t match the design flair of Fiat’s ever cute 500 but it certainly is creative in its execution over the Japanese (Toyota IQ) / Korean (Kia Picanto) rivals. The only shame is that to have a flash interior you have to select the range topping High Up!, that way you can add a welcome splash of red colour! You can even have ‘leather look’ seats too, why normal leather cannot be offered I don’t know.

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - centre console

For such a small car which provides many ways of spending your money on options, the one thing you don’t have to pay a premium for is space. The Up! is incredibly spacious with good head and legroom (ok, loftier individuals may struggle in the back but, this was never meant to be a limousine). What the Up! can do though is transport four adults with a fair amount of luggage on a road trip with few complaints about the level of space. Think “premium economy” rather than “cattle class”.


Quality is where the Up! leads its rivals, not necessarily in tried and tested quality as it is too soon, but in perceived quality. It all just feels very substantial and very German. The doors shut with a nice thunk, all body panels are tight fitting and it is very refined on the move too. If you think city cars are loud, buzzy affairs, then go and try one of these blindfolded, you will convince yourself that you are sat in a much larger car.


The key to driving the Up! is to make sure the engine is up to speed and only then can you enjoy its nippy handling and surprising pace. Initially, it is a little sluggish, after all it does have a small engine that is not turbo-charged and therefore you need to rev the engine to get it to move with the progress you need in say motorway driving. Once up to speed it rewards you with decent cornering ability, a nice ride quality and an excitable soundtrack which although lively is never intrusive.

Before deciding which engine to choose, I would say to consider your likely driving requirements. Just town driving and likely limited passengers? The 59 horsepower will be adequate. For motorway driving and for those with lots of friends, take the higher 72 horsepower version as you will benefit from that little bit of extra poke and hopefully avoid heart-in-mouth overtaking manoeuvres.

The Up! also offers a broad appeal, keen enough handling to satisfythe inner racing driver in us all (from time to time) but also a ride compliant enough to not shake your teeth out. In ride and handling terms it provides the nice warm glow of being a happy medium.


 Safe, safe, safe! It has recently achieved the maximum 5-star rating in the European Safety Agency NCAP tests. Small no longer means safety last.


This is an extremely spacious car for its size; it will swallow four adults and their luggage in the good sized boot and whisk them away on a road trip.

Access into the rear is compromised a little by the very fact that, at present, it is just a three door, but remember, a five door version is coming at the end of the year.

On the Move Up! and High Up! the rear seats also fold which gives you extra luggage space, the only sacrifice you then have to make is which friends to leave behind as it then makes the rear seat(s) redundant.

New 2012 Volkswagen Up! road test review by Nick Johnson - photo - rear seat


The Up! was crowned World Car of the Year 2012 which is probably the best start you can have to launching a new car. Combine this with Volkswagen’s reputation for quality and dependability and you have a car that everyone wants. Demand far outstrips supply currently and the wait time for one is currently over four months. This is great for current owners and future ones too as it keeps prices high. The Up! is a safe car to invest your money in as it will offer class leading second hand values.

Like any car though, do not get sucked into ticking every option box, otherwise you will end up with a small car that’s just turned expensive. Remember, options rarely hold on to their value, so tick carefully.

Running costs although not class leading are still bargain basement, £20 annual road tax, over 60 miles per gallon and Group One insurance.


The Up! is certainly not revolutionary but, like all good school swots when judged against all key measures, it ticks all the boxes with ease. It is competitively priced too, but don’t get carried away, the Move Up! specification is the sweetest of the range.

The Volkswagen Up!, master of all small trades.

© Nick Johnson Motoring Journalist & Vehicle Consultant

The Competition

Fiat Panda from £8,900

Pros: Great to drive with real Italian charm.

Cons: The classic Panda shape may not appeal to all.


Please do contact us if you would like to discuss any of the above in greater detail or would like to enquire into purchasing options. As ever, let us be your personal guide to choosing your next car.


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