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U-turn! VW's Up will be front-engined (2008)

By Phil McNamara

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19 July 2008 13:51

Shock news from Volkswagen: the Up city car and spiritual successor to the original Beetle will switch to a front engine/front-wheel drive layout, CAR can confirm. Despite the 2007 concept being rear-engined like the iconic 'people's car', VW suits have approved a switch to a front-mounted three-cylinder engine. 'For cost, design and aerodynamic reasons, we will probably have to put the engine at the front,' a VW source told CAR. Our further investigations reveal that a front-engined Up is a done deal – and it's mostly for cost reasons.

By ditching a standalone rear-drive platform, the Up will have much greater drivetrain and component commonality with other front-drive VWs. It will also be much easier to integrate on existing production lines. All told, the decision will save Volkswagen hundreds of millions in investment.

Our sources vow that the Up concept's wonderful looks and proportions won't be compromised. 'The show car's small front overhang stays. In fact, the front-engined car is more faithful to the concept than the rear-engined package we developed,' one insider revealed.

The good news is that the four-seat production car has only grown by 4mm (not 400mm, as reported earlier), making it truly city car-sized and shorter than Ford's outgoing Ka. Power will come from a 1.2-litre three cylinder engine, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged to provide a range of outputs.

A source also said that the engine switch would prevent some tail-happy instability in cross winds, as well as eliminating the complexity of channeling coolant from the front-mounted radiator to a rear engine.

The changes will delay Up sales until 2011, with deluxe versions for western customers and budget versions to tap growing demand in the developing world.

• A front-engined Up is a pragmatic decision – but will it diminish the concept's novel charm? Post your views by clicking the 'add your comment' box below