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VW E-Up (2013) review

Published:03 December 2013

VW E-Up (2013) review
  • At a glance
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Fitting VW’s charming, playful city car with an electric drivetrain makes perfect sense – and we now know it'll cost £19,250 in the UK when it goes on sale in 2014. The E-Up qualifies for the UK government's £5000 EV grant, which is handy (the real price is a huge £24,250)...
 
‘Competitive’ is the word a VW spokesperson used to describe the pricing for the new VW E-Up as was unveiled to a home crown advantage at Germany’s Frankfurt motor show. Competitive with what? The electric Up has have a sticker price between the £14k Renault Zoe EV and one of the show’s stars, the BMW i3, which starts at £25k. The petrol Up! is a star performer with loads of character making it fun to drive, so can replacing its thrummy 1.0-litre three-cylinder with an electric motor deliver a decent drive, or does it push the price and dynamics beyond common sense? 

How long – and far – can I drive the VW E-Up?

The electric Up! makes 80bhp with an electric motor mounted on top of the front axle. It’s teamed with an 11.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s mounted under the rear seat and, thanks to the wheels of the Up! being pushed to each corner, ahead of the rear axle. It’s still front-wheel drive, of course, and instead of the five-speed manual gearbox or loathsome automatic, there’s a single-speed transmission offering two forward choices: D, for driver, and B, for Braking. The driveline is capable of a 99-mile range, after which you’ll need nine hours to give it a full charge from a regular power socket (fast chargers can achieve an 80 per cent charge in 30mins). It adds 210kg to the Up!, but it’s still a reasonable 1139kg, and its acceleration from 0-62mph is 12.4-seconds, which makes it the quickest Up! You can buy. Top speed is 80mph – so you may save on speeding tickets…

How will my neighbours know that I’m saving the planet?

They won’t. Refreshingly, the E-Up doesn’t advertise its green credentials like the BMW i3 or the rolling billboard for Toyota that is the Prius. If you live next door to a VW dealer, he might notice the front bumper’s C-shaped DRLs, one-off seven-spoke alloys or the lack of an exhaust poking out beneath the E-Up’s trendy back windscreen – or that he didn’t hear you leave for work at 6am thanks to the E-Up’s near silent progress.

What’s it like to drive?

Almost as good, which means that it’s easy and no-fuss in driving in urban areas, like Frankfurt, where we test the E-Up on a wet morning. Thanks to the identical cabin, the driving position is the same as the regular version (comfortable, with good all-round vision) and the dash displays an eco-gauge with brake-regeneration as well as a digital readout of the remaining range. The gearlever looks like a conventional auto, but as well as D, there’s a switch in front of the shifter with Normal, Eco and Eco Plus modes – Eco dropping power to 50kW, and Eco down to 40kW, extending the range yet making the throttle noticeably doughier.
 
You can also choose the amount of braking regeneration by selecting D1, D2 or D3. In the highest – D3 – there’s suitable neck snapping on throttle lift-off, so much that the brake lights come on…
 
For the best throttle response, select D and Normal – the default setting – and the instant torque means you’ll be racing scooters off the lights and breaking the speed limit without realising it, as the drivetrain makes next-to-no-noise. There’s little wind noise, too, with faint tyre noise the only backing track to the Up’s perky nature. Sneaky gaps, snappy lane changes – it was born to be thrown about in traffic – and it doesn’t feel much heavier around town than the petrol-powered Up.
 
It’s not quite as sharp, though: the steering is light, responsive and the ride is compliant yet not crashy, but the E-Up! does have a tendency to understeer earlier than we’re used to, and the brake pedal –perfectly capable of pulling it Up – is a little hard. We didn’t venture onto the motorway, and VW expects that not many owners will: this car’s natural habitat is the city, and it’s brilliantly adept in it’s playground.

What does it cost in terms of space?

The E-Up is offered in five-door form only, and you lose only a tiny mount of space, with its 250-litre boot area, which expands to 923 with the rear seats folded, only 28 less than petrol versions’. Yet there’s the same roominess for passengers, meaning a six-foot passenger fits comfortable in the rear seat behind a similarly sized driver. 

How much does VW want for it – and why would I want one?

Regardless of price, the E-Up is an excellent urban warrior, combining practicality, character, and running costs like no other. Yet that practicality is limited by its charging capability: if you live in a flat in London, how far is the nearest charging station – or will you be bulk-buying extension leads? While this afflicts every electric car on sale right now, when looking at the zero-emission bunch in isolation, the VW badge alone may push people past the Renault Zoe into the new electric Up, but its success will be down to the price. If it’s halfway between the Zoe and i3 (VW hasn’t suggested how close pricing will be to either of these), then that’s around a £20k ask. It’ll be strictly sold in one trim level, fully loaded with sat-nav and heated seats, but it’s a massive £12k more than the entry-level petrol Up.

Verdict

You’d have to drive a long way to make it economically viable – and urban dwellers don’t. So we’ll pause on our order, even if the £19k E-Up is one of the most complete, realistic and livable EVs on the menu so far.

Specs

Price when new: £19,250
On sale in the UK: 2014
Engine: Synchronous electric motor, 80bhp, 154lb ft
Transmission: Single-speed, front-wheel drive
Performance: 12.4sec 0-62mph, 80mph, 99-mile range, 0g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1139kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3540/1645/1477mm

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