VW Up! Lite (2009) first official pictures

Published: 02 December 2009 Updated: 26 January 2015

Here’s our best look yet at what a Euro-spec VW Up microcar could look like. This VW Up! Lite concept car was shown at today’s 2009 LA auto show – to preview a productionised baby VW, with a diesel-electric powertrain for a stunning 116mpg economy figure.

The Up Lite! is openly based on many of the production parts of the forthcoming 2011 Up range, dubbed New Small Family. Originally, the Up had been engineered to be rear-engined and rear-drive, but the matrix  has swapped to a more conventional front-engine, front-drive layout.

This particular Up is also the biggest one yet: at 3840mm long, it’s only 14cm shorter than a Polo. Hence there’s space for four seats, wrapped up in the long-tail three-door bodystyle.

How come the new VW Up! Lite is so clean?

Remember the L1 car from the 2009 Frankfurt show? This takes many of that car’s innovations, puts them through a more rational, production feasible filter and spits out what could pass for a showroom Volkswagen a few years hence.

The powertrain is chiefly responsible for the 116mpg combined economy figure. There’s a new 800cc two-cylinder TDI diesel engine (also seeen in the L1, and heading to a showroom near you) developing 50bhp and mated to a 10kW electric motor, which acts as a starter, alternator and power source for zero-emissions running.

Driving through a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch box tuned for lazy economy, the Up! Lite is claimed to emit just 65g/km of CO2. No wonder VW calls it the world’s cleanest four-seater.

That’s some claim!

True, but then a tiny diesel hybrid set-up in a small city car is going to be clean, isn’t it? The Up Lite! can operate over short distances on electric power alone, topping up the lithium ion battery with regenerative braking. Start-stop stems the exhaust emissions at a standstill.

And the structure of the Up! Lite concept car is admirably low on calories too. It’s efficient at a 0.237 drag coefficient and its 695kg kerb weight is surely the major key to its efficiency. There’s aluminium and clever use of thin steels, but less reliance on fanciful composites like on the L1.

Such a flyweight mass is also a recipe for spritely performance. It’ll top 100mph and hit 60mph in 12.0sec. Not bad for an 800cc mini.

Remind me, when can I buy a real VW Up?

From autumn 2011, in selected territories. And judging by the recent concepts we’ve seen, we’d have to say it still promises to be one of the most techincally interesting small car projects currently underway at any European car maker.

There will be a production Up electric vehicle on sale by 2013, VW R&D boss Ulrich Hackenberg told CAR this evening. Prototypes are already on the road and he revealed that Skoda and Seat would also be given access to the EV tech – meaning they can sell the car if they can make the figures stack up.

Will some of the more outlandish details make production? Probably not. But VW is keen to talk about the active aero on this car (radiator grille flaps that open or shut depending on cooling needs), low-drag cameras instead of mirrors and iPod style touchscreens to control many cabin functions. Come 2012, many of these could be affordable even on mass-market small cars.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words