The only way is up! for modern people's car range
Volkswagen's electric car drives like a mk1 Golf GTI that has been reimagined for the cost-conscious climate, and it's going down a storm in Germany, writes Graeme Lambert
IT might be well into 2012 already, but everyone's still trying to slim back down after the almost forgotten festive season.
The roads are full of new-age cyclists, gyms over-populated with middle-aged men and the diet books are back on the bestseller lists. But, contrary to these resolutions, Volkswagen is trying its hardest to expand, to enlarge and to embellish.
And it's all because of its little up! -- a model that shot straight to the top of the sales charts in its home country within a month of its launch.
This bestseller looks set to become the real modern-day People's Car, a niche that Volkswagen is infamous for filling. But buyers are a good deal more sophisticated than they were in 1938, expecting more choice and more car. Volkswagen bosses have said, "There will be a big up! family," and admitted that there are many more cars in the pipeline. So here we have the first three models to join the current car, and we've driven them for the first time.
First up (see what we did there) is the five-door, which, until the Volkswagen boffins reveal any more examples of the up! family, is the most practical model available.
Crucially, though, it's also set to be the bestseller, expected to take around 60 per cent of sales -- which, considering the success of the five-door Polo (a 75/25 sales split over the three-door), doesn't seem unrealistic.
Aimed at 'silvers' (referring to the likely hair colour of the older generation) and those with young families, the five-door is actually no different in size to the three-door model. In fact, with the same dimensions, there's no more room inside either, though that still means there's plenty of space for occupants to stretch their legs -- even if they're full-size adults.
It looks almost exactly the same as well, the only changes being the addition of the doors themselves, which bring extra shut-lines and a different window line. Even the rear glass remains pop-out rather than slide-down.
Still, access to the rear is greatly improved, which makes it ideal for those that regularly ferry young children around. And no matter which model you choose, it remains just as cool to look at as the three-door variant, maintaining its appeal across the board.
Engine choices remain the same as well, with two 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol units offering 60hp or 75hp. There is little to distinguish them, though if you plan to fully load-up your up! on regular occasion the more powerful unit may be a wiser choice.
Regardless of output, though, both plaster a grin on your face when you drive them -- the three-cylinder soundtrack encouraging you to explore every inch of the rev-range. It's a fun unit to keep spinning (handy as peak torque doesn't appear until 3,000rpm) and is helped by the light five-speed manual gearbox.
Those less keen on effort can now take a lazier option and specify an automatic up! Beware, though, the excellent dual-clutch DSG unit was deemed to be too heavy, so it makes do with a relatively crude robotised manual -- smooth changes and lightning reactions are not its fortes.
There's also an automatic of sorts in the next up! we drove, though, in fact, the all-electric e-up! actually uses a single forward ratio. Still, powered by an 82hp electric motor, with 210Nm of torque on tap from idle, it needs no more than this.
On the move, the distant hum of the electric motor gives way to serious acceleration, the 0-100km/h estimate of 'under 14 seconds' grossly downplaying this car's performance at urban speeds.
It's built on a bespoke platform as well, so there's no real clue (save for the silent running) that this up! is any different to the other models.
The cabin now boasts a charge meter in the instrument binnacle and that auto-style gear lever, but it's just as stylish, cute and well-built as the others. It's from this lever that you can meter the amount of brake energy recuperation utilised as well, though the most efficient mode provokes some rapid slowing down when lifting off the accelerator -- and won't be to everyone's tastes.
It charges quickly as well, offering a 145km range after only 5.5 hours of charging on a conventional home system (30 minutes on a dedicated fast charger), so range anxiety shouldn't be an issue unless you venture out of town. If you do, you'll notice there is a little extra weight to contend with (blame the batteries) and a touch more body roll, but in the end the e-up! proves to be just as much fun as its conventionally powered brethren.
The electric model will come to Ireland by 2013, unlike the third model we got behind the wheel of. It's not confirmed for sale here as yet, but it's so good I implore you to start bombarding your local dealer with questions and requests about the up! GT.
Think MK1 Golf GTI re-imagined for the current climate and you'll pretty much have it. It boasts the same power-to-weight ratio as its forefather, this time propulsion provided by a turbo-charged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 110hp.
It's responsive and rather rapid when pressing on, and thanks to larger wheels and stiffer suspension it's as much fun round the bends as it is in a straight line. There's even some bespoke bodywork and the reappearance of the classic Interlagos-style cloth for the sports seats. In short, we want one -- so please Volkswagen Ireland, do the right thing and bring it in.
Even if that doesn't happen, the latest confirmed up! models will likely prove to be a big hit -- every one a great addition to the range. Modern media may put pressure on people to stay slim, but for me the Volkswagen up! range can continue to get as fat as it likes.
Sunday Independent Supplement