How the latest small EV from Volkswagen cheered me-up!

Back on the market, the e-up! hatch looks a better fit this time around

The latest Volkswagen e-up! might have a dated-looking interior but it packs a surprising punch

Eddie Cunningham

The Volkswagen e-up! urban electric car has dipped under the radar for a long time now as the spotlight shifted to its more modern electric siblings and their rivals.

First introduced in 2012, it disappeared altogether from the Irish new-car market for a good while. It was too expensive when compared with the price of its petrol-powered equivalents. It was heavily updated back in 2019 but the big question of price could not be answered.

However, this year it went back on sale here again, this time against a backdrop of surging demand for all EVs. A small urban battery electric vehicle (BEV) such as the e-up! looks a far better proposition at €27,318 these days than before.

But you’d be right to ask if an EV last updated in 2019 has real relevance in the constantly updating new world of EVs.

I pondered the sense of buying one after initially scanning a dullish cabin with an old-fashioned dash. The small central screen reinforced my reservations. It looks quite dated when you consider the verve and vibrancy of some competitors (the Honda e springs to mind immediately).

I felt the screen and dashboard looked like they had been taken from an older Volkswagen parts bin. By contrast, the exterior looked quite fresh. Tall and angular, it has stood the test of time quite well since the heavy 2019 revision.

So, with serious misgivings, I turned the key. Yes it has a key you slot into the ignition – now there’s something you don’t see much of these days.

It didn’t take long to realise there was more to this little BEV than first met the eye. From the “petrol-car” sound at lower speeds (to let others know it was coming) to the adroit nature of its handling and ride, it eased my fears.

So much so, I became mightily intrigued. I saw how, in many ways, it could be viewed as bridging two eras: the fledgling, often clunky, adaptations of fossil fuel vehicles to accommodate battery packs, and the current proliferation of made-to-measure highly-digitalised colourful and contoured “computers on wheels”.

After plenty of variable driving I had come to change my opinion and attitude fairly radically.

It may not have the charm of the Mini Electric, or the design and engagement of the Honda e, to take two examples, but it outguns them on practicality and solid all-round ability.

I don’t think any other rival looks after taller passengers (especially those in the rear) as well it does. Interior space is excellent for a city car. Its height contributes to the sense of space.

And boot size was better than I expected. Its 251-litre capacity sounds small but is well used vertically with a recessed store for cables not interfering with space.

As these little urban EVs go, it had a drive appeal all of its own. That doesn’t make a lot of difference, I hear you say, and you’d be right but I enjoyed every minute I spent behind the wheel. It’s not something you’d always say about a small VW over the years. I just loved driving it. Except, perhaps, when it rained. The wipers kicked up a hell of a shuddering racket and my front-seat passenger issued dire warnings if I didn’t mention that flaw. Picky, I agree, but it was a bit annoying, I have to admit.

Worthy of mention, for the sheer fun of it, was my small drive over a surface I don’t come across too often in a car. In this case it was the cobblestones of Trinity that provided a classic test for tyre noise and bumpy ride. Over the hallowed undulating underfoot pavements of the varied byways, the little VW’s suspension kept a confident equilibrium. And it slipped easily through some narrow spots.

I know I have a hang-up about parking but this was a city driver’s dream. I confidently slotted it into places where I had no right to go.

I grew accustomed to the tiny central display which, if made for an EV today, would have a 12.3in full infotainment screen.

Instead it is complemented by an adjustable dock on the dash where your smartphone slots in. When you load it with the Maps+More app it acts as a sort of small touchscreen.

Worthy of praise is the highly visible display of battery power levels in the screen to the right of the steering wheel. They claim 253km of range: 200km/210km is more realistic, I reckoned.

Steering-wheel remote controls for radio and cruise control were as VW as you could find anywhere.

So after all that I say don’t be put off by the dated nature of some areas of the e-up! This is a far, far better BEV than it might appear on first acquaintance. It certainly cheered me-up! Well worth a test drive.

Volkswagen e-up! – Factfile

Volkswagen e-up! urban battery electric vehicle (BEV). Price: €27,318 on the road, 32.5kWh (net) lithium-ion battery pack, 82hp motor.

Road tax €120, range 253km (claimed), charge at up to 7.2kW (AC power) or 37kW on DC charger.

Standard trim includes Maps+More phone dock on dashboard, 15in alloys (16in optional), cruise control, air con, rear-view camera, parking sensors, heated front seats, auto wipers/lights.