Cheerful, modern and funky rather than cheap perhaps best describes many South African’s thoughts when Volkswagen introduced the up! city car to the local market in 2015.
Although it managed to notch up respectable sales since debuting, the lack of a five-door option remained its biggest hurdle with Volks-wagen South Africa again citing possible price overlapping with the Polo Vivo as the main reason.
The eventual introduction of a five-door up! in May last year has done seemingly little to impede on the Vivo’s sales, with well over 2 500 units being shifted each month compared to some 300 up!’s.
That said, the smallest model in Volkswagen’s arsenal has still managed to carve out a healthy fan base with this being erm… backed-up by a mid-life updated towards the end of 2016. The boxy-shaped up! arrived at the office for testing and made its intentions known right from the off as to why perspective buyers in the lucrative A-segment should give it a second glance.
To the untrained eye, spotting the difference between the pre-facelift up! and the Deep Black Pearl mid-range Move up! tested here can became a challenge in itself, but look closer and you will notice the redesigned front bumper, new headlights with daytime running LEDs, a new bonnet, indicators integrated into the mirrors and at the rear, a new diffuser and, in the case of our up!, redesigned blacked-out taillights.
Small the adjustments might be, but what has remained intact is the car’s cheeky persona and youthful looks even with the addition of the extra doors. Like the base Take up!, the Move up! comes equipped with a set of 14-inch steel wheels, but our tester came fitted with the optional 15-inch wire-like alloys while the colour coded door handles and mirrors, as well as the integrated boot spoiler, are standard.
Speaking of those new doors, Volkswagen is also adamant that this has done little to impede on the up!’s overall length and wheelbase. While this has indeed added a more practical touch to the up! when compared to its three-door sibling, don’t expect any major improvements as far as rear head and legroom are concerned.
With my 1.84 m frame seated behind the driver’s chair popped into my preferred position, leg room is virtually non-existent with the same applying for headroom, meaning those seated in back will want to endure as short a trip as possible. Unlike the front electric windows, the rear items are hinged and simply pop-out, which is not great for ventilation.
Likewise, don’t expect the boot be capacious with total cargo capacity rated at 251-litres. Counting in its favour though is that the board can be removed to load bigger or more items, effectively doubling up as a dual-floor boot, while the seats can be dropped forwards to unlock and extra 708-litres.
As to be expected though, things are a lot better in the front where the up!’s upmarket if slightly dark cabin puts into a different league. The imitation carbon fibre on the facia aside, soft touch plastics dominate most of the dashboard while the centre console materials feel durable despite exhibiting a cheap look.
New inclusions are a leather finished steering wheel and gearknob with the former now boasting volume controls for the sound system, flat-bottomed lower rim, chromed detailing and piano key black inserts.
Somewhat disappointing in the age of touch-screen media displays though, the up!’s tiny button and knob-activated Composition Phone unit looks outdated compared to the smart touchscreen monitor of its principle rival, the Toyota Aygo, although the system now incorporates USB, SD Card and Aux slots as well as Bluetooth, the latter a huge improvement over the much lamented stick-on aftermarket unit used previously.
Given its top dog ranking, standard spec is commendable for a car of this type with auto lock/ unlock doors, air-conditioning, electric mirrors, four airbags, ABS with EBD and BAS, traction control, Hill Start Assist and, as part of the optional Winter Package fitted to our up!, heated front seats and foglights.
Tipping the scales at just under a ton, the up!’s performance is best described as sprightly rather than brisk, although this sentiment implies what it probably feels like at sea level. Up here at the reef, the little 55 kW 999 cc three pot is badly hamstrung by the high altitude despite being eager to impress.
With just 95 Nm of torque on tap, constant rowing of the slightly notchy but otherwise slick five-speed manual gearbox is needed to keep the it on the boil with inclines being a significant confidence knocker. Out of the city on the highway, the up! did impress with surprisingly good levels of sound proofing and even a pleasant ride despite the short wheelbase.
Trumping the Polo Vivo when it comes to outright sales might be out of the question completely, but the Volkswagen up! does however excel at what it was designed for. Now add in those youthful looks, a premium interior and generous comfort and safety kit, and you arguably have the complete premium city car although at an equally premium price.
Article written by Charl Bosch