x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Road Test: up! and up! for Volkswagen's new champion

The expansion of the up! family, with a five-door model following the smash hit three-door, could turn the small car into one of Volkswagen's biggest success stories.

The five-door doesn't upset a good formula with many changes. Andreas Lindlahr
The five-door doesn't upset a good formula with many changes. Andreas Lindlahr

We're strolling through shadows cast by a pair of gigantic towers, automatic silos full of customer cars ready to meet their new owners; it's the start of a strange day here at Volkswagen's Autostadt site. But as the sun breaks through the morning mist, on this bitterly cold morning, the distinctive sound of a three-cylinder petrol engine breaks through as the firm's latest success story patters across the cobbles towards us.

VW's newest car, the up!, may have only just gone on sale (in some markets), but it's already a runaway success, dominating German sales charts and shooting to the top of the city car sector. You don't even need to examine this new model closely to see why - there's an obvious quality to it.

The concept of an Apple iCar - a vehicle embodying the tactility, logic and desirability of that company's ultra-successful iPod - is an oft-pedalled cliché, but the up! could be the car to finally justify the hyperbole. Not only is this a new car for the people, but it also has a chance of becoming the most important model in VW's history.

Which is a status that VW is only too aware of, its worldwide appeal and across-the-board desirability opening up every corner of the car-buying market. So it's no surprise that, after the success of the three-door, VW is taking advantage and extending the up! family into every niche it can.

And today we're among the first in the world to experience what will become the up! family's best-seller. The new five-door promises to widen the car's appeal, and with 75 per cent of all Polos sold with an extra pair of doors, it's clear just how important this model is to the firm.

But of course, it's actually not very different at all, the company realising that a product that isn't broken doesn't need fixing. There's no extra room to be found in the boot, front or even back seats and it's exactly the same size on the outside as the three-door. In fact, the only difference on this most practical up! (for now), is the improved access. Even the back windows retain their pop-out mechanism; one of the only visible cost-cutting measures.

Aimed squarely at family and silver buyers (VW's nice way of saying "older"), it's envisaged that the five-door car will spend most of its time carrying children. As such, the only real exterior difference is the change to the window line, the upwards kink in the rear replaced with a flat trajectory. That's so junior can see just as much of the scenery as mum/dad/gran/granddad can in the front seats.

But despite this change to the profile, the up! five-door remains just as vibrant as its cheeky sibling. The glass boot, distinctive face and neat detailing are all still very much in evidence.

The cabin oozes quality, too, from the modern seats to the painted finishes for the dashboard. And, of course, it drives just like the three-door as well, which means very well indeed. The distinct thrum of the three-cylinder engine is present and correct.

There's even a new option of a five-speed automatic gearbox, though fans of the firm's excellent DSG transmission will be disappointed, as its weight and cost mean it's left off the options list. Which is a shame, as the robotised manual offered in its place is neither as smooth nor as quick-witted. Each ratio change is accompanied by a serious slack in acceleration.

Of course, regardless of gearbox, the standard up! doesn't pretend to be a sports car, remaining eager and willing but nothing more. Those who need speed would do well to wait, as our drive in an early up! GT model proved.

The spiritual successor to the original Golf GTI (its power-to-weight ratio is much the same) uses a turbocharged 1.0L three-cylinder engine producing 110hp. Our preproduction test car may have looked like a base model, but under the skin it was the real deal.

Firmer suspension means it is even more agile, while the six-speed manual gearbox allows greater exploitation of the power - officially it sprints from 0 to 100kph in around 8.5 seconds. The noise from the three-cylinder engine is meaty and the GT is an incredibly promising proposition, and not just for petrolheads. As the first exploration into the up! range's niche models, it points clearly to the firm's future direction. And on this examination, it's a future that can only be bright.

Base price Not available

Engine 1.0L three-cylinder

Gearbox Five-speed manual

Power 75hp @ 6,200rpm

Torque 95Nm @ 3,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined 5.9L/100km