As an automotive journalist, one is often approached to recommend a particular model. However, this is always a delicate matter. Firstly, one can immediately think of at least ten typical defects for each model series. Secondly, it is naturally detrimental to one’s own reputation if the person seeking advice subsequently suffers a setback with the recommended choice.
Body: Square, practical, good
Nevertheless, there are indeed vehicles where this risk remains within manageable limits. One such example is the VW Up. Why? Quite simply, cars that survive up to 300,000 kilometers in use by pizza delivery services and home care providers can’t be all that bad. Of course, this does not mean that one should go out and buy exactly such a vehicle.
After all, the market, according to relevant online exchanges, always has around 3,500 Ups available, and surely there must be one from a caring private owner. Just like the Mayan Blue one featured on these pages, provided by VW-Autohaus Spreckelsen in Stade.
It was first released onto the roads in January 2016, has since covered 22,300 kilometers, and is equipped with the mid-range variant, the Move Up, which is not exactly lacking in features. Extras include seat heating, the RCD 215 audio system with improved speakers, and the storage package with a double cargo floor in the trunk.
Priced reasonably at 8,290 euros, this Up found a new owner at the time of the photo shoot. However, all Ups offer a generous amount of space. On reasonably comfortable seats, even taller individuals can complete long journeys without major issues. The rear seats also offer adequate legroom. Behind them, there is a smooth-surfaced cargo compartment that can rival the size of the Polo’s. The three- or (mostly) five-door cabin is also durable, provided it is still watertight. More on this in the section on defects.
The three-door variant, like our test car, has a rising beltline towards the rear. In contrast, the lower window line of the five-door variant runs horizontally to the end.
Interior: Space in VW’s smallest abode
Upon further inspection of the interior, one realizes that the Up is in no way inferior to its larger brand counterparts such as the Golf and others when it comes to building quality. Admittedly, the small car features rather simple surfaces made of hard plastic or simply painted metal, but none of it creaks or rattles, and everything fits together with tight tolerances.
To inject some life into the cockpit, almost all Ups come with decorative trim on the instrument panel. Our photographed car, consists of high-gloss, through-colored plastic. Others may be additionally printed or lacquered.
The cockpit is simple yet well-crafted, remarkably clear, and highly practical in practice. Even the seats are sufficiently comfortable, without the label of “for a subcompact car.”
Engine: Durable three-cylinder
The base engine, found in all models except for the e-Up, is a one-liter three-cylinder from the EA 211 engine family, which made its debut in the Up in 2011. At the time, it was considered Volkswagen’s admission that they were unable to design durable timing chain drives.
In the EA 211 engine, a timing belt is responsible for turning the two camshafts, and the developers believe it has a “lifetime” – well, a lifespan. However, it is not clear whose durability is being referred to in these specifications. Presumably, at some point, the water pump will draw attention to its own end, and the timing belt should be replaced then.
Apart from that, the engine, which later found widespread use across the Volkswagen Group as a four-cylinder engine with up to 1.5 liters of displacement, boasts other engineering refinements. These include a variable intake camshaft and an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head.
This design allows the manifold to heat up faster from the hot exhaust gases, which, in turn, warms up the cooling water and contributes to the operation of the vehicle’s heating system. The engine block also has its own cooling circuit, with an additional circuit for charge air cooling in turbocharged versions.
Under the hood, it almost always looks the same. A small, diligent three-cylinder timing belt engine performs its work valiantly and reliably.
However, the turbo component in the Up accounts for only ten percent, placing it in similar territory as the Eco-Up with its natural gas propulsion. While the latter achieves more than halved fuel costs at the expense of sluggishness, the TSI and GTI models provide real enjoyment. In contrast, the natural gas version manages to take almost two seconds longer to reach 100 km/h despite nominally having eight horsepower more than the base model with 60 horsepower.
Nevertheless, this is sufficient for most situations, as it is a spirited performer that doesn’t make one miss the additional 15 horsepower of the next stronger engine variant. It also keeps up admirably on the highway. Surprisingly, it remains remarkably quiet, with interior noise levels that would have been considered upper-middle-class a few years ago.
The only annoyance is the somewhat unstable straight-line stability at higher speeds due to the Up’s short wheelbase and wide track width, which does not contribute to its directional stability. This necessitates more frequent corrections with the pleasantly responsive power steering. (Note: The base models of the Up’s siblings, the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, did not have power steering!)
Transmission: Smooth and easy
The vast majority of petrol- and gas-powered Up models come equipped with a standard five-speed manual gearbox. It is available for all engine options except the 115-horsepower GTI, which exclusively features a crisp six-speed manual transmission. As is typical of Volkswagen, the shifting action is effortless and precise. The gear ratios are also well-calibrated, ensuring that even the base engines feel adequately lively in urban traffic.
The commonly installed five-speed gearbox allows for comfortable, short-throw, and precise shifting. For an additional cost, it was also available with an automated shift function (ASG) for the naturally aspirated petrol engines until the facelift.
Until autumn 2020, an automated transmission was also available for naturally aspirated petrol engines, which was otherwise unchanged from the five-speed gearbox. In this case, the clutching and actual shifting processes are performed by a mechatronic system. It is generally considered problem-free but is not the preferred choice for enthusiasts. Only those who consciously give the gear shifters enough time to change gears will be rewarded with relatively smooth shifting.
Suspension: Firm and agile
On the other hand, the Up feels quite agile on twisty country roads, which can be attributed to its fairly firm suspension tuning. VW has always had a good touch when it comes to this aspect. However, when the payload accounts for around 40 percent of the curb weight, the springs need to be slightly stiffer. As a result, the rear axle may exhibit a slightly rugged inward movement on sharp bumps. Nevertheless, overall ride comfort is satisfactory, and the front seats are suitable for longer journeys.
That the Up is not a luxury car should be clear from its design. However, its driving comfort is still acceptable. And as this picture illustrates, the suspension components are very simple in construction. What can break is not expensive, and what often breaks elsewhere is not even installed here.
Shortcomings: A small city car with few flaws
So far, so practical. But what about the reliability of the Up? Let’s consult those who should know, the ADAC. They maintain a defect forum on their website, so let’s take a quick look – and “No defects were found.” A few clicks further, we find the legendary breakdown statistics. For the 2012 model year, it shows the color green.
Not the super excellent dark green often seen with Toyota, but still green. However, from 2013 to 2016, the defect index drops to yellow, and it only returns to green after the major facelift in mid-2016. The most common cause of breakdowns is the battery.
This aligns with various internal service campaigns that VW has carried out during regular maintenance appointments. Most often, these were (attention: wordplay!) updates for the Up. For example, the instrument cluster could draw too much standby current. Additionally, a so-called quality improvement measure involved updating the gateway control unit or reprogramming the body control module.
While we’re on the topic of quality measures, one of the most important ones is the rust protection around the fuel cap opening. Until the 2016 model year, corrosion, including perforation of the side panel, could occur in this area.
Classic car enthusiasts are familiar with this phenomenon from the Golf I and II, and now it’s making a comeback with the Up. The cause is damage to the sheet metal coatings in the soiled area around the right rear wheel in conjunction with accumulated dirt in the pipe and hose network of the fuel filler neck. In extreme cases, VW replaces the side panel and retrofits the inner wheel arch liners.
When searching for defects, careful attention is required when considering the Volkswagen Up. Typically, inspecting the underbody for suspension wear or oil leaks yields no results. However, it is advisable to check for possible corrosion, particularly if the vehicle has been poorly maintained, as this can be widespread. Finally, it is important to examine the sills, where no water should be present.
A recurring issue with the Up, especially those built before 2016, is water ingress into the interior. The most commonly affected areas are the door sills, which can be identified by loud splashing noises or, in winter, the rattling of ice chunks. As a countermeasure, VW recommends drilling holes in six specific rubber plugs in the sills.
Other causes of moisture in the car may include misaligned front doors that allow water entry, the third brake light, the rear wiper seal, and the front drains beneath the windshield, which can become blocked by a stray leaf. Therefore, it is advisable to be vigilant for musty odors in the interior, mold under the floor mats, and dampness in the lowest part of the trunk when dealing with such vehicles.
However, these precautions should ideally be standard procedure for any used car purchase, not just for the Up. By addressing its list of issues, we can conclude our assessment and provide a recommendation as automotive journalists.
Prices: Maintaining an overview and comparing new prices
The Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, which are technically identical to the VW Up, only differ in terms of body details and equipment features. Both models were introduced in mid-2012 in the German market, offering the same engines as the Up, up to 75 horsepower.
From mid-2019, the Mii and Citigo were also available with electric propulsion, featuring the larger 36.8 kWh battery. The combustion engine variants were discontinued in 2019, while the Mii electric and Citigo-e were available until 2021. As of the time of this editorial’s deadline, the Up GTI is no longer in production, and the order has ceased. Used GTIs start at around 14,000 euros—fun comes at a price, after all.
The Up GTI, with its Mit Karopolstern, GTI-Zierteilen, and a Fahrwerksabstimmung with Sensationscharakter, represents the top model with its 115 horsepower. It is as practical as its less exciting counterparts but much more entertaining. However, such enjoyment comes at a price. The regular Up TSI with 90 horsepower offers a nearly equally amusing compromise.
The mostly non-turbocharged rest of the range starts at around 4,500 euros for reliable examples, depending on the available options. The differences primarily lie in the equipment and overall condition. The concise engine lineup, which has remained largely unchanged throughout the long production period, results in relatively small price differences.
Our recommendation is to prioritize the condition and engine performance over the production year. Many Up models are driven relatively infrequently, and the issues of early production years can be easily avoided for a minimal cost.
- The Up GTI is a top model with appealing features, including Mit Karopolstern, GTI-Zierteilen, and a Fahrwerksabstimmung with Sensationscharakter.
- The Up GTI and Up TSI offer a balance of practicality and entertainment value.
- The Up models, particularly the non-turbocharged variants, are available at affordable prices, starting from approximately 4,500 euros.
- The engine lineup is straightforward, making it easier to compare and select suitable options.
- Up models are often driven less frequently, which can be advantageous in terms of wear and tear.
- The Up GTI, with its desirable features and performance, comes at a higher price point.
- The regular Up TSI, while offering a compromise, may still not be as exciting as the GTI version.
- The range of options in terms of engine choices is limited, as the lineup has seen minimal changes over the years.
- Differences in pricing primarily depend on equipment and condition, rather than significant variations in the model lineup.
- Early production years may have certain issues, although these can be easily addressed for a relatively low cost.
Overview: VW Up (Type AA; Since 2011)
The VW Up is a compact car that has been in production since 2011. It offers several notable features and characteristics.
- Good interior space considering its small external dimensions.
- Solid build quality and craftsmanship.
- Agile and maneuverable driving experience.
- High reliability and dependability.
- Low levels of road noise during driving.
- Excellent performance starting from 90 horsepower (TSI engines).
- Decent range of up to 310 kilometers for the e-Up model equipped with a 36.8-kWh battery.
- Firm suspension setup for a responsive ride.
- Strong resale value in the used car market.
- Slight instability in straight-line driving.
|VW Up 1.0 move up!||VW Up 1.0 TSI high up! BlueMotion Technology|
|Basic price||10.775 €||14.180 €|
|External dimensions||3540 x 1641 x 1489 mm||3600 x 1645 x 1504 mm|
|Trunk volume||251 bis 951 l||251 bis 959 l|
|Displacement||999 cm³ / 3-Zylinder||999 cm³ / 3-Zylinder|
|Performance||44 kW / 60 PS bei 5000 U/min||66 kW / 90 PS bei 5000 U/min|
|Top speed||160 km/h||185 km/h|
|0-100 km/h||15,2 s||10,7 s|
|Consumption||4,5 l/100 km||4,4 l/100 km|
|Test consumption||6,3 l/100 km||6,2 l/100 km|