Volkswagen Up!: Finally, a Great City Car?

Volkswagen Up!, front

City cars either scare the bejesus out of prospective U.S. drivers, or they make fun of them, or they just don’t see the point.

The point is, folks, that the U.S. badly needs a good city car—something that’s well-built, handles well (enough), is spacious enough to carry four comfortably and is, above all, small, parkable, low on emissions and high on fuel economy.

Volkswagen’s Up! appears to fill the minicar prescription and should sell well in Europe when it appears in March. It’s “brilliantly packaged and effortlessly easy to drive,” says TopGear, which gave the Up! its 2011 Small Car of the Year award.

A front-driver with choice of two 3-cylinder engines, the Up! actually gives its passengers, including those in the back, real room since it has a long wheelbase of 95.3 inches, wheels out at the corners, and is 64.6 inches wide. A 9-cubic-foot trunk (34 cf with rear seats folded), gives you real carrying capacity. It’s smaller than the MINI Cooper, with more interior space. And it’s better-looking and better-packaged than the Fiat Panda, another competitor.

VW Up!, rearThe Up! appears to be very well fitted-out in standard trim, as VW has finally gotten the quality message for its smaller cars. It drives well, though throttle response and steering feedback could be better, and “motorways hold no fears.” The car apparently is nimble and fun to drive. The top trim level is reported to give 67 mpg.

Up! interiorPrices for three trim levels range from £7,995 to £11,180—that is, $12,374 to $17,306 U.S. An EV is due in 2013, and a 5-door hatch is in the works. Insurance for the car has actually gone down in cost, and the Up! is now the cheapest car in its class to insure in the U.K.

So, the big question is, will VW bring the car to the U.S., and if not, why not? I would bet it will come here within two years’ time, when demand will build for such a vehicle, as city traffic, smog and parking get ever more dense. If it does come here, it will need more power than the present 74 hp the top version provides.

One big test will be how the car handles on the freeway, since these are more common in U.S. cities than abroad. Another will be how it deals with the potholes and pavement issues we have. Is it possible to engineer a small car like the Up! with such capabilities for America?

VW’s engineers aren’t dummies. Neither are their marketers.

Does this look to you like a city car that might finally work for the U.S., or will it be another fizzle (if it does come here) in trying to change American driving habits?


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  1. It really reminds me of the older Chevy Aveo, which was also surprisingly roomy and ran just fine at freeway speeds. The problem with the Aveo was the rubbery drive train and handling, and the cheap, cheesy interior. VW seems much better at building small cars, so this one might be very good. Moving the wheels out to the corners realy maximizes interior space and the car doesn’t have the “blob” styling of the Fiat 500.
    An obvious competitor will be the Chevy Sonic, which is getting off to a very bad start. I’m just watching a recall story on the news. Apparently the folks at the plant, which is a few miles from my home, forgot to put brake pads (some front inner, outer and on some cars, both) in the calipers and then did what Chevy was always famous for doing a few years ago…. Problem, defect, misfit?? Just ship it and let the dealer worry about it. That attitude helped create an entire generation of people whou won’t buy a GM car even if it’s practically free. It does add credence to the axiom that you should NEVER buy a first year GM model.

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