Review: Volkswagen Up (2012)

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Funky little city car. Cheap to run with low CO2. Lively and fun to drive. Large enough for four adults.

Automated manual is poor. Reports of clutch failure on manuals.

Volkswagen Up (2012): At A Glance

The Up is one of the most important cars Volkswagen has launched in recent years, offering a well thought out and compact package that’s economical, easy to drive and appealing to those downsizing from larger cars. It’s nimble, distinctive, well built and represents good value for money. SEAT and Skoda both have their own versions, called the Mii and the Citigo, respectively.

Two versions of the same 1.0-litre petrol engine are offered, one with 60PS and one with 75PS. Both produce the same amount of torque and provide enough go to make town driving enjoyable, while a tall fifth gear makes motorway cruising subdued. Both engines are efficient, with the cleanest BlueMotion model returning a claimed 68.9mpg and delivered a low 96g/km of CO2, making for free VED and congestion charging.

There’s plenty of space in the cabin despite an overall length of just 3540mm. Space in the rear is good, with room for six-foot passengers. The boot is 251 litres, but can be expanded to 951 litres by folding the seats. Both the three-door model and five-door model have the same exterior dimensions and boot space. The former is on sale now and the latter goes in sale in September 2012.

Sit behind the wheel and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a larger car. The Volkswagen ‘feel’ permeates the cabin. Everything is solid and well put together, and although there is a lack of soft touch materials the Up doesn’t feel any worse off for it.

It’s easy to drive, with a characterful engine sound, smooth gear change and light steering. Visibility is good and because of the ‘wheel on each corner’ design you’re always very aware of the car’s small size, making it simple and enjoyable to thread through tight traffic. 

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What does a Volkswagen Up (2012) cost?

List Price from £12,700
Buy new from £11,871
Contract hire from £138.92 per month

Volkswagen Up (2012): What's It Like Inside?

Length 3540–3600 mm
Width 1641–1979 mm
Height 1478–1504 mm
Wheelbase 2407–2420 mm

Full specifications

The cabin of the Up is very cleverly packaged. There’s enough space for a six-foot passenger to sit with reasonable comfort behind a six foot driver and despite that there’s an impressive 251 litre boot, which beats some cars from the class above.

The comfortable and well designed driver’s seat is easy to adjust to a comfortable position and there’s plenty of stowage, including large door pockets, a drinks holder and a decent sized glove box.

The centre console is neat and simple, with all the controls in one place, rather than scattered. The instrument binnacle is clear, with a large speedo in the centre, flanked by a tiny rev counter on one side and a temperature gauge on the other.

Getting in and out of the back is tricky in the three-door but it’s not impossible. Once there it’s 'cosy', with enough space for a short trip. The five door is much easier to access, with wide opening doors –and there are also Isofix points for child seats, so for those with little ones it makes a lot of sense, but you’ll have to wait until September to get one.

The optional ‘Maps + More’ sat nav is a highlight. It’s not much more expensive than a good quality TomTom or similar, but it allows you to connect your phone or audio device directly to the car and provides plenty of customisation options. It even comes with apps to warn of potential safety camera or to coach you into driving more economically. It’s also pretty good as a sat-nav.

Another option worthy of note is the City Emergency Braking, which assists the driver by braking hard on their behalf if it detects a potential collision ahead, reducing the force of impact and even preventing it entirely at lower speeds. 

Standard equipment from launch (March 2012):

Take Up: Power steering, MP3 connectivity, CD player.

Move Up: As Take Up, plus ESP traction control, central locking, electric windows, air conditioning, split/fold rear seat.

High Up: As Move Up, plus electric mirrors, alloy wheels, Maps + More sat nav.


Child seats that fit a Volkswagen Up (2012)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

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What's the Volkswagen Up (2012) like to drive?

The Up is offered with a 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine, with power outputs of either 60PS or 75PS. Both have the same peak torque figure of 95Nm, so they feel fairly similar on the go at low speeds – it’s only really on the motorway that the extra power of the 75PS engine comes in handy.

Whichever version you pick you’ll benefit from cheap insurance (group one for the 60PS and group two for the 75PS) and low running costs, with official economy figures of 62.8mpg for the 60PS and 60.1mpg for the 75PS. There’s also a 60PS BlueMotion version that features stop/start, improving economy to 68.9mpg and lowering emissions to a VED and Congestion Charge busting 96g/km.

Performance isn’t overly impressive - the 60PS model takes 14.4 seconds to reach 62mph while the 75PS model takes 13.2 seconds -  but the Up never feels as though it’s lacking in any way, particularly in town, which is where it'ss most at home. There is an automated manual transmission but it’s slow to change gears and should only really be considered by those to whom an automatic is a necessity, rather than a luxury.

The engine ‘thrums’ in the way only a three-cylinder can – it sounds eager and willing when pushed without ever sounding strained or coarse. When you settle down to a cruise it’s impressively quiet and refined.

Whether on narrow city streets, in a tight car park or in stop start traffic, the Up is easy to drive. The light steering is precise, the visibility is very good and the handling is predictable, with more than enough grip offered by the front tyres. With a wheel in each corner and short overhangs the car feels extremely nimble on a twistier road.

It isn’t bad over more rutted roads either, and although the suspension ‘thuds’ over lumps and bumps it never feels uncomfortable – so even if you live out of town in the countryside you should manage with the Up. 

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
1.0 115 59 mpg 8.8 s 110 g/km
1.0 60 63–69 mpg 13.2–16.7 s 94–105 g/km
1.0 60 ASG 64 mpg 15.3 s 103 g/km
1.0 75 60–69 mpg 13.2–14.9 s 94–108 g/km
1.0 75 ASG 63 mpg 13.9 s 105 g/km
1.0 90 64–67 mpg 9.9 s 101–106 g/km

Real MPG average for a Volkswagen Up (2012)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

37–68 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Volkswagen Up (2012)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

What's the best £5k car for my wife and daughter to share?

Sadly it's time for our 2003 Beetle Convertible to move on after 10 years. Its replacement must be okay for my wife and our 17-year-old learner daughter. It's a second car so manual, petrol and mainly local work/school/shop runs etc but if we can stick the dog in the back all the better.
I'd suggest an Up if you like Volkswagens but it might not be big enough for your dog. How about a Honda Jazz? It's very versatile and not very popular with young drivers so should be cheap to insure! Your budget will get a 2013 model which should be very reliable.
Answered by Andrew Brady
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