With the pioneers from Nissan, Renault, Tesla and the like firmly established, now, it seems, is the time for the next wave of players to establish their credentials in the electric car market. Hence, the VW e-Up you see here, the Ford Focus Electric and the upcoming VW e-Golf.
Critically, both VW and Ford have taken a different approach to their opposition, preferring to base their vehicles on existing cars. The benefits, they argue, come with the ability to drive costs down through shared parts, and to have the flexibility to build as many or few cars as they choose, as they run on the same production lines.
VW isn’t used to following trends, of course, but its electric car strategy has long been one of biding its time, the reasoning being that there is no economic case for rushing in, as customer demand has been too small. Now sales are growing in tune with political pressure and a need to establish a pioneering reputation in the field.
Drivetrain aside, the e-Up is almost entirely familiar. The 81bhp, 155lb ft electric motor sits up front, while the 18.7kWh lithium ion battery pack weighs 230kg and lies in the floor, so the centre of gravity is lower than in a combustion engined car. There are no interior space compromises, and the interior fittings are near identical to standard, save for the charging and eco-orientated instrumentation.
As ever, it is the on-the-move experience that sets an electric car apart. The silent progress is broken only by road noise and the instant torque is a revelation that does much to put the 12.4sec 0-62mph time to the back of your mind. As a result, the VW e-Up is a car that feels swift and special, so long as you are willing to reset your established values.
It’s a surprise, too, how little the additional weight impedes the car. At 1139kg all-in, it is far from light, but there are palpable benefits in ride quality. Handling, too, is reasonable, even if the suspicion is that the extra weight negates any benefits from the lowered centre of gravity. Only the steering disappoints, delivering virtually no feel, although VW is far from alone from facing that accusation in this field.
VW says it has stolen a march on its opposition via its energy recovery system, which at first sounds daunting, but is quickly intuitive to use. Via the shifter that sits in place of the traditional gearstick, you can select from four energy recovery modes of varying aggression, the lightest of which gently slows the car and the harshest of which is the equivalent of a good press of the brake. Examples of opportunities to use the modes include downhill runs or when approaching traffic lights, and if you anticipate the road and traffic conditions well you soon find you hardly need the footbrake.
There are also three driving modes – normal, eco and eco plus – which progressively reduce power and electrical systems depending on how energy minded you want to be.
As with all cars, the e-Up's range depends on how you drive. Measured on the New European Drive Cycle, the new VW e-Up electric car has a theoretical range of 160km or 99 miles. However, wary of over-stating the case and being pilloried by stranded customers, VW revises that figure, suggesting that a more realistic expectation should be 75-103 miles in summer and 50-75 miles in winter.
For what it's worth, we drove 70 miles on hilly public roads with energy conservation in mind at all times, consuming energy at the rate of 9.3Kwh/100km – which gave the Up a genuine range of 112 miles from its 18.7Kw battery. That's a reasonably extreme example, but shows VW's claims are realistic. It is an impressive distance to cover on a charge costing around £2.80, too.
The suitability of the e-Up to you depends on how you live your life. As ever, if you drive distances longer than its range, forget it. Likewise, you need to use it frequently to make the required running cost savings to compensate for the high purchase price.
However, a standard plug will take nine hours to fully charge the car from empty, while a supercharger can do the job in half an hour - both of which open up distinct possibilities for using the car as a daily driver. The infrastructure around you is critical to whether it is a good buy, but it is worth remembering that few people drive as far as it can cover on a daily basis.
The final assessment of this undoubtedly fine car must also wait until we know its exact price. In Germany it will sell for around £22,500 pre-grant. As a result potential buyers will have to weigh up the benefits of owning their battery, as in this case, or paying out less initially and leasing the battery, as with the Renault Zoe.
What’s clear, though, is that the arrival of more competition, and smaller electric cars, is bringing prices down and widening the niche of potential buyers for which they have a practical benefit.