Volkswagen's manufacturing infrastructure operates on the basis of shared commonality, so its decision to replace the original concept’s unusual rear-engined set-up with an orthodox transverse front-wheel drive system is understandable. VW argued that the previous layout would have required significant extra investment and limited the Up’s capacity to share in its vast parts bin.

For anyone who found the thought of a small Volkswagen with an engine mounted just ahead of the rear axle appealing, the transformation will seem like a notable dilution of the initial Up formula, but the firm insists that the show car’s spaciousness – one of the main reasons for its unconventional configuration – has been preserved thanks to less conspicuous ingenuity.

Matt Saunders

Chief tester
A downside of that glass tailgate? VW can’t elegantly hide the boot catch beneath its perfectly sized badge any more

Most of it takes place under the bonnet, where a new generation of three-cylinder motor recovers almost 100mm of available real estate from the engine bay. This feat was achieved by installing the cooling system alongside the compact powerplant rather than in front of it. The car also has one of the longest wheelbases in the segment and VW claims that the Up offers exceptional space utilisation of its diminutive 3.54m overall length.

The petrol engine is a lightweight, all-aluminium affair offered with outputs of either 59bhp or 74bhp, though the higher powered engine is only available in top-spec ‘High Up’ trim, whilst the base motor powers the two lower spec models. All are hooked up to the same five-speed manual gearbox, although a five-speed automatic is optional.

The Up looks much like the concept, which is to say that it resembles the city car blueprint established by the Toyota Aygo and Citroën C1 in 2005, with a bug-eyed front and glass-hatched rear. Arguably, Volkswagen’s cleaner design language ensures a flush, better-honed three-door figure than its rivals (a five-door variant is detailed below), but in the metal the Up is more derivative than it is daring.

Similarly to the 107/C1/Aygo triplets, the five door Up is not radically different to the less practical option. The door aperture is wide, which allows good access. Space in the back is good for shoulder, elbows and feet but, owing to the short length and low roof of the Up, kneeroom and headroom are tight. Windows that open at the rear edge rather than sliding down may be preferred more by parents than adult occupants.

Top 5 City cars

  • Volkswagen Up
    The Volkswagen Up city car isn't revolutionary, it's just quantifiably better than the opposition

    Volkswagen Up

  • Hyundai i10
    The Hyundai i10 is offered with either a 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.2-litre petrol engine

    Hyundai i10

  • Suzuki Celerio
    The Celerio is an all-new city car from Suzuki

    Suzuki Celerio

  • Fiat Panda
    Panda’s 4 star EuroNCAP crash score falls short of some rivals

    Fiat Panda

  • Vauxhall Viva
    Vauxhall Viva 1.0 SE is priced from £7995

    Vauxhall Viva


Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    21 October 2016
    Can Seat’s first SUV impress, even with the heavy burden of expectation?
  • Car review
    21 October 2016
    The last hurrah for the current Aston Martin Vantage adds the track-ready GT8 to the range
  • Audi S5 Sportback
    First Drive
    20 October 2016
    New S5 Sportback is more spacious, better to drive and offers a calmer ride than before, but rivals offer greater involvement
  • Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy
    First Drive
    19 October 2016
    Mildly revised hot hatch is enjoyable on UK roads but continues to play second fiddle to the Ford Fiesta ST
  • 2016 Smart fortwo Brabus cabrio xclusive
    First Drive
    18 October 2016
    Mechanical upgrades make the Smart Fortwo Brabus cabrio better to drive, but it’s too pricey to recommend