VW’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.
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 tested here, whilst the base motor powers the two lower spec models. A 110bhp GT model will join the line-up in late 2012. All are hooked up to the same five-speed manual gearbox, although a five-speed automatic will follow in 2013. 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 will follow in the second half of 2012), 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.