Hilton Holloway
11 December 2012

What is it?

This is Volkswagen’s Eco Up model, which returns the CO2 performance of an electric vehicle because it is powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).  

Rather than being a hasty conversion, which takes up most of the luggage space, when VW engineers were planning the Up’s NSF platform they made sure that twin gas tanks could be fitted in the car without reducing the size of the boot. One of the large, cylindrical tanks is fitted under the boot floor, the other is under the rear seat.

VW has also managed to squeeze a 10-litre petrol tank alongside the gas tanks. Open the Eco Up’s fuel flap and there’s both the gas filler and the conventional fuel filler. The car’s fuel gauge is also dual-function, showing the amount in the petrol tank for a few seconds on start-up, before switching to indicating CNG levels.

All the other changes are out of sight, inside the three-cylinder engine. As well as a set of specific injectors for the CNG and a new engine management system, the compression ratio has been raised from 10.5:1 to 11.5:1, the spark plugs supply a higher ignition voltage and the camshaft profiles and pistons have been modified.

New materials were used for the valves and valve guides, and the variable valve-timing settings are different. The Eco Up can also detect the difference between ‘High’ (98 per cent methane) gas and ‘Low’ (85 per cent methane) gas that is on sale at Germany’s 911 CNG-fuelling stations. 

It’s the changes to the catalytic convertor that show the real environmental differences in burning CNG compared to petrol. Burning CNG releases "around 25 per cent less CO2" says VW, as well as "far less" in the way of pollutants including carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, while fine particulates are not emitted at all. All of which means the materials used inside the convertor are different.

Translated from the German showroom prices, the Eco Up costs around £2500 more than the standard petrol car, which is probably understandable considering the extra costs of the super-strong gas tanks and the engineering modifications needed for what will be a relatively low-volume car.

What is it like?

Exactly like the petrol-powered version. Which is to say, highly impressive. It might be a tiny city car, but the Up rides extremely well, feels very solidly built, it’s refined, and notably spacious up-front for the occupants. The whole of the Up cabin is a highly appealing mix of clean, cutting-edge product design and fine quality. The three-cylinder is smooth and quite willing and does not betray the fact that it is fuelled by gas rather than petrol. You can fully understand the muttering from rival manufacturers that the Up could never be profitable such is its static quality, refinement and mechanical sophistication.

Proponents of gas power point out that the official 79g/km rating of the Eco Up compares very well with the CO2 emitted - by extension - by an electric that has been charged from the European mains. And while the pollution locally emitted by a CNG-powered car is obviously higher than that of an EV, it is  minimal. It’s worth remembering that most of us burn gas in the enclosed space of a kitchen without ill effects. You might also argue that the Eco Up has less of an overall environmental impact than an EV because it does without batteries that are packed with rare-earth materials.

Should I buy one?

You can’t. And that’s unlikely to change because the UK has virtually no gas re-charging network. VW UK is, though, looking into the possibility of fitting home compressors, so you could recharge your car from the mains gas system.

Germany, by contrast, is well placed with  almost 1000 ‘gas’ stations and the country is also seeing the rising use of gas-powered taxis, which are undoubtedly the way forward for practical, low-pollution, inner-city transport. Indeed, gas-powered buses are quite common in Europe and gas-powered taxis the norm in Hong Kong, Tokyo and many other cities across Asia.

Personally, I’ve long been an advocate of gas power. It’s cheap (just £2 per 1000 cubic feet in the US, now shale gas has come on stream), very clean-burning and plentiful. The expert I spoke to thought the world had "over 200 years’ supply".

And here’s a scoop: I’ve heard from a good source that many manufacturers that have created bespoke EV platforms with space for large battery packs are considering building gas-powered models, with the big gas tanks fitted into the spaces vacated by the batteries. The gas revolution could be much close than we think. Let’s hope our legislators are quicker off the mark than usual.

VW Eco Up ‘Take Up’

Price: €12,950/£10,415; 0-62mph: 16.3sec; Top speed: 102mph; Economy: (Gas) 236 miles per 72 litres, (Petrol) 61.8mpg; CO2: 79g/km; Kerb weight: 1031kg; Engine type: three-cylinder petrol, 999cc; Power: 67bhp at 6200rpm; Torque: 66lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual

Join the debate


Gas is for ovens

1 year 50 weeks ago

Thanks to ever-tightening EU regulations car makers are hard pressed to cut emissions and increase economy at least in the highly erroneous lab tests. Hybrid, hydrogen, electric, cylinder deactivation, you name it.

I can't understand why did this writer's tried to compare this gas-driven little car with electric cars. At 79g/km this up does not compare with zero-tail-pipe emission electric cars. A Yaris hybrid delivers the same and it's a bigger and more practical car.

On a more personal note I drove a duel fuel car abroad. I found it's performance or the lack of it so ghastly I asked the dealer to switch off the gas and drove on petrol instead although it meant giving up on the obvious benefit of cheaper fuel.

CO2 comparison

1 year 50 weeks ago

@fadyady, the writer did not try to "compare this gas-driven little car with electric cars." What he did was report, without any qualification or personal opinion, that supporters of gas power have compared this car's CO2 emissions with "the CO2 emitted - by extension - by an electric that has been charged from the European mains".That "by extension" is important, because it means the comparison is not with the zero tailpipe emissions of the car, but with the CO2 emitted at the power station that produces the electricity used by the electric car.

Power station emissions are the elephant in the room of the electric car debate. The USA authorities take generation into account when measuring the fuel efficiency of non-petrol-powered vehicles, giving them an mpg-equivalent (or mpge) rating, but the EU's focus on tailpipe emissions means we see the Nissan Leaf as a 0g//km car, and the next Golf Bluemotion as an 85g/km car, when if generation is taken into account the Leaf is probably a 30g/km car in France (with lots of hydro, tidal and nuclear power) and a 110g/km car in the UK (with our predominately fossil-fuelled power generation).

It makes a lot more sense

1 year 50 weeks ago

It makes a lot more sense than an electric car. And whilst its hard to many people spending an extra £2,500 on an UP, it will be much cheaper to make than an electric car, and with a home recharging point probably much cheaper to run as well

And of course you can run this on petrol too. The tiny 10 litre tank will take it much further than a Leaf with full charge even without any gas, and be quicker to refill too.

A lot less sense than electric

1 year 50 weeks ago

People seem to be comparing this to the leaf which is dumb as the leaf is 4 doors and alot bigger. As to "it will be much cheaper to make than an electric car, and with a home recharging point probably much cheaper to run as well" Well who knows how much it'll end up costing as this isn't a production car.  Home recharging point, you can't tell me getting the gas board to install a gas compressor in the garage is cheaper than an extension lead.   You'd also struggle to get house insurance cover!


Hydrogen cars just went POP

Flawed method

1 year 50 weeks ago

Neil2129, thanks for elaborating how the industry compares tail-pipe emissions of an ICE car to an electric car. Allow me to say however that in my opinion the the method you mentioned is utterly flawed.

For instance this method does not take into account the emissions generated in transporting this fuel to the end user that is you and me nor does it take into account the emissions you and I produce travelling to and fro the filling stations while an electric car can be charged at home.

You did not comment on the wheezy performance of a gas-driven engine - not that the up or any of its cheaper siblings is a ball of fire anyway.

This is a production car...

1 year 50 weeks ago

...jump over to the VW Germany website.

just more job tasks

1 year 50 weeks ago

arguably a hybrid version would be more expensive, diesel not cheaper either, petrol without any major outstanding technologies would be hopeless and pure electric not even a choice.

flawed is all this insanity about carbon emmissions.

guess what? what is the footprint from manufacturing a car, and delivery it to the end consumer? Is it taken into account when emissions are determined?

Point is: the big carmakers want to keep the party going, none of them is interested to disrupt their long established bussineses, thats why we do not see any revolution.

Diesel will keep strong, petrol&charging will grow, hybrid -> not much in this market, and then the small pie: CNG, Hydrogen, batteries...

fatlady we would love to know which dual fuel car you drove, and which company you work for.

Gas is for ovens

1 year 50 weeks ago

ha ha ha. toolboy. Trust me when it comes to calling names you don't wanna start with me.

I agree with one point you make in your comment that big car-makers don't want to disrupt their long-established practices. It's true that they don't want to because it means spending more. They are cutting emissions because of the EU tightening the regulations.

I drove a Mitusbishi Lancer dual fuel vehicle and was underwhelmed by its sluggish performance.

Compare like with like!

1 year 50 weeks ago

Oh dear, once again someone has declared power station emissions as the "elephant in the room" (also known as "the dirty truth about electric cars").

This pollution is real and by all means account for it, but you must also therefore account for the pollution caused through the refining and distribution of natural gas.

Mr Holloway, you really do know better than this.

Nonetheless, an appealing car. I had no idea the UK gas network was so poor.

But you can use electricity from renewable sources...

1 year 50 weeks ago

...oh! Wait a bit - it's -1degC here in Spain and dead calm, so the local turbines are in chocolate teapot mode.

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Our Verdict

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

Driven this week