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



1 year 50 weeks ago

Hilton, how far can it go on a full gas tank and how much does it cost to fill said tank?

Does it smell funny?  The taxis in Tokyo sometimes make me car sick, though I think that is as much to do with their soft suspension and cross plies as the gassy whiff from the exhaust.

oh wait again

1 year 50 weeks ago

sierra wrote:

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

Then you could use electricity from Spain's nuclear power (20 % of power needs are supplied via this method), or you could use solar power which Spain is also keen on, both private and commercial.

On average 16% of spain's power comes from wind power, this percentage goes up every year.  perhaps chocolate tea pots do have a use after all


Hydrogen cars just went POP

Is CNG the same as LPG

1 year 50 weeks ago

Because I have a 2008 Falcon Wagon on LPG and it's aweome, very powerful, comfortable and economical. A shame they're not made anymore and less and less cars are made LPG dedicated.

It's still combustion

1 year 50 weeks ago

Tom Chet wrote:

Does it smell funny?  The taxis in Tokyo sometimes make me car sick, though I think that is as much to do with their soft suspension and cross plies as the gassy whiff from the exhaust.

this is one of many reasons why fossil fuel makes less sense each passing year, and why Hilton's love of shale gas obscures the truth: EVs are going to take over.

Yes, there are considerations about what power stations spit into the atmosphere, but they don't do it in city centres. They don't do it outside schools. They are carefully controlled and monitored. Exhausts are not.

Yes, the manufacture of batteries is a dirty process. But the extraction of Hilton's beloved shale, and particularly the amount of money and energy it takes, and how destructive it is, means it's just as filthy and dangerous, only on a different scale.

Yes, we can make jokes about wind turbines, but only if we can make jokes about our addiction to setting fire to stuff we suck up from the ground, and how we've all helped make the suppliers of that stuff undeservedly rich and powerful. As coolboy said on the previous page, this endless drawing out of the century old internal combustion process is merely an endless drawing out of other people's investments, not our interests.

Once you harness fusion, and huge multinational science projects like ITER and DEMO are working towards providing fusion energy on a global scale, you suddenly have unlimited clean electricity. Unlimited as in, forever until the end of time. It isn't some impossible dream, either, in that fusion is what has made that big orange ball in the sky work for the last, oh, 4.5 billion years.

This revolution isn't going to happen tomorrow, I grant you, but it'll almost certainly happen in our lifetimes - that is assuming Hilton can drag his thinking from Jurassic period oil and gas to present day.



I'm just waiting for the

1 year 50 weeks ago

I'm just waiting for the electically powered E Up! to go on sale in Yorkshire.

LPG was kind of viable option

1 year 50 weeks ago

LPG was kind of viable option if you had big thirsty 3.0+ about ten years ago, but the price of LPG has went up considerably so unless your MD mile munching in his 7 series does it now pay off for the conversion.  Still I suppose its an option by the manufactuer rather than being a retro fit.

CNG gas cars

1 year 49 weeks ago

I used to own a CNG powered car in New Zealand in the 1980's.  This was an excellent fuel, the savings were enormous on long drives.  I could drive over 400 miles for only $NZ29 instead of the $80 or $90 it would cost for petrol.  There was a slight loss of power, and cold starting was best done with petrol, but this was to be expected in the era of carbuterors.  In the modern fuel injected era, they should be much easier to use.  CNG is abundant, cleaner and cheaper than petrol. Are the petro companies stifling the comeback of this cheap, effective alternative?  Electric cars will always cost  too much, have a restricted range, and be environmentally suspect in the long term. I suggest going back to CNG for vehicular travel.  We have CNG pipelined the length of our country.  What's stopping us?

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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