Although the Up has clearly been designed by Volkswagen and built with an urban environment in mind, prospective customers expect more than ever of a city car’s potential performance. The ability to negotiate a one-way system with reasonable vigour is no longer sufficient. Consequently, the Up must be economical, refined and responsive in equal measure – a tall order for a car with a three-cylinder engine.

The paucity of power even in the 74bhp version – and the characteristic rasp of the vocal three-pot – are most noticeable when pulling away. Considerable revs are required even with only a moderate getaway in mind. More aggressive starts are met with an incredulous response from the clutch and throttle, usually resulting in a humiliating crawl before the engine catches up with your intentions.

Matt Prior

Road test editor
The design of the pistons and conrods negates the need for a balancer shaft

Fortunately, the experience improves from there. Three-cylinder petrol units are often characterised as lively or ‘happy’ motors, and VW’s latest generation by and large lives up to the billing regardless of which power output you choose. Its hoarse tone never totally disappears, and the engine’s natural cylinder imbalance means that there’s always a hint of shiver through the car’s short spine, but both are softened at a cruise, and progression often seems reasonable for the Up’s character – especially around town.

Invariably, on the open road or motorway, events will conspire to make even the higher-powered model feel slow, so if you regularly venture out of town or carry a few passengers you should avoid the base 59bhp model. But while overtaking anything more accelerative than a horse may seem foolhardy, the Up develops just enough torque not to make frequent gearchanges a necessity (which is useful, because the five-speed manual can be baggy and obstinate without very deliberate shifts) and the engine spins willingly to its 6600rpm redline. 

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