Volkswagen’s smallest EV gets an upgraded battery pack, but does that make it a more viable option?

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The Volkswagen Up city car has been with us since 2011, while the electrified version was its first mass-production EV to reach the market when it arrived in 2013. That car provided a useful taste of what was possible, but the early tech meant battery capacity – and therefore range – was relatively limited.

With Volkswagen’s electrified direction change now in full flow with the Volkswagen ID 3, the e-Up is the next EV to benefit from the latest-gen technology. 

Right now there’s a case for a car like the Up being perfect to get the most out of electric propulsion. Driven in its natural city habitat it’s even easier to pilot than a petrol version

The big news is a new lithium-ion battery with 36.8kWh capacity, compared to just 18.7kWh for the old car, which has a significant effect on its range; Volkswagen claims up to 161 miles (260km) on a full charge. Switching from prismatic to pouch battery cells has increased the energy density and cut the battery volume by 20 litres.

The electric motor remains as before, providing 82bhp and 156lb ft of torque. Take the option of CCS fast charging and the e-Up will go from zero to 80% charged in one hour, while a conventional 7.2kW AC charger performs the same feat in four hours.

The e-Up is part of a revised Up range which goes on sale in January of next year, with updates including six airbags and Lane Assist as standard. The Up will also be the first Volkswagen to carry the new company logo that was unveiled at Frankfurt earlier this year.

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Much of what the e-Up presents will be familiar; despite the modest tweaks inside and out it is a classy small car that manages to justify the premium price you pay for the (new) VW roundel on the nose.

The exterior has been lightly refreshed with a nose treatment similar to the current Volkswagen e-Golf, but it is its taut lines and chunky proportions that make it arguably Volkswagen’s most charming design.

The key mechanicals outside of the battery pack itself remain as before, with the electric motor delivering 54bhp continuous and 82bhp peak power, with 156lb ft of torque available from rest. The single-speed transmission offers four engine braking modes, while new to the revised e-Up is the choice of three drive modes, with Eco and Eco+ scaling back performance and climate control outputs in the name of energy saving.

The more capacious battery pack is only 15kg heavier than before, but that makes it over 200kg heavier than the lightest regular Up. The good news is that much of that weight is low down in the chassis as before, while the strong torque from low speeds makes it easy to forget about the additional mass.

Right now there’s a case for a car like the Up being perfect to get the most out of electric propulsion. Driven in its natural city habitat it’s even easier to pilot than a petrol version; no need to fret about gears or whether you can make that gap, and the lower noise levels make you more aware of what’s going on outside. The acceleration is brisk rather than Tesla-bothering, but the throttle action and motor linearity is just right, leaving you in complete control of how you use the available power.

Although the brake pedal switches seamlessly between regen and mechanical intervention, flicking the gearlever between modes means you can get into an effective one-pedal mode with just a little concentration – a good habit for boosting the range. During our initial drive the e-Up covered 45km for a loss of only 26km indicated range, with little effort given to saving energy.

The rest of the package fits in well with the electric drivetrain too. The ride quality is generally very good, being soft enough to soak up urban lumps but not so compliant that cornering becomes a bracing affair. On our test route across polished Valencian roads there was fun to be had too, with the extra mass allowing some additional yaw before the ESP had its say. 

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At motorway speeds the small-car levels of insulation and additional wind noise make themselves felt, but chiefly because of the lack of noise from everywhere else. This may be the cheapest Volkswagen model but it still follows the sacred tenets of refinement, quality and solid design.

Although prices are yet to be confirmed, Volkswagen says it will be close to the outgoing car. With a realistic range now well over 100 miles the e-Up is a realistic proposition out of town while still making the most of its capabilities within.

As with almost every electric car currently on sale it has to fit in to your lifestyle, but as a small electric car with big car qualities it has few credible rivals.

Matt Joy

Volkswagen e-up First drives