VW’s first foray into the modern EV market is classy and comfy, albeit pricey and small

What is it?

Volkswagen’s first modern battery car to hit UK showrooms. It’s on sale as of today, with deliveries starting in January 2014. And it’s an interesting introduction to the fledgling EV segment largely because of how apparently uninteresting it is.

This, after all, looks just like another Up: just another of VW’s current city car range. If you missed the ‘Tezzle’ alloy wheels, the one or two minor exterior styling changes and a model name that surely deserves a mention in Monty Python’s reunion performance, you could fail to recognise this as a member of the automotive new-age entirely. There’s no chance of that with a Renault Zoe or a Vauxhall Ampera.

But then making so little fuss about the showroom launch of its first mass-production EV seems rather typical of a company as centred around engineering as Volkswagen is.

Because if you could engineer your battery car to use the same platform, go down the same production line and benefit from the same economies of scale as one of your petrol-engined models, and thereby significantly mitigate the financial risk of investing in a stand-alone EV, why wouldn’t you?

Suffice it to say, VW could. The e-Volkswagen Up is no half-measure battery car, though, featuring a 81bhp, 155lb ft AC electric motor in place of the regular Up’s 74bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine, and drawing power from an 18.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack in place of the regular Up’s fuel tank. It has the same passenger space as a normal Up, it’s quicker to 62mph, and it’ll do up to 93 miles on a nine-hour three-pin at-home charge – according to the claims.

What's it like?

A thoroughly idiot-proof and very reassuring drive, and one that – leaving range to one side for a moment – imposes few apparent compromises.

Driving an EV can be a curious experience until you acclimatise to the new rulebook. The lack of combustion noise makes every other whirr, squeek and thump you hear seem twice as loud as they would otherwise. If you haven’t got 100-per-cent confidence in the technology at work, those little noises can be strangely unsettling.

For starters, as imprecise as this may seem, the e-Up just makes fewer funny noises. Its heater is quiet, its powertrain doesn’t click and buzz as obviously as some, and its battery doesn’t seem to require the same amount of cooling as EV batteries can. Its operation is almost completely translucent; undetectable. For early adopters, that’ll be a big advantage.

The car rides, for the most part, like any other Up – which means very well for such a small car. You can tell that mass has been added to the car, and extra suspension stiffness to control that mass specifically at the rear axle, but the chassis handles bumps small and large pliantly and with limited body pitch. It’s certainly more comfy in town and at low speeds than a Renault Zoe.

A characteristically large steering wheel makes the Up’s handling less direct than some small cars, and grip levels aren’t huge on account of the 165-section low-resistance tyres. But still, it handles well. There’s some body roll to negotiate, but the steering stays precise and consistent of weight even when you lean hard through a corner, and there isn’t excessive understeer.

Back to top

The powertrain works through several driving modes designed to allow you to tailor the driving experience to suit your own preferences. If you want your EV to coast like an old-school torque-converter automatic, it will: just leave the transmission in ‘D’. Alternatively, flick the shift lever to the right and you can select greater and greater amounts of regenerative ‘engine braking’ to chime in the instant you lift your foot off the accelerator. Aside from the Mercedes SLS E-Cell, the e-Up is the first EV we’ve come across to allow you to do that – and it’s a neat trick.

There are also ‘Eco’ and ‘Eco+’ modes available alongside ‘Normal’ on a drive mode selector button just ahead of the gearlever, which limit available motor power and power supply to secondary systems to maximise driving range. ‘Eco+’ limits peak power to 54bhp. I had it selected, didn’t know about the power limit for the first half of our test route, and wouldn’t have guessed. There’s all the torque and meaningful performance you need on offer via the first half of the accelerator pedal travel. You’re only ever likely to need the rest of it on the motorway, where the e-Up does seem a bit short on grunt.

The e-Up’s brake pedal feel isn’t perfect, but it’s better than on many EVs and hybrids. And range is competitive with the compact EV norm: our testing suggests 65-80 miles on a full charge in mixed use.

Should I buy one?

Sure – if you like the idea of a city car EV to really use, rather than a badge of honour to waft around in. The e-Up is every bit as scrupulously executed as you’d hope for from VW, and will appeal both as a notional flagship model for the Up range and as a model in its own right.

It isn’t cheap; VW wants close to £25k for this car before you take into account the £5000 government grant for electric cars. But unlike with a Renault Zoe, there are no battery lease payments to factor into your monthly outgoings here – and that could make the sums add up for the e-Up compared to a high-spec, fairly high-mileage Zoe.

There’s no answer here for the Zoe’s superior size and usability, mind. The Up isn’t a full-sized supermini, and won’t swallow full-sized adults in the back, or pushchairs and the like in the boot. By rights, it ought to be cheaper than the Renault to account for that.

Back to top

But size isn’t everything, particularly for people who see merit in characterful, economical small cars that serve their purposes better than larger ones. Those people will see plenty of merit in an e-Up. And so do we.

Volkswagen e-Up 

Price £24,250 (not inc. govt grant); 0-62mph 12.4sec; Top speed 81mph; Economy na; CO2 0g/km at tailpipe; Kerbweight 1139kg; Engine AC electric motor; Installation Front, transverse, front-wheel drive; Power 81bhp; Torque 155lb ft; Gearbox Direct drive

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
the1beard 6 December 2013

Joke Pricing

Who on earth is going to pay that !
fadyady 3 December 2013

That's the problem with

monopolies. They set their own price and the consumers due to lack of choice have to settle with that. And I can't think of another car maker (at least in Europe) that came so close to forming a monopoly.
Granturismo 3 December 2013

Does'nt look great value when

Does'nt look great value when compared to an i3, which is much bigger, faster and has a better range.