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-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.