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.
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.