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.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

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

The paucity of power even in the 74bhp version – and the characteristic rasp of the vocal three-pot – are most noticeable when pulling away, even though the 89bhp turbocharged versions go some way to negating that issue. 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.

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 mid-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. 

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Audi RS4 Avant
    First Drive
    22 January 2018
    We get our hands on the barnstorming Audi RS4 Avant in the UK to see if this fast family estate can take the fight to the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate
  • BMW X3
    Car review
    19 January 2018
    The stakes have never been higher for BMW’s mid-sized SUV, now the X3 in its third generation. So can it deliver?
  • Nissan Leaf
    First Drive
    19 January 2018
    Better looks, better value, better range, stronger performance and a quiet and relaxing drive make the Nissan Leaf a leading EV contender again
  • Volkswagen Up GTI
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Funky, light, enjoyable and even reasonably priced, the Volkswagen Up GTI is a car to be appreciated on its own compelling terms
  • Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 110 Redline
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Our first flavour of the 1.0 TSI-engined Skoda Fabia on UK roads shows it’s versatile but not all that sporty