The Volkswagen take up! is the entry-level model in its city car line up. Jonathan Crouch assesses whether sparse is beautiful.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen take up! is the concept of the city car pared back to just what you need with no extraneous additions. It's keenly priced and very smartly styled, but those who want something other than the automotive equivalent of minimalist inner-city studio living might find it somewhat sparse.
Clutter. We surround ourselves with the stuff. If we're not out buying it, it's being levered through our letterboxes while television and internet surreptitiously convince us to buy stuff we don't need. I have a great admiration for those who can pare back their lives, if not to a bare minimum, then at least to a point where it's clear that they have a very real appreciation for what's important and what's not.
This vaguely anti-consumerist message might seem a little at odds with a review of a car, often the second biggest capital purchase people make, but the Volkswagen up!(to use its officially sanctioned and horribly twee lower case and exclamation mark) is a smart, stripped back sort of car that chimes with the concept of not consuming more than you really require. The Up range replaces the unlovely Fox and the unpopular Lupo before that, so it really needs to re-establish Volkswagen's credentials as a manufacturer of desirable city cars. Here we take a look at the entry-level model, the Take Up.
Of course, if you're looking to simplify your life and your car, you'll have to make do with a rather minimalist engine. Pop the bonnet on the Volkswagen Take Up and you'll be confronted with a three-cylinder unit not much bigger than your kitchen microwave. It makes just 60bhp, so it's not what you'd call zesty. Find a long enough piece of autobahn and it will manage 100mph and 60mph will arrive in 14 seconds from a standing start. What it lacks in straight line power, it claws back in friendliness and tractability. It's a sweet engine that does its best work between about 2000 and 5000rpm which means that it can more than hold its own in city traffic. The throttle response is a little soft, but this does makes it easy to drive smoothly. The steering and the manual gearbox are both light and accurate.
Visibility out of the Up is also very good which helps with parking manoeuvres, as do the very short front and rear overhangs, which make squeezing into tiny bays simplicity itself. The mirrors are a decent size and the driving position is good, despite the lack of a reach adjustment on the steering column.
Design and Build
Handsome little thing isn't it? The proportions look just right and the kinked window line, grille-less front end and gently flared wheel arches gives the Up more impact than the usual city boxes. At just 3.54 metres in length, 1.64 metres in width and 1.48 metres in height, the Up is one of the smallest four-seater city cars, measuring a full 11cm shorter than a rival Fiat Panda. Clever packaging means that interior space is maximised. The wheelbase of 2.42m is one of the biggest in class which combine with that compact engine and lateral radiator to allow the front bulkhead and crash structures to shift forward too. There's decent room at the back too, with a 251-litre boot being a tad bigger than is typical in this class. Drop the rear seats and this space extends to 951 litres. There's only a three-door model right at the moment but we're assured a five-door car is on the way.
The interior is colourful, with the option of painted body-coloured panels, evoking the spirit of the original Beetle. The interior design is clean and easy to get to grips with, featuring a compact centre pod for many of the minor controls. There's loads of storage and the cool dished three-spoke steering wheel frames an instrument cluster of ruthless functionality. Although there's no shortage of hard plastics, this doesn't feel like a car that's been ruthlessly built down to a price like its Fox predecessor. It just feels agreeably simplified.
Market and Model
As the entry level model in the Up range, the Take Up features a few items which serve to underline this fact. The 14-inch steel wheels and the black door handles and mirrors do have a certain unshowy chic about them though, and the rims, which are fitted with plastic wheel trims, will shrug off kerb impacts a whole lot better than flashy alloys. Priced from just £7,995, the Take Up which gets body-coloured bumpers, daytime running lights, front and side head/thorax airbags, a CD stereo with aux-in, rear ISOFIX points, and 14-inch steel wheels. There's no ESP stability control on this model though.
You'll have to manage without a split rear bench and air conditioning too and in order to save space, there's not even a spare wheel, just a can of foam and a pump to keep you going if you catch a flat. It's hard to think of many other cars that have less equipment inside than the Take Up. Let's face it, few other manufacturers would have the confidence to bring a car as simple as this to market. The temptation to load it with a few toys would be too great.
Cost of Ownership
The payback from the Take Up's minuscule engine comes at the pumps. It'll average 62.7mpg, and even in city use it returns 50.4mpg. Get it out on the open road and a careful right foot will nurse it to well over 70mpg. Emissions are rated at 105g/km, but there is a BlueMotion eco model offered if you want to go even lower; in this case to 97g/km.
The reasonable asking price, strong badge equity and tiny running costs virtually guarantee strong residual values for the Take Up. There is an issue about whether those looking to cut all costs will buy this car at all though. Both SEAT and Skoda sell sister models - the Mii and the Citigo respectively - and they're even more aggressively priced. The Volkswagen is just a few degrees cooler though. That counts for quite a lot.
Make no mistake, the Volkswagen Take Up is a very bold car to bring to market. The cabin features about as little equipment as you could possibly get away with. The only item that has anything remotely overspecified about it is the clever clogs stereo. If you like a minimalist, pared back look and feel, you'll love this car. The clever thing is , it doesn't feel as if it's been built down to a price. It feels like a very smart piece of design that focuses on the essentials. I would still have liked to have seen air conditioning and ESP stability control on the standard kit list, but that's a personal preference.
There are rivals that are equivalently priced and better equipped. There are also competitor products that offer a sharper steer. None has quite the effortless cool of the Up though. It never feels as if it's trying too hard to win your affection. The puppyish enthusiasm of some city cars grates after a while. The Volkswagen Up merely earns enduring respect. I think you'll like it.