21 January 2014

Full Volkswagen Up (12 on) Model Review

by James Taylor, Staff Writer

The Volkswagen e-Up on charge at a public charging point in Milton Keynes centre
  • The Volkswagen e-Up's equipment list is equivalent to that of the High Up petrol car, plus a few extras of its own
  • Keeping the needles within the blue zones on the instruments means the e-Up is at its most efficient
  • In place of the usual petrol gauge the VW e-Up shows how much charge is left in the battery
  • The VW e-Up's boot space is 250 litres with the rear seats up (compared with 251 litres for the petrol version) and 923 litres with the seats down (951 litres in the petrol car)
  • The Volkswagen e-Up takes its power from an Ac electric motor with power equivalent to 80bhp
  • The Volkswagen Maps & More portable system includes some extra functions, including this display which lets you know what the electric powertrain's up to in real time
  • The Volkswagen e-Up comes with two cables, one for normal three-pin plug sockets and one for faster CCS chargers
  • The charging cables tidy away into this slot under the boot floor when not in use
  • The car's charging sockets are located under the regular fuel filler flap
  • The VW e-Up is priced at £24,250 on-the-road, or £5,000 less with the present government grant initiative for plug-in vehicles
  • The Volkswagen e-Up is available in five-door form only
  • Blue edging on the VW badges is one of the few outward clues that the Volkswagen e-Up is an electric car
  • The e-Up also gets a different design of 15-inch alloy wheel, designed to reduce aerodynamic drag
  • The e-Up can actually accelerate faster than the petrol Volkswagen Up thanks to its electric motor's greater torque
  • Eco and Eco+ driving modes help lengthen the e-Up's potential range
  • Volkswagen’s Up city car gets an electric version
  • Positives: speedy, refined and easy to drive
  • Negatives: limited range and steep asking price
Volkswagen Up (12 on) E-Up 5d Auto - Road Test
As you’ve probably guessed from the name, the Volkswagen e-Up is an electric version of the popular Up city car.

As you’ve probably guessed from the name, the Volkswagen e-Up is an electric version of the popular Up city car.

Instead of the usual 1.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet there’s an 80bhp AC electric motor. That’s powered by a battery pack mounted in the car’s floor which takes around nine hours to fully charge from flat via a household 230-volt supply. Using a faster wallbox charger it takes six hours.

Two charging cables are supplied with the e-Up, stowed in a compartment under the boot floor. One can connect to a standard three-pin socket and the other to a larger Combined Charging System DC socket for faster charging – up to 80 percent charge from flat in 30 minutes, according to VW.

Boot space itself is not greatly different from the regular Up thanks to the batteries’ low position in the floor, although there’s no longer space for a spare wheel – the e-Up gets a tyre foam and inflator kit instead.

Although the regular Up is available with either three or five doors, all e-Up versions have a five-door body and one equipment level based on the range-topping ‘High Up’ petrol car.

That means there’s plenty of kit as standard including cruise control, heated seats and VW’s ‘Maps & More’ portable sat-nav and multimedia unit. The e-Up also gets a few extra toys of its own as standard including climate control, rear parking sensors, DAB radio, a heated windscreen and a low-speed automatic emergency braking system. It’s still missing audio controls on the steering wheel, though.

VW e-Up charging cables

How does it feel to drive?

As with the majority of electric cars it’s very quiet and glides away silently from rest. It’s a testament to the regular Up’s soundproofing and general refinement that once you’ve picked up speed there’s very little audible road or wind noise, even at dual carriageway speeds – especially impressive given that Volkswagen says there have been no extra soundproofing measures added to the e-Up.

Although the e-Up is a fair bit heavier than its petrol siblings (the battery pack weighs a hefty 230kg) it retains their neat handling characteristics. In fact, if anything the e-Up is more fun to drive than the petrol version thanks to the electric motor’s greater torque (210Nm versus 95Nm for the top petrol car) which means there’s sprightlier acceleration on tap.

The battery pack’s position makes for a low centre of gravity, which means the e-Up can still tackle corners with reasonable agility and the already excellent ride quality over bumps is actually even better.

Perhaps the biggest credit that can be paid to the electric Up is just how ordinary it feels on the road. Lack of engine noise apart, it doesn’t feel hugely different from its petrol counterpart.

Not at home on the range

Volkswagen e-Up electric

One important area in which it does feel different, however, is that old electric car chestnut: range anxiety.

While it’ll happily cruise at 70mph, that does mean the indicated range diminishes at an alarming rate. At that road speed it’s almost possible to see the needle on the battery energy gauge (in the usual fuel gauge’s place on the instrument panel) swing downwards with the naked eye.

According to the display, our 30-mile test drive drained more than half of the batteries’ power. In fairness, that was over a route with an extended amount of dual carriageway running at 60mph or more (in and around the 50mph bracket is the e-Up’s sweet spot for energy consumption) and the test took place on a cold winter’s day, which reduces the batteries’ effectiveness. Furthermore the air-conditioning was turned up and so, occasionally, was the heated driver’s seat.

Volkswagen suggests an estimated range of between 74 and 102 miles in summer and between 49 and 75 miles in winter.

To help the e-Up consume as little energy as possible, there are three selectable driving modes: Standard, Eco and Eco+. Eco limits the motor’s power, dampens the accelerator response and restricts the air-con system, while Eco+ further limits the power and completely disables the heating and air-con.

There are also five levels of regenerative braking, where the electric motor slows the car when the accelerator pedal is lifted and converts the energy used in the process to partially recharge the battery. The three most powerful modes cause the brake lights to be triggered when lifting from the accelerator; in fact, the most extreme mode creates a really quite powerful braking effect, and you frequently find yourself driving the car using one pedal only.

Of course, when the battery is full there’s no regenerative braking effect. Particularly crafty e-Up owners with a hilly commute could charge the battery to 80 percent or so through the night and then make up the rest of the charge on downhill stretches on the way to work.

Volkswagen e-Up electric car

Is it worth your cash?

There’s no getting away from the fact that £24,250 (plus an extra £500 for the ‘Night Blue’ metallic paint on this particular test car) is an awful lot of money to spend on a Volkswagen Up – although the government’s current £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant can reduce the asking price to £19,250.

Though that price is steep, it’s very competitive against other electric hatchbacks such as the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf, and considerably less than the more premium BMW i3.

Leaving the price tag to one side for a moment, though, the VW e-Up is one of the more well-rounded and convincing pure electric cars on the market at the moment.

Its sheer normality and unobtrusiveness is a big plus point. Like the Nissan Leaf it’s very easy and ‘ordinary’ to drive but unlike the Leaf it looks ordinary too with less polarising styling. The only outward clues that it is an electric car, apart from the ‘e’ badge on the boot, is a blue border around the VW badges front and rear and a different alloy wheel design, shaped to improve aerodynamics.

Unlike Renault’s Zoe, where the battery is leased separately from the car at a monthly rate, the e-Up’s battery is sold as part of the car so if you own the car, you own the battery.

Bear in mind, however, that when the battery comes to the end of its life at some point in the future it will be expensive to replace.

Naturally the zero tailpipe emissions means there’s nothing to pay in road tax (or BIK tax for company car drivers until the 2015/16 tax year).

If your commute doesn’t include a great deal of dual carriageway running and you don’t mind playing the occasional game of range roulette, you may well be able to make the e-Up’s sums add up.

Volkswagen’s sales expectations are modest but as a low-key, practical entry to the EV market the VW e-Up does its job very well indeed.