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VW e-Up first drive review

The Good

  • Decent practicality

The Bad

  • Long recharge time
3

Cat Dow road tests the new Volkswagen e-Up, an electrified version of the popular city car.

Volkswagen isn’t the first company that springs to mind when one considers green motoring, as the firm has historically preferred diesel- and petrol-powered cars to electric or hybrid models. The giant carmaker’s stance appears to be softening however as it prepares to roll out electric versions of its Up and Golf models, cunningly known as the e-Up and e-Golf

Never ones to turn down a chance to help save the planet, we hopped behind the wheel of an e-Up and threw it around the much-maligned roundabouts of Milton Keynes. Here’s what we found.

The VW e-Up is an electric version of the popular city car.
The VW e-Up is an electric version of VW’s popular city car.

Under the bonnet

VW has ditched the internal combustion engines and fuel tanks used in its standard Up in favour of a 60kW (80bhp) electric motor and a set of lithium-ion batteries. Rather than buy off-the-shelf batteries, it’s taken the plunge and made its own, in this case an 18.7kWh lithium-ion pack that sits along the floor of the e-Up to ensure a low centre of gravity.

Electric car batteries are well known for adding significant weight, and while the battery pack here adds a significant 230kg, the car tips the scales at a reasonably impressive 1,139kg, way below the lardy 1,500kg Renault Zoe and eevn edging the athletic 1,195kg BMW i3.

Driving range & charging options

“The e-Up has a range of up to 99 miles, depending on how it’s driven.”VW says the e-Up gives a real world range of up to 99 miles, depending on how efficiently it’s driven and how often you use the electrical systems inside. Lead-footed drivers will be pleased to hear Volkswagen has integrated its ‘ThinkBlue Trainer’ into the in-built Garmin satnav system, which gives you tips on how best to eek out extra range.

The e-Up takes nine hours to recharge.
The e-Up takes nine hours to recharge.

When the battery inevitably goes flat, you can top it up from a normal domestic plug or, if you can find one, a fast charger. Use the former and it’ll take nine hours to charge from flat to full, so make sure you get home in good time or you might not have enough juice the following morning. 

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a fast charger, the e-Up can top up to 80 per cent power in 30 minutes. VW provide both the standard three-pin and rapid charging cables as part of the e-Up package.

How does it drive?

“The VW e-Up is powered, by a ‘permanently excited synchronous motor’.”The VW e-Up is powered, not by anything so dull as an engine, but by a ‘permanently excited synchronous motor’, which makes sense because it’s really good fun to drive. Its single speed transmission means it trundles along like an automatic, although ‘hurtle’ is probably a more appropriate verb – it’s rapid.

The e-Up is hugely enjoyable to drive.
The e-Up is hugely enjoyable to drive.

“It’s quick off the mark, making traffic lights, roundabouts and overtaking equally joyful.The e-Up’s motor kicks out 210Nm of torque – loads compared to the 1.0-litre petrol version, which has a mere 95Nm. This means it’s quick off the mark, making traffic lights, roundabouts and overtaking equally joyful.

The e-Up’s braking characteristics may feel odd to anyone who hasn’t driven an electric car, as it begins to slow quite markedly the minute you lift off the accelerator. This, of course, is due to the regenerative braking system, which converts the car’s kinetic energy to electric energy to be stored in the battery, topping it up as you slow down. 

It accelerates hard from a standstill thanks to plenty of torque.
It accelerates hard from a standstill thanks to plenty of torque.

The e-Up has four levels of ‘recuperation’, the highest setting being ‘B’. Use this mode and you’ll find little need to touch the footbrake – more than once we found ourselves stopping yards from the car in front.

The ‘Eco’ and ‘Eco+’ buttons put the car into more frugal modes, reducing engine power from 60kw to 50kw and 40kW, respectively and dialing down the power of the air-con.

Styling & practicality

The VW e-Up looks almost exactly the same as the Up –- cute as hell on the outside, comfortable and practical on the inside. There are couple of changes, however, most notably the c-shaped LED lights on either side of its cutesy front grille. Its boot is slightly smaller – by 28 litres to be precise – and that would be fairly negligible, but further space is occupied by the charging cables, which live under a panel in the foor that is difficult to access if you already have luggage on board. 

The e-Up's cabin will be familiar to anyone who's driven the standard car.
The e-Up’s cabin will be familiar to anyone who’s driven the standard car.

Pricing

“The VW e-Up costs nearly twice as much as the standard car – including the goverment grant.”The e-Up comes in at a face-twisting £19,250 for the basic model. And that’s taking the government’s £5k incentive into account. Comparatively, this is more than double the price of the cheapest petrol-powered Up.

You also get a free 16-amp charging point installed at home, but at today’s petrol prices you’d have to be a real electric car evangelist not to buy the standard petrol Up and spend the leftover £10,000 or so on fuel.

VW says the majority of potential electric car owners will drive an average of 18.5 miles per day. If that applies to you, then you’d be better off in the petrol version, as it only costs £2 per day in petrol to travel that distance (at today’s fuel prices). That works out at £744 per year, meaning anyone travelling those distances regularly in an e-Up would have to wait well over 13 years to break even — assuming you had access to free electricity the entire time.

The e-Up only comes into its own if you drive long distances on a daily basis. Use the car’s full 100-mile range every day and you’ll break even after two and a half years. 

Pitched against its rivals, the e-Up is almost £1,000 cheaper than the basic model Nissan Leaf, but over £5,000 more expensive than the Renault Zoe.

The e-Up's boot is marginally smaller than before.
The e-Up’s boot is marginally smaller than before.

Why so expensive? VW has developed its battery from scratch, which will no doubt have pushed its costs up a fair bit. And the company doesn’t let you lease you the battery in the e-Up, instead prefering to include it in the overall price of the car. VW offer an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty on the battery and a three-year warranty on the car.

Outlook

Overall, the VW e-Up is impressive, particularly because of its enjoyable driving characteristics, decent practicality and its cute, if slightly conventional styling. But unless you regularly drive distances that would put a London cab driver to shame, it’s probably too expensive to warrant a purchase. It might be worth the investment if you can find a cheap leasing deal or your company’s footing the bill but we’ll have to wait until VW drops price drops before we can recommend it wholeheartedly.

Specification

Price£19,250

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