The VW group owns a wide variety of brands from Audi to Porsche and routinely shares major components across cars. The VW Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo are perfect examples of this -- badges aside, they're pretty much identical.
All three cars look the same, have access to the same equipment and technology, are equally good to drive, and will roll off the same production line in Slovakia. But, as similar as they appear, there are minor differences that mean you might be better off spending your cash on one car and not the others.
Here, we've picked up our trusty microscope and fine-tooth comb and analysed each in minute detail to see what really separates these near identical triplets.
The Skoda Citigo offers the lowest base price, starting at just £7,630 in entry-level S trim. The lowliest Seat Mii, also badged S, costs £215 more at £7,845, and the cheapest Volkswagen Up version, called Take Up, starts at £7,995. VW thus charges a £150 premium over Seat and £355 over Skoda at basement level.
You get a strikingly similar car at these three different prices. All are three-door hatchbacks, each with the same 1.0-litre engine, five-speed manual gearbox and a less-than-sumptuous spec. Door handles and wing mirrors are black plastic, wheels are 14-inch steel and if it's hot, you'll be winding its windows down manually to get around the fact there is no aircon.
If you want five doors, neither VW or Seat have yet confirmed their premium (expect £350 to £400) but keen Skoda has put a price on its five-door Citigo. It starts from £7,980 -- or fifteen quid less than the cheapest three-door VW.
Best for price: Skoda Citigo
Volkswagen’s Up currently offers the broadest range of specifications, with three trim levels called Take Up, Move Up and High Up, as well as two premium special editions called Up White and Up Black. It also offers fuel-saving BlueMotion Technology on its mid-ranking Move Up model.
Skoda sells its Citigo in S, SE and Elegance versions, closely matching VW’s three trim levels. The Czech firm offers a fuel-saving GreenTech version at both SE and Elegance level.
Seat offers the fewest choices of the three brands. Its fuel-saving Ecomotive version is a separate model, positioned between the S and SE trim levels, while top of the Mii tree is the Sport trim.
All three brands offer engines with either 60PS (59bhp) or 75PS (74bhp). The two outputs are squeezed from the same 999cc, triple-cylinder petrol engine. For the higher power plump for the Skoda Citigo Elegance GreenTech at £9,860, the Seat Mii Sport at £9,980, or the VW High Up at £10,390. The trio should feel quite different, from the eco-biased Skoda to the sporty Seat and the more luxurious High Up.
To cut through the remaining forest of options, we looked at the minimum outlay for a car with aircon, electric windows, alloys, ESP and remote central locking. This means SE trim for the Seat Mii, at £9,275, an SE Skoda with optional alloys for £8,910, or the mid-range VW Move Up with optioned wheels, from £9,620. All wind up similarly specified, although the VW does get 15-inch alloys versus the 14-inch items on the Seat and Skoda, in recompense for its considerable extra outlay.
Best for spec: Skoda Citigo
If you really want to customise your car, the VW Up is your best bet. It offers a range of seat fabrics including some iffy faux leather, a choice of five dashboard colours, plus various alloy wheels up to 16 inches in diameter. It also offers eight upgrade packs that let you boost the comfort levels, quality of the stereo system, or sportiness of the suspension.
There's less choice with the Seat Mii. The company fits a different fabric to each trim level, giving you no choice, and alloys top out at 15 inches. There are just two Convenience option packs, one for SE level cars and one for Sport trim. If you really want them, there are some doubtful decals available.
Skoda offers similarly limited upholstery -- only Elegance trim brings a choice -- and again alloys grow no bigger than 15 inches. But there are more upgrade bundles courtesy of Style, Convenience, Entertainment and Winter packs.
Only slight differences crop up when it comes to cosmetic upgrades. A panoramic sunroof costs £650 from VW or Skoda but £660 from Seat, for example, while metallic paint is £420 at Seat, £450 at VW and £460 at Skoda.
Best for options: Volkswagen Up
The insurance industry can see past the different badges and treats these cars equally. The 60PS models all fall into group 1E, the 75PS models into group 2E. These are the lowest two groups available.
It’s a similar story with safety, where Euro NCAP crashed the Up, gave it a good five-star rating, and didn’t bother to test the Skoda or Seat. It states that the three cars are identical from a safety perspective, all offering the same crash structures, ABS as standard, plus head, thorax and side airbags.
None of the cars will be expensive to insure, but it’s worth remembering that policy costs rise with list price as well as insurance group. So Skoda’s keener prices will have a double effect.
It's worth noting the Up, Mii and Citigo are the smallest and cheapest cars in the UK to offer a crash avoidance option. The laser-based system detects obstructions ahead of the car and will automatically brake to prevent collisions at speeds up to 18mph. The same kit is common to all three brands but VW calls it City Emergency Braking, Seat calls it City Safety Assist and in the Skoda brochure it’s City Safe Drive.
VW charges £400 to add this system to the base Up, or £225 to add it to models already equipped with ESP. Seat asks £400 or £200 respectively, while Skoda charges £300 or £180.
Best for insurance: Skoda Citigo
Depreciation is the biggest cost of owning a car, and trade source CAP predicts very similar residuals for both the VW Up and Seat Mii. CAP has yet to rate the Citigo, but there’s no reason to expect a worse result.
The Up and Mii should retain between 40% and 46% of their initial value after three years and 40,000 miles of motoring, depending on spec. It’s the cheapest trim levels that will fare the best, as expensive options hold little sway over cost-conscious buyers of second-hand city cars.
Rising fuel costs may make the eco-label cars attractive -- all have start-stop, lowered suspension and an energy-saving alternator to cut consumption. The 60PS BlueMotion, Ecomotive and GreenTech cars score 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and emit CO2 at a rate of 96g/km. Skoda also adds GreenTech goodies to its 75PS Elegance model, yielding 67.3mpg and 99g/km. All sub-100g/km models benefit from zero-cost road tax and exemption from the London Congestion Charge.
All three brands offer an identical three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, with unlimited mileage cover in the first two years.
Servicing costs might normally split the cars, as labour rates at VW garages are likely to be higher than those at Seat or Skoda dealers, but VW is currently offering a three-year fixed price servicing plan for just £299. Seat and Skoda have yet to announce fixed-price plans.
Best for running costs: a three-way tie
There are currently three reasons to buy a VW Up over a Seat Mii or Skoda Citigo: the wider choice of options, badge snobbery, and the fact that it has arrived in showrooms a few months ahead of its two siblings. As far as we can tell, there are no reasons to buy a Seat over a Skoda, unless the not-especially sporty Sport edition appeals. Our winner is therefore the Skoda Citigo, which in this almost identical trio of city tots offers the best value for money by far.