First Drive: The Volkswagen e-Up! brings fun to the EV segment

What is it?

In the race to gain EV supremacy, it seems that many manufacturers have forgotten that often the best application of electric technology is in smaller city cars. After all, the current crop of EVs are quite large; Jaguar’s I-Pace is huge, for instance, while Audi’s e-Tron is a dominating force out on the road. Then there is the myriad of crossovers like the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia Soul Electric.

e-Up! static
The e-Up! features short overhands to make parking easier

But the Volkswagen e-Up! is different. It’s quite small – as is the standard Up! – and it doesn’t look all too ‘out-there’ either. VW has given the e-Up! bigger batteries to improve that all-important range, but can this little car battle it out in a segment dominated by leviathans? Let’s take a look.

What’s new?

If you were to judge ‘what’s new’ by the exterior of the e-Up!, you’d probably say ‘not a lot’. It doesn’t look particularly different from the car it replaces, nor does it appear all too dissimilar to the standard combustion-engined car. No, the bulk of the changes here have been made under the skin.

e-Up! charging port
The e-Up! accepts fast CCS charging

As we mentioned earlier, Volkswagen has boosted the battery count in the e-Up!, helping to extend its range and bolster its appeal. The firm has also added the ability to fast-charge the car – a feature more often seen in ‘premium’ alternatives – which should help to drive down the time you’ll be waiting at the plug.

What’s under the bonnet?

Underneath the e-Up! sits an electric motor linked to a 32.3kWh battery. Power is sent to the front wheels through a single-speed gearbox, and in total it pushes out 80.5bhp but, more importantly, a healthy 210Nm of torque – but we’ll get to the effect that has shortly.

Sprinting from 0-60mph takes the Up! 11.6 seconds and all-in it’ll do 81mph. Volkswagen claims that you’ll be able to do 159 miles between charges, while the ability to use combined charging system tech means that the car can be taken from zero to 80 per cent charge in just an hour via a 40kW DC charger. Use a standard domestic wallbox and that falls to a respectable four hours, while via a three-pin you’ll be looking at around 16 hours for a full charge.

What’s it like to drive?

The little Up! is already an absolute hoot to drive, so you’d hope that some of that sense of fun had been transplanted across to the electric version. And, despite weighing in at 1,160kg – well over the regular car’s 926kg – it is. That sense of fun remains, with the zippy acceleration you only get from an EV really adding to the whole experience. The steering is well-judged and nicely weighted while the ride is good too, with only the largest of potholes tending to unsettle it.

e-Up! dynamic
The e-Up! is well-suited to life around town

Around town, it’s nimble and makes slotting into gaps in traffic a breeze and even at higher speeds on the motorway, it’s unflustered. Surprisingly for an EV, acceleration from 50mph to 70mph isn’t bad at all – many electric cars tend to start getting a touch lethargic at this point.

How does it look?

We already liked the understated styling of the standard Up!, so it’s fair to say that we appreciate the undercover looks of this electric version too. Only slim LED running lights up front help to denote it as something different to the ‘norm’, while the charging port is integrated into the place you’d usually find the filler cap. All very normal indeed.

e-Up! detail
The e-Up! has quite regular styling compared with other EVs

The compact proportions lend the Up! to town driving, while the short overhangs and relatively slim wheel arches make it a doddle to park. In terms of electric vehicle design, it certainly rests on the conservative end of things, but we’re sure that this will appeal to many.

What’s it like inside?

Again, much like the exterior, the cabin of the e-Up! is business as usual. There’s no main infotainment screen – just a cradle for your smartphone – so the forward part of the interior feels pleasantly uncluttered. The steering wheel has a good amount of adjustment, while the seats are well-padded and comfortable. There’s good forward visibility too – though on brighter days the windscreen does tend to reflect a large vent located at the back of the dashboard, which can prove quite distracting.

e-Up interior
The interior of the e-Up! is pleasantly straightforward in design

Our five-door model granted easy access to the rear of the car too, and those who are sat in the back that won’t struggle for legroom – though of course, the car’s size does have its limitations. Very tall passengers will likely find headroom a hard-to-find aspect of the Up!

What’s the spec like?

Our test car came in at £20,555 after the government’s plug-in car grant, which doesn’t seem like bad value at all given the kit on offer. Cruise control, parking sensors at both front and rear and a rearview camera are all thrown in as standard, while a dinky five-inch colour touchscreen system – essentially a small ‘strip’ screen – houses Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio.

e-Up! screen
A small compact screen houses Bluetooth and media functions

Volkswagen also – importantly – includes two charging cables, one 16amp unit for use at wallboxes and charge points and another 10amp cable for charging at the mains.

Verdict

The plucky e-Up! has hit the nail on the head. No, it can’t deliver the headline ranges boasted by larger EVs, but with around 150 miles per charge it can offer a genuinely useable range. Short trips to town and even longer journeys will unlikely trouble the bottom end of the range, while that ability to fast charge means that if you do need to plug in, you won’t be waiting all that long.

Most importantly, however, the e-Up! is fun, and that’s certainly an aspect which many EVs have missed from the process of driving.

  • Model: Volkswagen e-Up!
  • Price as tested: £20,905 (with grant)
  • Engine: Electric motor with batteries
  • Power: 80.5bhp
  • Torque: 210Nm
  • Max speed: 81mph
  • 0-60mph: 11.6 seconds
  • MPG: N/A
  • Emissions: 0 g/km CO2
  • Range: 159 miles
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