It may not look like it, but the all-electric Volkswagen e-up! feels like one of the fastest and most fun ways to get around town.
We’ve already driven the original all-electric Volkswagen e-up!, but now there’s an updated version. Bearing in mind all the issues surrounding local air quality, should the e-up! be on your city car shortlist?
The Volkswagen e-up! is essentially the same car as the petrol-powered up!, but with the engine removed and replaced with a 230 kg lithium-ion battery (which sits in the vehicle floor) and a 60 kW electric motor.
The five-door body also remains, with virtually identical space for passengers and luggage as the petrol model. The boot is small but there’s extra space under the false floor – where the charging cables can be kept.
The interior is basic, but it has a (mostly) quality feel for the city car segment. There’s a small screen in the stereo unit that shows images from a reversing camera, and although there’s no satnav, there’s a holder for a smartphone, which can run a satnav app, along with details about the vehicle’s battery range. Such information would be helpful, because the standard dashboard display is not designed around an electric car at all, with very limited information. With a bit of button pressing, you can manage to bring up a small display showing the car’s range.
The steering wheel has height adjustment, but no reach adjustment – which is standard in the city car class. There are also no central air vents, just a vent on the far left and one on the far right. Perhaps the strangest example of cost saving is the lack of a cover over the mirror in the driver’s sun visor. How many pennies would it cost to add a plastic cover to avoid you having to drive around looking at your reflection all the time?
The Volkswagen e-up! has most of the same qualities as other electric cars: it’s generally quiet and refined, it has lots of torque, and, with no clutch or gear changing, it’s easy to drive. However there’s one difference between the e-up! and most other electric cars – it’s very small, and relatively light. This means that, when combined with the instant torque delivery, it feels incredibly nippy around town. In fact we’d go so far as to say that the e-up! feels like one of the fastest and most fun ways to get round urban areas at speeds of up to 30 mph. It’s more fun than you’d think. And there’s even more good news for city drivers: it’s amazingly comfortable over speed bumps.
Having said above that the e-up! is generally quiet, in relation to petrol cars, it’s actually one of the noisier EVs that we’ve driven, with an audible whine from the electric motor – presumably due to a lack of sound proofing and NVH investment.
As there’s no engine under the bonnet, you wonder if Volkswagen could have improved the steering lock, as Renault has done to take advantage of the lack of engine up front in the Twingo.
The big selling point of the Volkswagen e-up is that it has zero tailpipe emissions. It also has low running costs – around one-fifth of those of the petrol model.
Volkswagen quotes a 99 mile range for the e-up!, as well as qualifying this by saying you can expect a real-life range of 75-103 miles in summer, and 50-75 miles in winter. A range that at best doesn’t exceed 100 miles isn’t a great selling point to most car buyers, but a range of 50 miles excludes pretty much all drivers except those that only venture a few miles from their house. The best we got from the range in real-life range was 90 miles, and that was without selecting the eco and eco+ buttons, which dial down certain heating and ventilation functions. You can also extract more range by adjusting the level of brake regeneration, with five modes available: D, D1, D2, D3, and B.
We think you need a minimum of a 100 mile real-life range to start to address people’s concerns about range anxiety.
The e-up! takes around nine hours to fully charge using a cable with a three-pin plug and standard domestic electricity supply. This reduces to around six hours with a 3.6 kW home charger. It is possible to fast charge it to 80% in 30 minutes.
The Volkswagen e-up costs £20,780, after the UK government plug-in car grant of £4,500. Our test car cost £21,295 (the ‘Honey Yellow’ paint being a £270 option). There’s only one trim level.
The Volkswagen up! is likely to be seen by most people as ‘boxy’ rather than ‘racy’. The electric e-up! will probably be seen even less favourably by many motorists. However taking this view would be a mistake, because the e-up! is actually great fun for nipping around town. Because of its instant torque in such a small package, acceleration from 0-30 mph feels genuinely rapid. So if you’re looking for a compact, agile city car that has zero tailpipe emissions, then the e-up! deserves a look. However you’d need to be comfortable with its real-world range of 50-100 miles, depending on the time of year – and this is the issue that’s likely to put many people off. You can buy a petrol up! from £9,135, which is less than half of the price of the electric up!, and it has range of over 400 miles.
But we need to remember that legislation regarding air quality in cities around the world is getting ever-tighter, with electric cars being seen as the solution to this problem. And Volkswagen is currently developing a range of all-new electric cars, so the e-up! can be seen as a stepping stone on this journey. In the meantime, the Volkswagen e-up! gains a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10.