First drive review: Volkswagen e-Up! (2013)

What a shock ‒ Mr Clean's a proper weekend warrior

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THE e-Up! is an entirely electric version of the Up!, Volkswagen’s roundly applauded city car. It’s the latest mainstream model to come before us in a cloud of missionary zeal, evangelically urging us all to throw off the mental shackles of range anxiety and our instinctive human fear of milk floats and embrace the advancing plausibility of battery-powered transport. Fine. So let’s throw a weekend at it and see how evangelical it feels then.

My fresh, white e-Up! arrives on the back of a lorry one Friday afternoon, looking like, well, a regular Up!, albeit with no exhaust pipe. That stealthiness is potentially a big plus point. Most of us don’t necessarily want to go around feeling like Dan Dare (or at any rate, not all the time) and it stands to reason that electric cars will really have a shot at catching on only when they start looking like any other car.

The meter on the dashboard tells me that I’m good for 71 miles of smog-free, all-electric action before the battery will need charging again. Fortunately, then, this happens not to be a weekend when I need to drive 65 miles into Essex to visit relatives — although, in fairness, even that round trip would not rule out the e-Up!, given that I could top up the battery while I was there.

However, in the absence of a fast-charging point, refuelling this car from a standard household plug takes about nine hours, and no disrespect to my relatives, with whom obviously it’s always lovely to spend time, but I quite like to be in and out a bit quicker than that.

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Also, do relatives mind you borrowing their electricity to fill up your car? There are whole new areas of social interplay here that in these hesitant early days of the electric revolution we haven’t even begun to explore.

So the weekend starts for the e-Up! post-school on the Friday night with the car in a basic taxi call-out requiring it to collect three nine-year-old girls from a swimming pool in south London and deliver them to their respective doors. The nine-year-old girls tiresomely deplete the range by insisting on the use of Capital FM and reupholster the back seats with a veneer of Lucozade Sport and crisp crumbs. But the e-Up! proves itself deft in heavy traffic and pleasingly quick off the mark and is back to base in surprisingly short order.

On the Saturday morning I read a depressing story in The Times about the lack of uptake thus far for much of the country’s electric vehicle infrastructure, expensively installed by councils. Some public charging points have yet to be used at all.

But isn’t it the point that this stuff is for the future? And maybe everyone’s going over to their mother’s house at the weekend and getting their electricity from there. To be honest, I haven’t got a lot of time to ponder the implications of this news because my weekend is catching fire and I’ve now got to go to a supermarket to pick up an ironing board.

Can the e-Up! take a boxed ironing board? I collapse the twin rear seats and slide the board through. OK, it impedes access to the handbrake and the boot only just closes. But it’s in. Chalk one up to the electric future.

Saturday afternoon brings a football match in the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. I go online, wondering whether arriving in an electric car will excuse me from the council’s amusingly opportunistic pay-and-display parking charges.

Alas, although the borough appears to offer electric-car owners a variety of concessions and privileges, including access to some no doubt entirely unused charging points, you’ll need to sign up and pay an annual fee and I’m only there for the football. Accordingly I park and grudgingly tip the usual piggy bank’s-worth of loose change into the ticket machine. Don’t they know that I’m a beacon of hope who should be encouraged in my inner- city travellings, not stung for them?

On the plus side the car gets three people there and back in silent ease without fouling the borough’s air, and Chelsea win 2-1. More credit to the e-Up!.

On Sunday morning I have a recently replaced ironing board that needs disposing of. Also, now I come to look in the garden, some broken pots, a random plank, an old wicker basket, a split lampshade, a set of destroyed table tennis bats, a number of bin liners containing assorted items of dubious provenance and a brown cushion mysteriously left outside since about July and now eerily reminiscent of the bloated carcass of a drowned impala.

This surely will knock that irritatingly perky exclamation mark off the e-Up!’s badge. But no. With rear seats flattened and front passenger seat tipped forward, it all gets in. Furthermore the car barely seems to notice. Indeed I begin to enjoy how in the most frugal of its three driving modes the regenerative braking begins as you lift your foot from the accelerator, making driving the car a pleasingly one-pedal operation.

It turns out I am not the only person who has had the idea of devoting Sunday to visiting the tip. However, I am the only one in an e-Up!. As they queue for the recyling bins, most of my fellow dumpers are carelessly poisoning the atmosphere in bulky 4x4s and recognising no irony at all. Fools.

On the drive home I celebrate by burning a couple of miles off the battery listening to Radio 5 Live. True, medium-wave stations pick up interference from the motor and the car now smells faintly of dead impala, but the e-Up! still feels a heartening and uncomplicated place to be.

And that, bar another taxi call-out to the cinema and back, was pretty much my weekend. The e-Up! was ready to go another 31 miles, but I say there’s only so much fun a man can have. And what did I learn? That this car will do almost anything I want, except go a long way, and most of the time clearly, as a city-dweller, I don’t need to go a long way.

However, beyond range anxiety lies a greater mental barrier: price anxiety. With the government chipping in the first £5,000 the e-Up! comes out at £19,250, which even if you squint at it, seems a perplexing amount to pay for a four-seater box car. There’s no denying that it works, though. And no denying that the future just got a little bit closer.


Verdict ★★★★☆

Something for the weekend, and beyond


Volkswagen e-Up!

AC electric synchronous
80bhp / 155 lb ft
Single-speed automatic
0-62mph in 12.4sec
Road tax band:
L 3540mm, W 1641mm, H 1489mm



The Rivals

  • Nissan Leaf Visia, £20,990 (after £5,000 grant)
    For Larger and more practical than an e-Up!; has a choice of three trim levels; respectable performance Against Not that pretty; plasticky interior; range anxiety an issue on a winter’s night with a fully laden car

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  •  Volkswagen Polo 1.2 S, £12,190
    For Larger and more practical than an e-Up!; more affordable; comfortable driving experience; no range anxiety Against Buyers must weigh up the Polo’s lower purchase price against expected annual fuel costs

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