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Volkswagen e-up!

Click to view picture gallery“One day, if the big giant heads have
  their way, we
ll all be bombing around
  in electric cars. However, to date two
  things have thwarted their Utopian
  dreams: first, the cost to the ordinary
  man in the street of going electric;
  and, second, an EV
s real-life range.
  So, has the latest battery-powered
  newcomer
VWs e-up! got what
  it takes to drive the vision forward?”


COST-WISE IT'S STILL A BIG BITE out of a standard-rate taxpayer's take home pay: £19,250 and that's after the £5K government backhander has been subtracted from the retail price.

As to the range, the e-up! will run for around 93 miles before it stops although, as with all EV's, the actual real-world figure is heavily dependent on your driving style. Officially you can expect between 75 and 103 miles during the warmer weather, and between 50 and 75 miles in wintry conditions this discrepancy is down to both the extra electric equipment (heater, heated seats, wipers, lights) in use when it's cold, as well as the fact that batteries are more efficient working at warmer temperatures.

“Most owners will likely
have an off-road parking
spot on their property
so will be able to have
one of the optional
domestic wall boxes that
reduce the full-charge
time from nine
to six hours.
However, public fast-
charging points put them
in the shade, delivering
an 80% battery charge
in just 30 minutes...
Recharging is as easy as plugging into a standard household socket do so and it will take nine hours to fully charge from 'empty'. Most owners will likely have an off-road parking spot on their property so will be able to install one of the optional domestic wall boxes that reduce the full-charge time to six hours. However, public fast-charging points put them in the shade, delivering an 80% battery charge in just 30 minutes.

From the foregoing it's pretty obvious that e-up! ownership is very much dependent on the driver's daily driving requirements. Unless public charging points are on-hand en-route, a single trip longer than the battery pack's max range is not on. However, given that the average daily home-work-home car run for the majority of commuters is said to be around 40 miles, then an e-up! should be fine and dandy.

Factor in less than £3 to recharge the batteries for another 93 zero emission miles and you begin to get the appeal. Use an e-up! five days a week or more and the financial fuel savings against a petrol- or diesel-powered car begin to stack up to offset the EV's much higher purchase price. For the record, a top-spec High up! the model on which the better-specced 'e' is based running a less powerful petrol engine costs £12,215 against the £19K you'll need to buy the all-electric version.

Externally the e-up! looks much like any other VW up! with the same modishly 'boxy' lines emphasised by a wheel at each corner although the e-up! gets unique aero-optimised (very smart and very easy to clean!) 15-inch alloy wheels. The distinctive black glass panel tailgate found on all up! models makes for an unmistakable tail while bright white C-shaped daytime running lights add extra character to the short grille-less but aerodynamically 'clean' nose.

The e-up! cabin is far more spacious than its external footprint suggests. Helped by a deep glasshouse that provides generous headroom and a white-themed interior (including a pure white fascia), it's welcomingly light and airy. The seats feature built-in headrests with just the right amount of bolstering to keep you in place; the tall seatbacks provide good shoulder and upper back support, and are comfortable to travel in over both short and long distances.

Fit and finish is typically VW: first rate. And, unlike many EVs and hybrids, VW haven't gone for pseudo-futuristic instrumentation the e-up! is instantly usable by anyone who's ever driven a car thanks to straightforward switchgear and a neat trio of beautifully clear analogue dials supplemented by a removable infotainment module that plugs-and-plays when mounted atop the fascia.

The single most important piece of information is the available range and it's clearly presented. All on-board driver info is shown on a small screen in the lower half of the speedometer whose menu includes all the normal trip items as well as a digital speed readout something that on today's busy roads has become essential.

“The SatNav,
which gives foolproof
spoken directions and
also shows public
charging points, is much
more than your
navigator — it’s actually
a portable multi-
functional infotainment
system which also serves
up vehicle information
displays, has a media
player and picture
viewer, and Bluetooth
media plus phone connectivity...
Starting, incidentally, couldn't be simpler. As you would in a conventional car, just insert the key blade into the ignition lock and twist; instead of hearing an engine fire up you'll see 'ready' appear in the driver's info display. Into Drive with the selector lever, release the traditional handbrake, and press the accelerator. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The SatNav, which gives foolproof spoken directions and also, helpfully, shows public charging points on the maps, is much more than your navigator it's actually a portable multifunctional Garmin infotainment system (called Maps & More) with a five-inch touchscreen which along with navigation also serves up vehicle information displays, has a media player (32GB Micro SD card reader) and picture viewer, and Bluetooth media plus phone connectivity. And works seamlessly alongside the standard-fit radio-CD unit.

Other handy features include the system's ability to automatically record the car's position, so when returning to your e-up! you can be guided every step of the way. The system can also show your possible range on the map, either as a return or one-way journey. Other useful abilities include pre-setting vehicle charging, and setting the electronic climate control to heat or cool the cabin at set times.

One thing you don't go short on inside the e-up! is kit: you'll find electric front windows (the rear doors have front-hinged windows that push open about an inch at their trailing edge but they do let in a nice flow of fresh air), power-operated and heated door mirrors, electronic climate control, the portable Garmin Infotainment unit already mentioned, rear parking sensors (with graphic display, including on-screen 'distance' markers), heat-insulating, green-tinted glass with privacy glass from the B-pillars back, two-stage heated front seats, cruise control, speed limiter, DAB digital radio, heated front screen, and LED daytime running lights.

You also get City Emergency Braking = basically, forget to brake at speeds under 19mph and the e-up! will do it for you. Naturally an electronic stabilisation programme, traction control system, and a comprehensive airbag set are all also fitted as standard.

The e-up! only comes with five doors so access to the rear cabin is fine. It's most comfortable for two adults in the back (or three kids) although you can manage three grown-ups at a pinch.

Lift the fifth door and you'll find 251 litres of boot space. For those occasions when more is needed, just fold the 60:40 split rear seats and you'll have a 959-litre loadbay. Leave the floor panel at the second of its variable height settings and your cargo bay will have a flat floor all the way from the mid-thigh level loading sill to the front seatbacks. A tyre 'mobility' (repair) kit lives under the boot floor, sharing the space with the two charging leads.

Product-wise, the really good news is that the e-up! is essentially the same brilliant city car-cum-superior runaround from VW, only all-electric powered instead of petrol. Occupying the engine bay and driving the front wheels is an 80bhp/155lb ft electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack.

“Its a shame that
the perceived image of
EV
s is that you should
drive one for no
other reason than to
save the world.
Actually there
s a far, far
better reason —
the electric-powered
e-up! is really entertaining to drive...
Tactically deployed throughout the floorpan and under the rear seats, the 204 cells that make up the pack add 230kg to the car's weight but far from being a handicap, this lowers the car's centre of gravity.

Which, of course, benefits the e-up! dynamically; handling-wise, its compliant ride (just a tad on the firm side but nonetheless agreeable) and civilised road manners are every bit as good as those of the petrol version.

It's a shame then that the perceived image of EV's is that you should drive one for no other reason than to 'save the world'. Actually there's a far, far better reason the electric-powered e-up! is unexpectedly entertaining to drive.

Mostly the buzz comes from the instant shot of acceleration you get each and every time your right foot presses the accelerator. Unlike a petrol or diesel engine, you don't need to build up the revs to reach max torque it's available from standstill, hence the rather exhilarating surge the instant you push down on the oh-so-quiet 'loud' pedal.

Even cruising along at a nonchalant 60mph on the motorway, flex your right foot and pick-up is satisfyingly brisk. Pulling away from the lights is even more fun it's easy to leave far more powerful conventionally-powered cars wondering if they've just stalled.

While great fun, driving like that all the time will take big bites out of the fully-charged 93-mile range. When we put it to the test we set out with an 88-mile range; driving in normal mode, we'd only covered 34 miles of a 70-mile round trip before the range was down to 34 miles with 36 miles still to go. Uh-oh!

Time to turn back, ease off and regain some range using the regenerative braking. No rocket science required: using the selector lever you simply select one of five (D, D1, D2, D3 and B) energy recovery modes. The first level slows the car gently while at the same time feeding the battery pack; at the fifth level lifting off the accelerator has a similar effect to a serious press on the brake pedal.

In general driving these modes can be used to not only recharge the battery while travelling along, but also to call up what feels just like engine braking from a conventional engine when going down steep hills or slowing for lights or junctions. In fact, once you're used to the strongest level, you almost don't need the foot brake.

In addition the e-up! has three driving modes: normal (Drive), eco and eco+. Eco and eco+ progressively step-down power and accelerator 'aggressiveness', while at the same time reducing the electrical drain of the air-conditioning system.

While the top speed in normal mode is 81mph, this is cut to 75mph in eco mode, then down again to 59mph in eco+ the less quickly you go, the longer your electrical 'juice' lasts. However, whatever mode you're in, if you need maximum acceleration then just kick-down the accelerator and full power will be temporarily restored.

“The e-up! is a super
little car that rides well
while making
near-silent progress,
has well-planted
cornering (enhanced by
the improved centre
of gravity) and,
helped by sharp steering,
crisp turn-in and
excellent body control,
is nimble enough
to punt around with
some gusto...
Back to our range test run. Thankfully, by switching to eco mode and D3-level regenerative braking, we made it home safely with about 13 miles range to spare. To recap: we set out with an 88-mile limit and after covering 70 miles our remaining range was still 13 miles. So the predicted journey start figure was only 5 miles short: 88 versus 83 (70 used plus 13 still available). Range anxiety? What range anxiety?!

Of course, in and around a major city we could have found a public charge point and, for peace of mind, topped up en-route but we were out in the sticks where they're still few and far between.

In the dark ages before mobile phones one might, in an emergency, have stopped at a stranger's house and asked to use their landline but, let's face it, you simply can't pull into a stranger's drive and ask if you can plug into one of their sockets to charge your car.

Well, maybe an MP would have the cheek; but not your average citizen. For the average one-car-family motorist, the range issue will, sadly, continue to trump the zero emissions and whisper-quiet travel that are the hallmarks of the EV. However, for urbanites and even some suburbanites with a fast-charge point in their garage who need to cover less than 60-70 miles per day, there's no such deterrent.

Which is great for them because the e-up! is a super little car that rides well while making near-silent progress, has well-planted cornering (enhanced by the improved centre of gravity) and, helped by sharp steering, crisp turn-in and excellent body control, is nimble enough to punt around with some gusto.

With 155lb ft of torque, all of which is available from the instant you pull away, the e-up! zips off the blocks to 62mph in 12.4 seconds combined with its cheeky-chirpy character, its nippiness in city traffic is a delight. The 81mph max also means there's more than enough 'go' on the open road.

Running an e-up! doesn't cost much with no road tax to pay, there's only the electricity cost of recharging; and even charging up once a day is a financial dip in the ocean compared to the cost of fuelling up a petrol or diesel car.

Factor in its quality build, practical five-door body style, cheeky character, über-smooth power delivery and uncannily silent and refined cabin, and for the lucky few whose lifestyle parameters it matches, the e-up! is definitely the EV way to go.
MotorBar

Volkswagen e-up! | £19,250
Maximum speed: 81mph | 0-62mph: 12.4 seconds | Max Range: 93 miles
Power: 80bhp | Torque: 155lb ft | CO2 0g/km