Review and road test of the Volkswagen e-up! (2014 - 2022)
By Jonathan Crouch
The Volkswagen e-up! is an electric version of the popular up! city car with a now-longer WLTP-rated range of up to 159 miles in its final form. In this later guise, it was a strong package, but after a glance at the used market asking prices, you might wonder how it can justify itself on the balance sheet against a more conventional petrol-powered up! That's what we're here to find out.
5DR HATCH (ELECTRIC)
Shall we get the jokes about this car being trialled first in Yorkshire out of the way good and early? Let's get to the facts here. Back in 2014, the e-up! was Volkswagen's first toe in the water when it came to electric cars. Back then, the battery range was rated at just 83 miles - and that was on the old, rather unrealistic NEDC cycle.
The revised version launched in 2019 was much better. It could, in real terms, go almost twice as far, thanks to a larger lithium-ion battery pack and it was much improved in terms of comfort and connectivity. As it needed to be to combat the new wave of small battery-powered models that by then were hitting the market. Should this one be on your shopping list if you're looking for a tiny EV from its period? Let's find out.
What You Get
Externally, the e-up! can be identified by badges on the front wings and boot lid, as well as by distinctive C-shaped LED daytime running lights, and, on post '19-plate models, by 15-inch 'Tezzle' alloy wheels. But these are details. Essentially, aside from the lack of tail pipes, the e-Up (only offered with five doors) is hard to identify from its petrol counterparts without looking for the badging. There are no obvious giveaways to this car's all-electric status once you get behind the wheel. There's a proper ignition slot rather than a start button and even the large analogue fuel gauge looks endearingly conventional.
As usual with an up!, the interior feels a slight cut above other city cars in terms of quality. As for connectivity, well as in other up models, you get a smartphone docking attachment that sits above the climate controls and can accommodate handsets with screen sizes of up to 5.5-inches. If you don't want to faff around with your 'phone, the car itself provides this little 5.0-inch 'Composition Colour' touchscreen below the climate controls, which has shortcut buttons for 'radio', 'media' and 'phone' and can display the smallest reversing camera display we've ever seen.
What about the rear seat? Well given the dinky exterior dimensions, it's a lot more spacious than you might expect in the back but there are a couple of irritations: first that you don't get proper side windows - just glass panes you can angle out for extra ventilation. Secondly, there's no opportunity to take a third centrally-seated passenger, as you might want to if, say, you were transporting three small children. On the plus side, the up!'s boxy dimensions mean that the roof doesn't taper towards the rear, so there's as much headroom in the back as there is in the front.
And out back? Well because there's only an opening glass panel, you've a high lip to lift luggage over, but the boot you'll access is certainly very decently sized for a car of this class, its 251-litre capacity figure being the same as that of the petrol up! variants - which means it's a tad bigger than is typical in this class. The 923-litre capacity with the seats folded is marginally down on the petrol model due in part to the higher floor height.
What to Look For
Most up! owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there were a few issues. The e-Up seems to be a decently reliable car, but it does suffer from issues such as lowered range in the winter (up to 50 miles). Plus issues with the airbags, and certain infotainment issues. The VW up! range as a whole was subjected to a recall due to faulty programming on the side airbags and the e-up! was also part of this recall. Make sure the e-Up you are looking at has had these issues resolved. We've also heard reports that the infotainment system is known to sometimes turn off, become completely inoperable, or be slow to respond.
One owner found that water drainage under windscreen when blocked, emptied into the car interior via the heater! Another complained of a leaking windscreen seal, a paint mismatch with the fuel filler cap and rattles from the driver and passenger door lock area. We also came across reports of the rear brakes squealing during braking.
(approx based on a 2020 e-up!) The brake discs we came across sat in the £46 bracket. Front brake pads are in the £21 to £38 bracket for a set but for pricier brands, you could pay in the £92 bracket. A front fog lamp is in the £47-£53 bracket. A rear lamp is around £76-£106 bracket. A headlamp is around £86-£106. A pollen filter is around £10-£16.
On the Road
The Volkswagen up! actually makes a great basis for an electric vehicle. The powerplant sits low in the car, a lithium-ion battery pack that in the revised post-'19-plate model almost doubled in capacity, up from 18.7kWh to 32.3kWh. The fact that this battery weighs 230kg and is sited under the floor area has benefits and drawbacks. The plus side is that the centre of gravity is good and low, something you'll feel when tipping the up! into a corner. The downside is that whereas an entry-level petrol-powered up! weighs around 929kg, this electrically-powered version tips the scales at nearly 200kgs more. The sheer amount of torque available masks this fact quite well though, and the car steps off the line briskly, making 37mph from rest in around 5 seconds. Acceleration does tail off markedly above 45mph or so though, but given that this car's going to spend most of its time in urban areas, that's not really a pressing concern.
As well as a standard driving mode, the e-up! has two selectable economy profiles as standard: 'Eco' and 'Eco+'. 'Eco' cuts the vehicle's peak power to 50kW, reduces the output of the air conditioning system and modifies the throttle response. 'Eco+' limits maximum power to 40kW, further modifies the throttle response and disables the air conditioning. On top of these different operating modes, the range of the e-up! can be greatly influenced by regenerative braking. There are five modes available: D, D1, D2, D3 and B. In D, the vehicle coasts when the accelerator is lifted. In each of the next levels, lifting off the throttle pedal provides an increased level of regenerative braking. In D2, D3 and B, the brake lights are automatically activated when the driver's foot is lifted from the throttle pedal.
Viewed as an EV entity, the e-up! works well. It'll cost you a lot less than many other small electric vehicles, though you'll have to accept that it's slightly smaller and won't go as far as some rivals on each battery charge. It'll go a lot further though, in improved post-'19-plate form. That range increase really put this contender back in the game.
Only if you start to consider it against a petrol-engined up! does the value proposition start to falter. Could you really justify the substantial premium necessary to own this Zero Emissions variant? If you can, then this VW might prove to be a great urban buyer's choice. This car offers everything you need in a 21st century modern shopping runabout - and nothing that you don't. One thing's for sure: it won't be long before buying a small Volkswagen with an internal combustion engine will seem like a very odd thing to do.
Volkswagen e-up! (2014 - 2022) review by Jonathan Crouch