Let’s hope Volkswagen’s excellent new runabout doesn’t become too popular. By The Wheel Deal
There are few cars I dislike more than the Polo. And not because it’s a shoddy jalopy — it certainly isn’t. Indeed, the latest version has a magical turbocharged engine that sips petrol as if it were 100-year-old whisky, yet it will cruise all day at 160km/h without breaking sweat. The exterior is inoffensive; the interior is sturdy and the dashboard festooned with switches that operate most mod-cons and doodads. As small hatchbacks go, the Polo ranks as one of the best, an example of automotive packaging done right. So why do I scowl and roll my eyes every time I see one?
Because, like house music and pigeons, they’re everywhere. Every street. Every traffic jam. Every parking garage. Every third traffic infringement involving a brain-dead plonker who secured his licence without passing a test. As with most things that experience a meteoric rise in popularity, the Polo has become, well, just so annoyingly mainstream. It’s the Coldplay of cars, an irritating Keep Calm And Carry On Whatevering sign.
Which is why I’m rather fond of the new Volkswagen Up. For unlike its slightly bigger brother this teeny city car cuts a far more interesting silhouette. While the Polo dines out on universal appeal, the Up gives a firm nod to the bygone era of design minimalism. It’s clean and smooth and refreshingly free from all the crimps and creases and exaggerated shoulder lines that manufacturers seem obsessed with these days. The Up, like a Barcelona chair or Wagenfeld lamp, is a graduate from that school where less is more. It wears no clutter, nothing to distract your attention from the honest function it’s been built to serve.
The interior embraces a similar credo. It’s an example of cost-cutting done right. Like the Bauhaus-meets-1950s-bakelite dashboard that’s as cool (if not cooler) than the one in the costlier Fiat 500 or Mini Cooper. Then you get the door panels that incorporate exposed metal painted the same colour as the bodywork. Sure, it’s an old, el cheapo price-cutting tactic but here it just works so well — unlike the laughably poor aftermarket Bluetooth system that must have been sourced in the electronics corner of the local China Supermarket. Fortunately this is optional. As is the bourgeois panoramic sunroof that has no place on a small car designed for mass mobility. In fact the only extra I’d consider are the pleasingly retro alloy wheels.
Out on the road most pint-sized hatchbacks come across as having been shortchanged by their miserly price tags. You can sense the effects of corporate bean-counting as the cars shiver and quiver and rattle their way around town like nervous lapdogs in the presence of hyenas. The Up couldn’t be more different. It feels substantial. It feels well-insulated, like a car worth a whole lot more money — even on the highway at higher speeds. The ride is comfortable and the handling, thanks to there being a wheel pretty much right on the far edge of each corner, nimble. Although the three-cylinder engine is no ball of fire, it revs willingly and returns killer fuel consumption figures. It even makes a nice sound when you poke it with a stick.
The more time I spent with the Up the more it grew on me. Strangely enough, most of my friends and colleagues didn’t see the point of it. They weren’t sure about the shape, moaned about the absence of rear doors and pulled their noses up at the one-piece glass boot lid. They said they’d rather spend a bit more and get a Polo. Fine by me — while they and the other 90% of the populace follow the automotive flock down the lane of anonymity, I’ll be in a fresh, original and far more recherché runabout.
Fast Facts: Volkswagen Move Up
Engine: 999cc three-cylinder petrol
Power: 55kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 95Nm at 3000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 171km/h
Fuel: 6.4l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R143 000