Friday, 4 January 2008

Volkswagen up!

It’s a harsh fact of reality that if you’re small, you’ve got to be quirky if you want to get anywhere. Look at the Krankies, Ronnie Corbett, Tom Cruise, Bernie Eccleston – all of them slightly freakish to look at but very successful within their chosen field (twattery, comedy, acting and ‘cash for fags’ respectively). Small people are easy to ignore, of course, so they need to shout above the tall folk – naturally louder with more body mass for sound resonance – to make themselves heard.

It’s the same with cars. The interesting and offbeat runts of the litter are more memorable, more alluring than those that favour functionality over character. Have a think about these conflicted pairings and see which you’d rather have on your driveway: Maestro or Alfasud? AX or 205? Astra or Delta? See, it’s the weird ones that stand the test of time. So it goes with the Volkswagen up! – the latest in a line of small VeeDubs.

VW have always had a slightly odd approach to small cars, in that they keep getting bigger and bigger. This is true throughout the motor industry of course, but Volkswagen in particular seem to have a certain flair for it. The Golf was the baby of the range when it was introduced in the mid-seventies but it inflated, leaving a, ahem, gulf beneath it which was filled by the Polo. Then it happened again so they had to bring in the Lupo. And then the Fox. So it makes sense for the up! to pop along - they just like making small cars.

up! is no ordinary small car though. Wolfsburg’s boffins have donned their mighty thinking caps and come up with something really rather clever… and it’s not unattractive either, admit it. You quite like it but aren’t sure why, right?

For starters, there’s a dinky little boxer engine in the back powering the rear wheels. This provides a nice heritage-y sort of feel harking back to the old Beetle, although it’s more likely that it was just done for packaging reasons (like the new Mitsubishi i); maximising internal space and wanging the wheels right out to the corners. The seats are really smart – as well as being strategically placed in the surprisingly roomy cabin to allow four fully grown adults to lounge about in there, they boast the ability to mould themselves perfectly to whoever parks their backside upon them due to their air-inflatable innards. Clever eh? It also has two swanky touch-screen monitors that look kind of like Tokyo’s idea of the future from about ten years ago (which is no bad thing); one to control the stereo, climate control, phone, photos, movies etc, and the other to display your dials and also give you info about how much CO2 you’re emitting. (Well, not you. The car.) Handy.

We’ve seen small cars before, so it’s easy to feel indifferent towards the news of such a concept. ‘Volkswagen releases new city car mock-up’. Big deal. But there is a nice little hook to the up! that suggests it may be rather more enduring than the Aygos, C1s and Smarts that are all trying a little too hard to be down with the yoof. We need small cars. That’s just a fact. London, for example, is clogged with automobiles, and the Chelsea tractor stereotypes are wholly true – pretty much every other car seems to be a 4x4 of some description, so the city market exists as long as mindsets can be altered. It’s just as well for the up! that it wears leviathan 18” wheels – they’re pretty off-roaderish aren’t they? That’ll help to overcome some housewife obstacles. (In terms of them not wanting to drive small cars I mean, not physically driving over housewives that are lying in your path. Although I’m sure the VW is capable of that too. I dunno, give it a try, let me know how you get on.)

So, it’s small, spacious, eco-friendly (ooh, that’s so important these days isn’t it? Show your neighbours that you pretend to care), it’s German so it’ll be well screwed together, there’ll be good warranty packages and dealer support should they decide to build the thing… it’s win-win all round. The best thing is that it’s a small car that doesn’t make you retch, and that’s hard to find these days. We just need to wait for the tuners to get hold of it: wider track, Phaeton W12 in the back, good times. For the city car market, things certainly seem to be looking up! And it’s important to put that exclamation mark there. Volkswagen do.

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