It’s OK if you’ve never heard of the Volkswagen Up! before. It isn’t sold in America, and yes, the exclamation point is part of its name. Since 2011, the Up! has been a popular and stylish subcompact that’s sold Europe, Japan, South America, and Africa. At just 11.6 feet long (11.9 in South America) in two-door form (a four-door is available), it’s tiny – in fact, it’s about the same size as a Smart ForTwo. But unlike the Smart, with its cramped interior and limited storage space, the Up! can seat four, and has nearly 9 cubic feet of storage space with the seats up and 33.5 with the seats down. But perhaps most importantly, the Up! averages 65.5 miles per gallon. It may not be the 105 MPGe you get in the e-Golf, but we still can’t help but think bringing the little Up! to the U.S. might be part of the solution to Volkswagen’s Dieselgate problem. Oh, and in England, it starts at £8,945, or about $12,500.
But there is something about the Up! that might be a sticking point for Americans – namely, it’s painfully slow. Even with the most powerful engine available, zero to 60 still comes in 13.2 seconds, making it a full 2.2 seconds slower than the Lexus CT 200h Premium, better known as the slowest car sold in America. That’s because the Up! is powered by a lowly 1.0 liter three-cylinder engine, with a gas and diesel version putting out 60 horsepower, and a “hotter” engine putting out 75. For reference, that’s 95 horsepower less than you’d find in a U.S. spec base-model Golf. But that gap is about to close a bit, because Volkswagen is preparing to unveil a refreshed Up! at the Geneva Motor Show, and it’s about to get a (relatively) massive power boost.
Don’t expect an Up! R just yet; horsepower is still staying in double digits, but it’s gaining a turbocharger and will now crank out 89 ponies, along with 118 pound-feet of torque. While the naturally aspirated engines will remain available (as well as a natural gas and EV model), the new turbo should be enough to give the Up! some serious kick compared to current models, and we hope make it a more attractive option for Volkswagen of America. The Up! also gets a new front fascia and lights to further set it apart, and will be hitting Volkswagen dealers this summer, though not at ones anywhere close to you.
We think the turbocharged Up! could be a big hit for Volkswagen in the U.S., especially taking on lackluster competition like the Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Yaris, and Chevy Spark. But we won’t hold our breath; Volkswagen knows that the short-term way to sales success is by selling lots of crossovers, and right now, it’s sorely lacking them. As a result, many of its concepts for the past two years have been used to establish a design language for a future crossover/SUV lineup, like the GTE Active Concept, the CrossCoupe GTE, and even the retro BUDD-e.
So, surprise: Volkswagen will also be unveiling another SUV concept, only this one is likely to be nearly production ready. The company says it will be “the beginning of a broad SUV offensive,” adding it “gives a realistic perspective on a completely new model series and at the same time on the future production model.” For now, all we have is this moody head-on image of the concept, though we imagine Volkswagen will have a lot more to say about it at Geneva.
With Dieselgate showing no signs of letting up, Volkswagen needs to remind the world what it’s good at, and a more competitive Up! is a great step. It’s also about 20 years overdue for a serious SUV contender, so a near-production ready model could go far in proving that the brand has what it takes to compete in these cutthroat segments. It’s going to be a long time before Volkswagen is out of the woods, but at least the company is making it interesting.