Harry Leahey

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As an automotive journalist and general car geek, I know my fair share of cars which have faced the axe over the years, but there's something about the news of VW discontinuing the Up! that for me tugs at the heartstrings. 


The Up!, with its distinctive charm and practicality, has been a fixture on European streets for over a decade. Its discontinuation raises a poignant question: Why should this urban icon be allowed to fade into the annals of history? 


The Volkswagen Up! made its debut in 2011, replacing the uninspiring VW Fox. At that time, I remember thinking that it was a game-changer for city cars. Its compact yet well-designed frame meant it could navigate narrow city streets with ease, while its spacious interior was an unexpected surprise given its size. Even after 12 years, its design has aged gracefully, and I genuinely believe it still looks the part in a Volkswagen showroom today.


The Up! has been more than just a city car though; it has been an urban companion, offering practicality, charm and affordability to city dwellers. With a range of trim levels and powertrains to choose from, it catered to a wide range of consumers, making it accessible to everyone, from first-time car buyers to those seeking a second vehicle for urban commutes.


Notably, the Up! was also at the forefront of Volkswagen's electric revolution. The e-Up! variant, introduced in 2014, showcased Volkswagen's commitment to sustainable mobility even before electric cars became mainstream. Its discontinuation leaves a void in the market for consumers who desire a compact, electric city car that the Up had expertly filled. 


You could argue there's the Citroen Ami, but that’s a quadricycle, and that hardly delivers the same level of comfort, safety and practicality. You wouldn’t exactly recommend one as a first car, would you? And before you mention the EQ Fortwo from Smart, reports have emerged that that car will be facing the axe too. With the death of the four-door version last year, it was only a matter of time before the​​ Fortwo would meet the same fate.


The decision to replace the Up! with what will be the ID.1 is understandable, given Volkswagen's strategic shift towards electrification. However, the ID.1 won't be available until 2026, leaving a gap of several years in which consumers will be deprived of the Up's urban excellence.


The Up! GTi meanwhile, with its spirited 114hp engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, catered to driving enthusiasts looking for agility and excitement. I suspect there'll be an even greater gap for its ID.1 GTI successor. Sigh. 


Now, you might be wondering, why can't we just let the venerable VW Polo take the helm as a suitable replacement for the Up!? After all, the Polo is a trusty supermini, and it has its own loyal following. Well, here's the thing - while the Polo is undoubtedly a fantastic car in its own right, it's not quite cut from the same urban cloth as the Up!.

One significant difference lies in size. The Up! is a compact city car, a nimble and agile companion for navigating crowded city streets and squeezing into tight parking spots.


The Polo, on the other hand, has grown over the years. It's a supermini with broader shoulders, and while that might be great for longer motorway journeys, it loses some of the Up!'s charm when it comes to urban manoeuvrability.


The transition to electric vehicles is important, but it should not come at the expense of leaving a gap in the market from VW for a simple, handsome, affordable all-electric city car for urban dwellers and first car buyers. And the reasons for doing it? Narrow profit margins generated by small hatchbacks, plus VW's priority for the firm's new, electric ID range.  

There hasn’t been, as of yet, any news of a final edition model version to give the Up! the send-off it truly deserves, either. When a car reaches the end of its life, it's often customary for automakers to commemorate its departure with a special edition. These limited runs often carry a dash of uniqueness and a nod to the car's legacy.

Sadly, despite what I see to be a pretty significant car from Volkswagen, it remains to be seen whether the Up! will be given the same love. 


Nevertheless, the Up! for me remains a symbol of affordable urban mobility and an automotive icon that at least deserved one last curtain call. Perhaps VW will consider a revival in the future. One can only get their hopes 'up'. Sorry. 

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Harry Leahey 24/10/23