This face-lifted hatchback has reached new levels of excellence, writes Thomas Falkiner
Launched locally back in 2014, the Volkswagen Up! is an affordable entry-level hatchback that became an instant favourite of mine thanks to its fun driving dynamics and class-beating refinement.
As time went by it became even better with the advent of a five-door model plus the slightly higher-riding Cross: a faux-SUV clad with protective plastic mouldings. Marvellous.
Well just recently the Up! reached a new level of excellence after the engineers treated it to a facelift. Although the 1.0MPI engine stays the same — something of a disappointment considering that overseas this car is offered with the turbocharged 1.0TSI motor — the exterior has been sharpened up some.
There are new front and rear aprons, redesigned alloy wheels plus a new pair of headlamps with LED daytime running lights. It really does look better than ever.
Inside there are a few more welcome changes. Like the leather multi-function steering wheel borrowed from the Polo. I've always preferred the tactile qualities of a wheel wrapped in cowhide and it's amazing how the presence of one also lifts the ambience of the cabin. Good move.
Then there's the new infotainment system that packs a five-inch colour display. Unlike anything you're likely to find inside a Volvo, it's intuitive and devilishly easy to use. It will stream music from your smartphone or mate with it via USB.
Heated seats are optional but air-conditioning and a tyre-pressure sensor come standard. Ditto ABS brakes, four airbags and a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. It's most unlike a Datsun Go or Renault Kwid.
Instead it just wants to please you. And it does so without fail. Yes it can feel underpowered at times, especially when loaded or when you're trying to overtake something, but learn to keep the momentum up (and you will) and you'll be okay.
The seats are comfortable, the ride is plush and there's gearing tall enough to ensure a stress-free highway cruise speed of 140km/h. Space? Well, with the rear seats folded down, I was able to pack in my entire drum kit, which is commendable.
Fuel consumption? Even after clocking 160km the gauge had not moved a millimetre. Yet perhaps the most impressive thing about the Up! is how damn sophisticated it feels for the price. The insulation. The quality. The way everything operates with a robust German solidarity. This Volkswagen feels as good — if not better — than cars parked in the next bracket.
I could carry on extolling this hatchback's virtues for many more paragraphs to come but, alas, I can't. Unfortunately I need to leave now and buy my painter dinner (he's partial to good vegetarian pizza).
So instead I'll just say that in 2017 the Up! remains without a doubt the very best small car on the market. Whether you're a first-time buyer or a jaded veteran, you cannot go wrong with putting one inside your garage.
FAST FACTS: 2017 Volkswagen Up! Move Up
Engine: 999cc three-cylinder petrol
Power: 55kW at 6,200rpm
Torque: 95Nm at 3,000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
0-100km/h: 13.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 171km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 6.1/100km (achieved)
CO2: 108g/km (claimed)
Price: From R179,900
Follow the author of this article, Thomas Falkiner, on Twitter: @tomfalkiner111