2009 Volkswagen E-Up! Concept Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Who would have thought, a half decade ago, that Volkswagen would now be one of the world's strongest automakers? Things didn't look so good for the German manufacturer back then, but like a few other automakers, Fiat and Ford among them, Volkswagen pulled up its proverbial socks, tightened its belt, got to work and turned around its operations before "the big one" hit, and due to being lean and mean at the onset of this great recession has been able to weather the downturn quite well.

Actually, Volkswagen appears to be feeling almost bullish about its future lately, having bought into Porsche earlier this year and Suzuki as recently as last month. It's making big headway with its namesake VW brand too, and will soon be making noise in the small car segment where it plans to bring the "Beetle of the 21st Century" to market by 2013. This seems to be the right move at a time that couldn't be riper for fuel-efficient, low-end yet still well built cars. After leaving this segment to its Seat and Skoda brands in Europe, not to mention competitive Asian brands here in North America, it appears VW is starting to get serious about building a global entry-level model to rival the iconic Beetle.

That's a hardly imaginable order to fill, being that the Beetle was nothing less than the best-selling car in history with a total of 21,529,464 produced over 60 years, production ending at its Puebla, Mexico plant in 2003. Well, maybe the German automaker isn't planning to make a car that beats the old model in overall sales, but rather that it plans to create a car to fill the same market segment that the Beetle did, and due to innovative design and strong value it hopes to have a similar impact on the market?

That car has long been expected to be the cute little Up! (exclamation mark part of the name) that VW showed in various forms a couple of years ago, and a couple of months ago at the Frankfurt auto show in electric form. Dubbed the E-Up!, the tiny little 3.19-metre (10.5-foot) peoples' car is configured in a 3+1 layout, three up front and one in the back, while zero to 100km/h, at about 11 seconds, and top speed, at 135 km/h (less than 85 mph), will remind anyone old enough to remember of the original bug. It's a city car, however, so zero to 50 km/h (30 mph) takeoff is more important, and at 3.5 seconds it's easily fast enough to keep up with traffic.

Heavier than a smart car, but still light for an electric, the E-Up! weighs in at 1,085 kilos (2,400 lbs), 240 kg (530 lbs) of which is merely the 18 kWh lithium ion battery pack. It's good for about 130 km (80 miles) on a single charge, which should be ample for the majority of peoples' commutes to and from work. And it takes about an hour to bring the battery pack up to 80% capacity, depending on the outlet used for recharging, allowing for a midday charge such as a pick-me-up while at the mall.

The look is all modern and particularly good, pulling familial cues from VW's new Polo and Golf, while the interior is funky and efficiently organized. A special feature is a solar roof that keeps the car warm or cool without tapping the battery's power.

VW could use this car now, along with gasoline- and diesel-powered Up! models for various world markets, but it appears to be a few years out. In the meantime, at least here in Canada and in Central and South America, the iconic brand will continue to sell a nicely revised version of its old Golf Mk4 throughout model year 2010. And yes, right about now you might be asking yourself why there's no Polo on its way, and truly we can only think that it's a production issue, because this little car would cause some serious damage to the Asian imports and win Volkswagen a lot of new fans, while maintaining brand equity all the way to the bank. Surely they could retool Puebla and make this little car happen?

VW enthusiasts can only hope, but don't get me wrong as the Up!, in its various forms, will be fabulous when it finally hits the market. I've been up close and personal with the original, checked out all of its intricacies inside and out, and love what I see. Electrified it makes even more sense if priced within reach, and that's what VW is going to have to do if it plans on reinventing the peoples' car. Is this it? We'll have to see, but we're all thumbs up for the E-Up!

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, 2009, E-Up! Concept, Electric, Subcompact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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