Day one: Right, let’s get one thing out of the way. To British ears, the VW e-Up has a slightly funny name. This was pointed out when a concept version was shown at the Frankfurt motor show in 2009. It’s been pointed out ever since. That’s five years of noting that its name sounds like a Yorkshire greeting. There’s no need to go on about it any more. Doing so doesn’t make you funny, it certainly doesn’t make you original. It just means you’re a crashing bore. So let’s move on to a rainy evening in London where m’colleagues at Top Gear magazine who have been driving the e-Up have very kindly left it on charge so it’s chock full of electricalicity. The first impression is that it looks and feels like a normal car. Except that it has that very excellent instant, meaty torque you get with electric motors. Unfortunately, traffic is sodding awful, I attempt to take a clever detour then get lost and have to use the idiotic clip-on factory nav they give you with high spec Ups which couldn’t find its own face in the dark and which you have to take with you when you park or your car gets broken into. It’s hard not to notice, as I zizz about the city, that the big dial that tells you how much electricity is left is going down at an alarming rate. In panic, I put the car into ‘eco +’ mode which reigns in the motor to give greater range but also disables the air-con so the car steams up. Between the traffic and the getting lost and the disappearing electricity and the humid nose fug obscured most of the windows, the entire journey has become needlessly stressful.
Day two: It’s not raining, the traffic is not terrible, there is more time to take stock of the e-Up’s good points. Which are that it feels sturdy and beautifully engineered and that it has a very good ride. Also, some of the design and engineering feels very intelligent. For example, there are four levels of regenerative braking which you can toggle through by nudging the gear selector side-to-side. It works very well. You set it to level 3 for maximum regen in normal driving but when you get to a downhill bit you can bat the level down to 2, 1 or zero to freewheel then slap it back up to 3 to bring yourself to a halt at some lights without ever touching the brakes. If you like driving, you’re prepared to pay attention and you put some effort in, it’s very satisfying.
Day three: VW left a swipe card in the e-Up that lets you access charging points. Today I’m going to the supermarket which, being a Waitrose, has an electric car charging point by the entrance. The space by the charger is free, I plug the car into the box, it locks itself until you swipe it again so jocular snub-nosed urchins can’t unplug your Up as you shop, and off you go. Except I’m a man and, in common with most men, I like to spend as little time as possible in shops. Even the need on this occasion to choose and buy a greeting card, which as we know eats up over 15 percent of an adult’s waking life, doesn’t take long enough to see any meaningful amount of electricity go into the car. Bah! A nice idea undermined by my inability to loaf about for long enough in the biscuit aisle.
Day four: Today I’m going to see my brother. My brother lives in Leamington Spa. It’s about 100 miles from where I live. Volkswagen claims the e-Up has a range of 93 miles ‘in optimum conditions’. So it’s not going to make it on one charge. But I’d like to take the Up because I enjoy driving it and because it feels like I should make the effort so let’s just think about this for a moment. There are fast chargers at Oxford services. If I can make it there I can have a coffee for half an hour while the car recharges then push on to Leamington, then ask to plug in the car at the pub we’re going to, and then just spend six hours or so there, then drive back via another half an hour stop in Oxford services and then… oh sod it. I take my 4-litre Jeep Cherokee to Warwickshire. Brave new clean, green future 0. Getting where I need to go in a reasonable amount of time and without range anxiety 1. Sorry.
Day five: I give my mate Claire a lift in the e-Up. I like this car, she says. The Up does feel quite nice inside. It’s sort of minimal yet stylish, the kind of car you imagine Apple might design. I need to get a little car, she continues. Perhaps I should get one of these. Claire often has to drive from London to Bristol. I don’t think the short range e-Up is for her. Also, she once realised half way through a job interview that she had a blob of butter in her hair. I don’t think she’d be organised enough to plan ahead plugging in.
Goodbye: The e-Up is going away. In a way, this is a shame. It’s a very likeable, interesting car. But the bits I really like about it – the way it looks, the interior, the ride, the sense of solidity, the way it feels grown up for a small car without being joyless – these are all things you get from the normal Up. The grunty, quiet electric motor has appeal and the whole car is an amusing gadget but it’s too compromised. Even if you mostly drive in town there’s bound to be times when you need to go further afield and the e-Up is ill-equipped for this. If it was cheap, you might argue you could buy one as a city car and get something else for long journeys. But it’s not cheap. It’s the opposite of cheap. Including the five grand plug-in car grant from the government it costs £19,250. And it’s basically first generation technology which means you’ll never get that back once the new, improved model arrives. Which it will. So I’d wait for that one. Or get a normal Up.
The car talked about here is a Volkswagen e-Up. It has an 81bhp electric motor, goes from 0-60 in 12.4 seconds and has a top speed of 80mph. It costs £19,250 with government grant or £24,250 without.