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The VW up! is one of the most hotly anticipated cars of 2012. Ever since it made its debut as a concept at the 2007Frankfurt Motor Show, the tiny German machine has promised to set new standards for quality and refinement in the city car class.

To find out whether the VW is up to scratch, Auto Express grabbed the keys to one of the first examples to hit UK soil. So, has the brand done enough to banish memories of its lacklustre Lupo and flawed Fox models?

Initial impressions are positive. Fans of the original concept car will be pleased to see that the up! has made it to the showroom pretty much unchanged. There's the same cheeky, faired-in nose, distinctive rear side windows and upright tail.

As with the VW's larger models, the up!'s interior is dripping with upmarket appeal. The dashboard is robustly constructed from quality materials. The chunky switchgear operates with crisp precision, while the simple instruments are easy to read. There's also a wide-range of seat and wheel adjustment, making it easy to get comfortable.

As you'd expect at this price bracket, there's some evidence of penny pinching - the steering wheel leather feels a little cheap and the electric window switches aren't backlit - but overall, the VW feels like a car from the class above.

The cabin is spacious, too. It's a strict four-seater, but there's more than enough room for taller adults in the back. Better still, the front seats tilt and slide forward to deliver easy access to the rear bench. Open the tailgate and you'll find a useful 251-litre boot.

The VW's big car feel is boosted by the lengthy list of standard kit. In High guise you get air-con, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity and a trip computer. Also included is the neat, dash top mounted Maps & More sat-nav system.

Developed in partnership with sat-nav experts Navigon, the portable unit includes a route-finding function, an extra display for the engine revs and water temperature and a ""˜Blue Index' function that helps you boost your fuel economy.

On the move, the VW's sweet-spinning 74bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit proves to be an eager performer. Combined with the slick five-speed manual gearbox, it hauls the up! from 0-62mph in 13.2 seconds.

What's more, the up!'s excellent mechanical refinement and low noise levels make it a much more relaxing companion than rivals such as the Toyota Aygo and Fiat 500. This impression is reinforced by the car's supple ride that does an excellent job of soaking up the bumps.

The VW rolls a little through corners, but accurate steering, strong grip and good body control help provide neat and tidy handling. And while it's not exactly fun, the up! is an agile and confidence inspiring partner

In town, the newcomer excels. Thick A-pillars limit visibility at junctions and roundabouts, but the car's handy dimensions and light controls make it a fine urban runaround. You can even add a hi-tech £400 Driver Assistance package, which automatically applies the brakes if it senses you're about to drive into the car in front.

But it's the car's value for money that really impresses. In High trim it'll set you back £10,390, which is only a few pounds more than the less accomplished Toyota Aygo. What's more, CO2 emissions of 108g/km mean you'll only pay £20 a year for road tax.

On this showing the hype was justified, because the up! sets new quality, refinement and practicality standards in the city car sector. All hail a new small car champ.

Read more: http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/carreviews/firstdrives/275686/volkswagen_up_uk_drive.html
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