The popularity of the super-small-mega-tiny-I-just-lost-my-car-under-your-SUV subcompacts is, believe it or not, growing. That should be the biggest shout out to oil company executives that their product is becoming just a tad overpriced. Until they turn up their hearing aids and receive that message, however, the automotive consumer will have to be content driving vehicles that are more fuel efficient, less environmentally hazardous, and overall much smaller. Those are all adjectives that could describe Volkswagen’s new 2012 Up! line.

Powertrain

VW will most likely offer three choices in this new model; a 1.2L four-cylinder gas engine, the same engine in a turbocharged model, and the same engine in a diesel model. None of them will be extremely powerful (the most powerful being the turbocharged at 86 hp) but all should provide very good fuel efficiency. A six-speed manual transmission will come standard, but the addition of an optional seven-speed automated manual transmission will be intriguing to check out.

“If electric Audis and VWs aren’t radical enough, there will be another extremely efficient derivative of the Up platform: With a narrower and more aerodynamic body but based on the same platform, the so-called “two-liter car” is designed to run on about two liters of fuel per 100 kilometers, which translates to 118 mpg. Will it be available here? No word yet, but it could give Prius worshippers something to think about.” (Car and Driver)

Features

“The 2012 Volkswagen Up is all about low-cost engineering that doesn’t look or feel cheap. That and the new model’s entry-level price position pretty much rules out costly design innovations. Still, this is a German brand, so look for at least a few sophisticated features, like the available antiskid system and automated manual transmission. What others might there be? That’s hard to say now, but VW will doubtless try to recoup its investment by offering U.S. models with profitable ‘fun’ options such as a rollback fabric sunroof, high-power audio with iPod plug-in, upholstery that mimics some sports apparel fabrics, and perhaps a portable navigation system.” (Consumer Guide)

Interior

The interior should have a very clean feel, not overly button-heavy, but some of the controls are in odd spots that will require some getting used to. Anyone familiar with VW design shouldn’t be overly surprised by the Up’s interior. Its boxy style leaves ample head- and legroom, and it doesn’t seem to be festooned with cheap materials or excessive trim options.

Exterior

The exterior will be a dream for any consumer who wishes to swim against the stream. It presents a very boxy rear end with a steep-sloping rounded front end, making it look like a cardboard box that somebody smashed on one side. Don’t judge this one on looks alone, however; VW has a history of providing reliable, versatile, quality vehicles that don’t always appeal to the eye.

What the Critics Say

Among all the new subcompacts being unveiled in North America for 2012, the Up! seems to be one of the most awaited. It will be VW’s smallest car, surprisingly, but will be marketed as a versatile utility vehicle much like the Mazda 5. If what the critics are saying is any indication, this one has a shot at becoming a big seller.

Price and Buying Advice

Chances are you’ll see the Up! with a starting price somewhere in the range of $11,000 to $14,000. That should make it affordable if nothing else. Given VW’s history of ingenuity and reliability, this one may be worth taking a shot on.

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