Volkswagen's Up mini-compact is supposed to be the World Car of the Year, according to a panel of scribes who vote on such things.
But the world doesn't include the U.S.
VW says it has no plans to bring this nifty little car here. Maybe later, after it's redone for its next generation, and planners can bake-in considerations for U.S. emissions and safety regulations and tastes. The current car can't reasonably be modified thus.
Still, VW wants notice for the Up (VW prefers "up!" but that seems too affected), so it is lending it to U.S. auto writers.
"We love to tease," VW spokesman Corey Proffitt jokes, adding more seriously, "We want to continue to show the depth and breadth of Volkswagen product offerings worldwide. We're not just testing reaction to the Up's size, powertrain and design."
"With this car taking the World Car nod in New York earlier this year, we thought, what better than to keep one here for a while to put in front of the pundits to experience it on U.S. soil."
The test car was a top-level version, called High Up (too cute, folks; back it off a notch). It was a ball, and yielded about 37 mpg despite lots of wide-open throttle. It would be fun to see Up stalking the streets looking to pick off potential buyers of the similar-size Fiat 500 who favor a bit crisper execution than the Fiat delivers.
Wheel time in the Up did, though, highlight some botheration that comes with Euro-spec cars.
First the good stuff:
•Styling. Terrific. Straightforward in line, shape and proportion, like a scaled-down, sharper-edge VW Golf.
•Comfort. In such a mini-mobile? Yep. Back seat's especially roomy for the size. Two adults can sit in comfort. Front's accommodating, too.
•Premium interior. Trim, upholstery, design — all high-level. The test car was the top model, but even so, it was surprisingly nice for an economy car.
•Simple instruments, controls. Classic round analog gauges; no jazzing-up (and making confusing) what should be simple: operating and monitoring the car.
A favorite: aftermarket-style navigation system. The screen pops onto or off of a dashboard-mounted stalk, just like a Garmin or TomTom. Why's that better than built-in? Because it frees space to leave main controls where they belong, in the middle of the dashboard.
And because you can remove the navi screen and, if made to U.S. specs, convert it to a walking navi via a set of pedestrian maps.
And it's easier and safer to read when positioned atop the dashboard; you avert your eyes from the road less often and for less time. And, it is reasonable to assume you could replace it with the inevitable "new, improved" model in two seconds.
•Inviting dynamics. Engine loves to rev, a good thing as you must thrash the little three-cylinder, 75-horsepower, gas engine to keep up with quick traffic.
Up is a fine example of the auto-enthusiast's maxim: "It's more fun to drive an underpowered car hard than an overpowered car easy."
The gearing is low enough that you can ease along in stop-spurt traffic with little fear of killing the engine or jerking down the road like a stick-shift rookie.
Steering feels well-tuned, nicely weighted, properly centered. Brakes feel firm enough to engender confidence. Cornering is accomplished without much drama, which is how you want it. The drawbacks: