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Michael Stahl: The curious ascent of the Up!

By Michael Stahl, 04 Aug 2018 Features

Michael Stahl: The curious ascent of the Up!

The Volkswagen Up!'s resurgence in popularity strikes at journos' hearts

If you’ve always suspected that car people are a bit unusual, with motoring writers near one extreme of that spectrum, I’m here to agree with you absolutely. I have recently gathered evidence of a pervasive cult that is luring in members of my profession. 

And while normal, right-thinking people are utterly immune to its attractions, I think I’m about to join it myself.

I’m forever being asked what car a motoring journalist drives. And they’re always expecting to be told a Lamborghini, or a Moller Flying Car (I really am thinking I should cancel my order), or some similar thing that is to a journo’s wages, what a superyacht is to a ferry driver’s.

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But car journos don’t do it for the money; we do it because it’s the best job in the world for car kooks. And so, like other car people, we’ll often put the ownership of a cool car ahead of other things. Like children, or superannuation. I count myself in the latter class, having bought my 1980s dream car six years ago. I know at least five other journos with various old Porsches.

But this new thing – it’s completely out of left field. And though I’ve not driven one, and can’t recall even sitting in one, it’s sucked me into its strange forcefield. To the point where I’ve already worked out the colour I’ll get, how I’ll lower it, and the aftermarket wheels I want. But I know this is really serious, because I’m willing to sell my minibike to buy it.

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You’d never guess, except there’s probably a photo nearby that’s already given it away, but the car that’s stealing journos’ hearts is the Volkswagen Up! (That’s Volkswagen’s exclamation mark, not mine. Although, if I were a younger man, I’d have added three more and be tweeting this instead).

Currently there seems to be four or five Up!wardly mobile motor-noters in Sydney alone. Aside from the profession, they have little in common, ranging from an endearingly nerdy 30-something, to a 40-ish father of two, to Mike McCarthy, former decades-long servant of Wheels, now well into his hundreds (I think).

MicMac, as astute a judge of cars as there ever was, saw the light early and bought his from new (the Up! launched here in September 2012). But it’s used Up!s that are hitting the spot with motoring writers.
One of the first converts, and probably the Bhagwan of the movement, is journo Matt Campbell. He recently bought a black, five-door 2013 model … for $3000.

“This car was a game-changer when it was launched,” Campbell gushes. “It brought AEB to this segment. It turns, stops, handles beautifully and rides like a cushion. And the fuel consumption is ridiculous.”

Admittedly, Campbell’s $3K example was out of rego and a bit gamey, but I’ve seen half a dozen at or below $5K, and low-kay ones are usually below $7K. And I’m the guy whose current, cheap commuter hack is a 15-year-old Ducati Monster. Bought for $8000.

Editor's Letter: Australia hates the car enthusiast

For the sake of torturing the typography: what’s up with the UP!? Well, trying to sell it in Australia as a manual only, in a segment where 80 percent buy automatics, made it flop when new; now it’s hurting even more, for the same reason, on the used market.

So it looms into the view of someone who has shallow pockets, who prefers a manual transmission, who appreciates packaging and engineering and World Car of the Year awards, who’ll have a lash at DIY servicing – and who needs a car to leave on the street while they’re driving someone else’s Lamborghini.