The problem with being a car guy is that you inevitably end up buying more vehicles than you know what to do with. Even for a financially challenged journalist like me, the urge to put something else in your garage is up there with ordering another cold beer on a summer’s night.
Few people will understand this weird compulsion and many will view it as foolish. But on a good day, when they’re all clean and running on song, there’s nothing better than knowing you have three different cars at your disposal. Unfortunately, it’s very seldom that all three are actually on song. Like a panting Saint Bernard, the old 911 has a habit of dribbling oil from its engine. Seriously, nothing kills the romance of all that air-cooled thunder quicker than discovering a pool of Castrol GTX on your landlord’s freshly paved driveway.
And while it’s in being fixed for the umpteenth time, the Materia Turbo will start making that annoying clunking noise that no mechanic can seem to cure. So I’ll swap it for the MR2, which is nice until the elderly roof catches lose their bite and make that terrible rattle over anything but the smoothest tar.
When you’re trying to be Jay Leno on a beer budget, the continual maintenance and upkeep required to keep things rolling can get you down. In fact, at times I feel like “accidentally” setting fire to all of them and using the insurance payout to buy something new and hassle-free.
So what would I get in such a situation? It would be the new Volkswagen Cross Up! No argument. No procrastination. With the money in my pocket, I would pull that trigger faster than the lone gunman on the Grassy Knoll.
In our digital world full of complicated machinery, the little Up! is a joyously simple piece of equipment. Beneath its bonnet is a basic three-cylinder engine that merges killer fuel consumption (I did 480km on half a tank) with just enough muscle to cruise down the highway at 140km/h.
Inside, the Bauhaus-inspired dashboard carries no fat. There are no iPad wannabe infotainment systems that take days to get accustomed to. Instead, you get old-fashioned rotary controls and a simple stereo with an auxiliary-in jack. The heated seats in my test car were optional, as is a Bluetooth adapter that lets you stream tunes off your phone. At R3600 it’s a box worth checking.
Being a recipient of the Cross treatment means this Volkswagen comes with an SUV-aping bodykit. You get extra-rugged front and rear aprons plus lots of black plastic cladding to protect the wheel arches, sills and doors. Gimmicky? Unashamedly so. Still, it does give the car a meaner stance than the standard five-door model. I like it. I also like the bigger 16-inch alloy wheels. Stylistically speaking, this is the sexiest Up! in the range and possibly the most comfortable too, thanks to a raised suspension that absorbs bumps better than its siblings. Fortunately, this rise in stature hasn’t done that much to blunt the handling: driven within its limits it remains fun and pointy and eager to please. It makes you grin — a reaction few cars in this class manage to incite.
While rear legroom is cramped and the lipstick-red upholstery is something your eyes will never really acclimatise to, it’s hard not to develop feelings for this littlest of Volkswagen hatchbacks.
The Cross Up! is affordable and bubbly and capable of eclipsing those simple blue-collar aspirations for which it was intended. All of which makes it the ideal choice for driving enthusiasts from either end of the spectrum: fresh-faced newbies buying in or jaded old veterans thinking of scaling back. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts:Volkswagen Cross Up!
Engine: 999c three-cylinder petrol
Power: 55kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 95Nm at 3000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
0-100km/h: 14.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 167km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 5.8/100km (achieved)
Price: From R185500