The first car I ever reviewed, more than a decade ago, was a large saloon with a 5.5-litre engine. I took it to Frankfurt to test on the autobahn, where, at 140 mph, I found myself being overtaken by a newer version of the same model with a seven-litre engine.
It's hard to imagine any of this happening in 2012. Driving to Germany is no longer my idea of fun. Hitting 140 mph would terrify me. And I cannot think of the last time a mainstream manufacturer released a car with a seven-litre engine - the horsepower race having been overtaken by the race for efficiency. Ford recently replaced the 1.6-litre engine in the Focus with a three-cylinder, one-litre number which is just as powerful and yet 15% to 20% more economical. Fiat claims you can get 70 mpg out of the two-cylinder engine in its 500 Twinair.
And VW has launched this, the Up, a small three-door car with a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre engine producing 59 or 95 bhp.
In many ways, testing the Up proved as memorable as my first test drive. It's attractive from the front and back, and yet looks ridiculous from the sides. It is titchy and yet airy inside. It has the verve of a moped, offers the driving position of a van and my test car, in red, looked like a small London bus.
More than any car I've driven, the Up makes you question your assumptions about what you want from a car. The mirrors are operated from stalks. There's no reach adjustment for the steering wheel. The boot offers about as much storage as a printer tray. The biggest button on the dashboard is the one to turn off the passenger airbag. The engine is so anaemic you can't hear it when it starts. And yet it all feels curiously sufficient. Do you need electric mirrors when you only really need to adjust them once? Must you have a sophisticated computer when a TomTom-style sat-nav/control screen works so well? And do you need so much power when you get such efficiency in return?
Maybe I'm getting old, but I got as much of a thrill out of seeing the fuel gauge needle remaining stationary as I did from seeing the speedometer needle hit 140 mph in Germany that time. An inspiring little motor. 4 Out Of 5 ****
SPECIFICATION VW UP
Torque: 70 lbs/ft @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 62.8 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 105 g/km
0-62 mph: 14.4 seconds
Top speed: 99 mph