Over 300 miles, we got fuel economy ranging from 43 mpg (5.5 liters/100 km) after 75 miles mostly on freeways to as high as 65 mpg (3.6 l/100 km) on short, light-duty around-town use.
Regrettably, we can't provide an overall rating because we didn't figure out how to change the display language from German to English until halfway through the test. For the longest leg of our trip (125 miles), we got 47 mpg (5.0 l/100km).
The fuel gauge still read slightly above 1/4 at the end of our test, though, so with a 9.2-gallon tank we figure overall average economy would be at least 45 mpg, perhaps more.
In European tests, it's rated at 40 mpg city, 50 mpg highway. Those ratings tend to be 15 to 20 percent more optimistic than U.S. ratings from the EPA, which uses a different test cycle.
Likes and dislikes
The Up's basic nature revealed itself in a few ways, some unexpected, a few amusing.
With the driver's window open, it's possible to hear the clunks inside the gearbox when you shift or release the clutch at low speed. While the tachometer works fine, it's so tiny that it requires concentrated focus to read.
The Up comes with a wonderful, loud, aggressive German horn--oceans away from the anemic wheezing beeps found on most Japanese cars. We didn't use it much, but when a larger vehicle started to merge into our lane, it made the driver pay attention immediately.
And we noticed that a lot of the expected U.S. safety gear--from height-adjustable shoulder-belt anchors to a steering-wheel lock and even an auto-down driver's window--was missing.
Big VW investment
The VW Up, now offered in three-door and five-door hatchback models and with more variations to come, is a major new line for Volkswagen.
The company invested heavily not only in the car, but in the all-new three-cylinder engine and smaller, lighter components for maximum efficiency. The air-conditioning compressor looked little larger than a man's fist, for instance.
VW is offering the Up to stake out its territory in the growing class of ultra-small European and Asian cars that can still be used with confidence on the highway when needed.
We were much more impressed by this admittedly top-end VW Up than we expected.
And we're sad that it won't be "Federalized" to bring it to the States.
Vicious circle of weight
But here's why that isn't likely to happen:
While those are all fixable problems--as would be the fitting of the various mandated U.S. buzzers and interlocks--the structural changes would add weight, cutting performance and reducing fuel efficiency.
That might require a larger engine to power the heavier car, further cutting gas mileage.
In effect, VW could find itself in a vicious cycle that would harm the elements of the Up that make it such a delight to drive in its original form.
Small cars, smaller sales
Most importantly, though, VW won't take a chance on selling the Up here when the U.S. market for cars this small is still ... well, small.
Combined 2011 sales of the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Scion iQ, and Smart ForTwo--about 80,000 last year--are a drop in the bucket in a market of 15 million vehicles a year.
Before it considers entering that segment, Volkswagen first has to extend its range downward from the Golf and Jetta to the next generation of the Polo subcompact.
Meanwhile, we'll simply plan to rent a VW Up next time we travel to Europe. And we might suggest you plan to do the same.
It'll give you a whole new perspective on small cars.