The star of the show at the ongoing Frankfurt Motor Show, the new Volkswagen up! is a pretty big deal to the boys at Wolfsburg. According to chairman Prof Dr Martin Winterkorn, the up! represents current core Volkswagen brand values – clean and pure Volkswagen design, maximum space over a minimal footprint, top quality, attention to detail, and affordable innovations for all.

Called a “city specialist”, the up! sits on a small footprint indeed – measuring only 3,540mm by 1,640mm. That’s actually about the same size as a Ford Ka – 3,620mm by 1,658mm – and both sets of numbers are quoted without including wing mirrors. Another vehicle in this class would be the Fiat 500.

But the up! looks like it has better packaging as it has a significantly longer wheelbase – 2,420mm compared to the Ka and 500’s 2,300mm, so this would logically translate into superior interior space. The chassis uses MacPherson struts at the front, and a semi-independent rear suspension at the rear, with an optional sports setting that lowers ride height by 15mm.

Cargo capacity stands at 251 litres, and this increases to 951 litres with the rear bench folded down. Along with a large storage bin in the centre console and the glovebox, there are storage surfaces and bottle holders in the two doors, 3 cupholders in the rear and 2 bag hooks. Volkswagen also says the up! feels more comfortable for the passengers because its occupants do not sit too low.

The steering wheel and column is also positioned higher, with the angle to the driver more horizontal, improving ergonomics. There’s also little touches like a sculpted footrest to the left of the clutch, which was possible in this small car thanks to the compact construction of the front suspension.

The up!’s weight starts from 929kg, which Volkswagen claims is a 13% or 140kg reduction over the up!’s immediately predecessor – the Volkswagen Fox. Volkswagen credits this to the use of engine downsizing technology and high strength steel, as well as relentlessly hunting for grams to shave off the car wherever the engineers can. For example, the front seats are 15% lighter than comparable concepts in other cars.

The body materials of the up! have 8.1 per cent “hot-formed” steel content including the floor and B-pillars. Combined with high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels which make up 56.5 per cent of the vehicle’s construction, the up! has a static torsional rigidity of 19,800Nm/degree, which Volkswagen claims sets new standards in its class.

The Volkswagen up! uses Volkswagen’s new EA211 family of three cylinder 12 valve engines. There are no diesel engines introduced at debut time. There are two different 1.0 litre (999cc) petrol engines – one with 60 PS output consuming an average of 4.2 litres per 100km, and another more high powered 75 PS version consuming an average of 4.3 litres per 100km. Peak torque is 95Nm between 3,000 to 5,000 rpm, with 90% of that available between 2,000rpm to 6,000rpm.

Another version of the 999cc engine carries the EcoFuel badge, which has dual fuel capabilities. The EcoFuel 1.0 litre puts out 68 PS, and consumes 3.2kg/100km of CNG natural gas. The CNG is stored in two tanks integrated into the body of the up! – one is located in front of the rear axle together with a 10 litre reserve petrol tank, while the second tank makes use of the spare wheel recess, which naturally means that the EcoFuel up! does not have a spare wheel. The CNG tanks and the reserve petrol tank give the EcoFuel up! a range of about 550km.

Two transmissions are available with the Volkswagen up! – both a 5-speed manual and a 5-speed automatic. The 5-speed manual is called the MQ100, and weighs 25kg. The 5-speed auto is interesting – it weighs just 30kg and it’s not one of those dual clutch transmissions that Volkswagen are so famous for. The new 5-speed gearbox is a single clutch automated manual (like Alfa Romeo Selespeed, Honda i-SHIFT, Proton Savvy AMT, etc), and has been given the name SQ100.

Single clutch transmissions of this type have been known to be a little jerky, so I wonder if Volkswagen managed to pull off the silky smoothness feeling of its DSG transmissions with the SQ100. This isn’t the first time Volkswagen is using a single clutch automated manual in a car – there has been a 6-speed unit called the “ASG” used in cars like the Volkswagen SpaceFox.

The up! will first be available in Europe in December this year, with advance sales in Germany to begin this month. There will be 3 different versions – the baseline take up! with the 60 PS engine and a 5-speed manual will be priced at under 10,000 Euro and will weigh only 929kg. The mid range model will be called the move up! and the top of the line will be called the high up!

The baseline take up! will come with 14 inch wheels, but that’s about the only thing that makes the car look less premium than its siblings from the outside. Volkswagen did not go to lengths of unpainted or black bumpers to bring the price down for example. On the inside, there’s features like a folding rear bench, rear windscreen wipers, EPS steering, and etc. Front and side airbags are also standard, as are ASR, ESP stability control, and ISOFIX child seat tethers. The windows are manual winding though!

The mid-range car is the move up!, which adds body colour wing mirrors and door handles, full wheel covers, chrome element inner headlight housings, glossy black air vents and center dash trim, a height adjustable driver’s seat, chrome interior door handles, wireless remote central locking, a 60:40 split rear bench, and electric power windows up front.

The high up! adds 15 inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, a more customisable interior (dash pad available for order in black pearl, pure white, red, light blue and dark silver), a chrome surround around the speedo and air vents, and various other enhancements. The audio system is an RCD 215 radio-CD system with MP3 function.

In addition, there are two special versions of the high up! called the up! black and up! white, which are colour themed and add other features like larger 16 inch alloys.

VIDEO: VW up! white and up! black

For customisation, a buyer can add “packs” to his car. For example, the RCD 215 is not exclusive to the high up! – you can add this to the move up! or take up! if you want it. Other packs include a large panoramic tilt/slide sunroof, and a “comfort pack” that includes electric windows, a dual tone fanfare horn, central locking and etc, or a “winter pack” that adds seat heating, fog lamps and heated door mirrors. The “drive pack” was developed for the move up! and high up! with cruise control system, ParkPilot at the rear, multifunctional display (MFA) and City Emergency Braking.

Volkswagen Group Malaysia hasn’t given any indication if they are considering bringing the Volkswagen up! into Malaysia, but it is certainly a big thing for Volkswagen globally. Look after the jump for a full photo gallery of the up!