2009 Los Angeles: Volkswagen Up! Lite Inches Closer To Production

The Up! Lite concept may be the fifth variant of Volkswagen’s Up! concept shown to the public, but it’s our best look yet at a forthcoming production model.

While past Up! concepts used a rear-engine platform, recent reports suggested Volkswagen’s forthcoming New Small Family platform would actually shift to a front-engine configuration. Indeed, the Up! Lite stuffs its minuscule 800-cc two-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and a 10-kW electric motor in front of the driver.

Volkswagen has also indicated that a U.S.-bound Up! would have to be larger than early concepts in order to suit American tastes. Although this show car is actually lower than the E-Up! shown at the 2009 Frankfurt show, it’s considerably longer, allowing a larger pair of rear seats to be (tightly) squeezed behind the first row.

We’d be somewhat surprised, however, if this concept was carried into production entirely as-is. Diesel engines, hybrid drive systems, and composite materials are all relatively expensive, and the Up! Lite makes liberal use of all three. Building this car as it stands on the show floor would likely drive the price tag skyward, leaving people wondering if it’s worth shelling out $40,000 or so for a vehicle that returns 70 mpg on the highway, as opposed to paying half that for a reasonably stingy (and larger) Honda Civic.

Rest assured -- some version of the NSF will make it to the U.S. by 2013, and will make use of alternative powertrain. Given the size of this concept, we think a battery-electric version could work as a Mini E competitor -- or, with the help of a small gasoline or diesel engine, competition for Smart’s ForTwo.

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