The E-Up!'s integral drive unit consists of the electric motor, single-speed transmission and differential -- all built together as one single unit to save space and weight. The electric motor is capable of putting up to 81 hp through the front wheels for short bursts but will normally put out 54 hp. With 155 lb-ft of torque helping motivate the 2392-lb car, the E-Up! should hit 62 mph in 11.3 sec and a top speed of 84 mph, Volkswagen says.
Powering the E-Up! is a 529-lb lithium-ion battery pack strapped to the bottom of the car for optimal weight distribution. The 18 kWh capacity pack should be good for a range of about 80 miles and will recharge in five hours when plugged into a standard European 220-volt wall socket. The charging port is cleverly hidden behind the VW logo on the nose, allowing it to more easily reach plugs on either side of the car.
Dubbed "the Beetle of the 21st Century" by Volkswagen itself, the E-Up!'s bulky proportions don't make for the most aerodynamic shape, but they do open up a surprising amount of space for four passengers and their cargo despite the vehicle's petite dimensions. By way of comparison, the E-Up! is actually 35 inches shorter in length and an inch shorter in height than an original VW Beetle. It makes up the difference by being four inches wider and by pushing the wheels out to the corners to maximize interior space. Even then, the E-Up!'s wheelbase is more than eight inches shorter than the original Beetle's.
Volkswagen didn't just channel the Beetle in size, either. The V-shaped hood is actually meant to resemble the long nose of the vintage Beetle. Below it, Volkswagen's designers may well have been channeling Herbie the Love Bug, as a thin black line traces an angular smile onto the front of the car in place of a grille, since the E-Up! doesn't need one. Up on the corners, Volkswagen has carefully crafted the fog lights into the headlights themselves where they appear as thin, C-shaped bars of light wrapped around the headlight projectors.
With the wheels pushed out like the original Beetle and the drivetrain packaged as small as possible, Volkswagen's designers were able to offer enough space for 3+1 seating inside. Pushing the dash as far forward as possible made enough room to put a full-grown adult in both the front and rear seats on the passenger's side comfortably. The driver's seat, though, needed to sit farther back to make room for the steering wheel and as such, the rear seat on the driver's side is better suited for children. The lack of a conventional drivetrain and the use of an electronic parking brake allowed the designers to remove much of the center tunnel and increase leg room for the rear seat passengers. Entry to the rear seats is aided by an Easy Entry front passengers seat that slides more than 10 inches away from the rear bench to make room for people to climb in.
While Volkswagen has found plenty of space for the passengers, the E-Up!'s tiny proportions have forced a compromise in cargo capacity. With the 60/40 split rear seats up, the E-Up! offers only three cubic feet of cargo space. Drop the less useful rear driver's side seat and fold out the cargo barrier from the back of the driver's seat and cargo capacity more than doubles to nearly six and a half cubic feet. Drop both rear seats and that number nearly doubles to 11.3 cubic feet. Stack your stuff all the way to the roof and you can haul nearly 18.4 cubic feet of cargo. If your gear is longer than it is wide or tall, you can make use of a pass-through in the front passenger's seat that will allow items up to six and a half feet long fit in the E-Up!.
While cargo hauling may not be the E-Up!'s forte, it makes up for it in technology. Not only does the E-Up! feature 15 square feet of solar panels on its roof, but it has an extra three square feet of solar panels built in the backs of the sun visors so that when flipped up into the window, the total area covers 18.3 square feet. Power collected from these panels can be used to help charge the battery or, when the car is parked, run the ventilation system to keep the interior cooler.
Inside, the E-Up! features a touchscreen interface as well as what appears to be an iPhone dock. The touchscreen, dubbed the Human Machine Interface (HMI), controls the navigation, climate and other systems. It also displays nearby charging stations on the navigation map and will, using high-tech future charging stations that don't exist yet, allow you to reserve time at your local station. It will also display the battery load and charge level, show all the current power draws such as lights and air conditioning, show local traffic conditions, display the elevation profiles for the various routes the navigation screen offers you and allow you to schedule your charge time -- say, for the middle of the night -- to get the lowest possible energy price.
What's even cooler, though, is the phone app. Designed to work with the iPhone or other smart phone, the application allows you to remotely check the battery charge, activate the charger (assuming the car is plugged in), display the vehicle location on a map, check the position of the door locks and even turn on the A/C to cool the car, so long as it's plugged into the charger.
Of course, all these tech features come at a price. In the case of the E-Up!, it actually comes in other conveniences. To keep weight down, the E-Up! has manual mirror and window controls.
With its diminutive size, the E-Up!'s natural habitat will be cities, much like its petrol- and diesel-powered twins, though this will be even more critical for the electric version due to its limited range and need for electrical outlets. Volkswagen hasn't announced pricing or markets yet, but it will likely start out in Europe where its tiny size will be advantageous, and at a recent Frankfurt press conference, loudly hinted that the car could be ready by 2013. The company has also tossed around the idea of bringing the Up! to the U.S. in some form, but there's no telling yet whether the E-Up! will follow or when.