By on January 25, 2012

 When we talked about a four door version of Volkswagen’s hot-selling (in Europe, not available stateside) small car, the Up!, one commenter in particular equaled the car to a happy meal container and its owners to baby killers. A small car can be very safe – if its engineers know what they are doing. It just so happens that that little happy meal container is proof of it. It  was elected one of Europe’s safest cars.

Volkswagen’s Up! has been awarded five stars by Euro NCAP, the highest rating the independent European consumer protection organization can bestow.  Wait, it can do one better: Euro NCAP also gave the Up! the 2012 Advanced Award, for the UP!’s City Emergency Braking function. According to Euro NCAP, the Up! is the safest cars in its class.

As a small car, you need to be a little smarter than a dumb tank that simply barges through. The City Emergency Braking function for instance is automatically activated at speeds between 5 and 30 km/ h, and it uses a laser sensor (integrated in the upper area of the windscreen) to scan a space up to 10 meters (33 feet) in front of the Up! According to Volkswagen, the Up! is the only car in its segment that can be equipped with a City Emergency Braking function.


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56 Comments on “Up! Safest Car, Up!-Ends Commonly Held Beliefs...”

  • avatar

    one commenter in particular equaled the car to a happy meal container and its owners to baby killers.

    I am vaguely familiar with the commenter to whom you were referring. He is quite a guy. He cares very much for his family’s safety and is aware that even if you pack a vehicle the size of an Up! with styrofoam packing peanuts, used asbestos Micronite cigarette filters, discarded breast implants and Cool Whip, the size of the Up! means that in a collision with most vehicles larger than a Honda Accord, the Up! would be disproportionately impacted.
    Consequently, I’m sure if he read that the Up! is the safest car in it’s class, he would respond that being the safest car in it’s class is to know that if an Up! collides with a Fiat 500, it would not do so poorly. He would not be surprised either. If VW was to make a car in this class, they would do so as to offset it’s immediate image as being a death trap with a number of design improvements and options.

    This commenter would then correct your statement suggesting that he considers Up! drivers as to being baby killers. In the real world, Up! drivers are not baby killers because most Up! owners have wives who would protest putting babies into them because most cars on the road are not in the Up! car class, even though the Up! is the safest car in it’s class. The commenter to whom you were referring would request that you re-read his earlier comments and understand that he was not labeling anyone as a baby killer, as that would be plainly over the top and undefensible.

    Lastly, knowing him as I do, he would probably end a posting on this issue in some sarcastic way. Such as mentioning that when the Up! class of cars has a presence on US roads proportionally similar to that of European or Japanese roads, then it’s safest in class status would have as much weight in this argument as the most popular vehicle in the US, the F-150, has currently in ending it. He would say something like that because he does not avoid the facts presented. Instead he considers it’s impact upon the argument within the real world of American driving, reaffirming his opinion.

    But what do I know – I’m not that commenter, right?

    • 0 avatar

      Big Volvo 940 vs. tiny Renault Modus – Modus tears through the Volvo like a hot knife through butter.


    • 0 avatar

      I already explained to you in that other post that this isn’t true. The Up! not only fares well in the frontal offset crash test, which indeed simulates a collision with a similarly-sized vehicle, but also in, for example, the pole impact crash test. Which simulates impacting, well, a pole or tree. It is very safe – safer than many larger vehicles, indeed, even in test that do not simulate a similarly-sized opponent.

      • 0 avatar

        The average vehicle on the road is around 10 years old. Crashing a modern subcompact into an old Volvo wagon does not prove anything. It is a poor representation of a vehicle that a modern subcompact is likely to collide with. If the Renault was up against a 2001 Volvo of similar size I bet the results would be much different.
        The government crash tests rate cars based on how they perform when crashed into a stationary object which requires the vehicle to dissipate the energy resulting from its own mass. Smaller vehicles have an inherent advantage in these tests. The true measure of safety in these accidents is how likely the driver is to collide with a stationary object as these accidents are primarily within their control as opposed to multi vehicle accidents.
        Also crash tests are not run for rear impacts. How safe are the children in the back seat you are rear-ended by an F-150?

      • 0 avatar

        Trees and poles are stationary. Other cars are not. Basic physics, people: force = mass x velocity.
        Your argument amounts to, “Justin Bieber can punch Vitaly Klitschko without breaking his hand.” The problem is, if Klitschko punches back, he breaks Bieber’s face.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m guessing said commentator must know an awful lot about armchairs too.

      • 0 avatar

        What a remarkable assumption. Remarkably incorrect, but still…

        The commenter has a bank of computers on computer tables, running programs, building programs, searching the Intertubes, and doing all sorts of server/web stuff. Not much sitting actually. Job requires hot footing it around a pleasantly crowded, comfortable office environment.

        At his residence, the commenter has many small children, so he must run constantly at home. I believe he has his laptop on a computer table out of the reach of tiny, sticky and greasy hands, and works standing up.

        This keeps the commenter handsomely slim, btw.

        I do recall once discovering the commenter falling asleep in an armchair once, after his children were in bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Gunnar the Finn

      I wonder how that commenter would feel if his kids wanted to ride a motorbike or a scooter?

  • avatar

    Thanks for posting this. As that particular commenter was especially vocal about the risk that children face in a small car like this, it should perhaps be noted that it got higher scores in child protection than several larger vehicles, like the Jaguar XF or a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

  • avatar

    Hi Bertel,

    With EuroNCAP, the devil is in the details. Those five stars are awarded because the Up fares well against cars of its class. EuroNCAP does not take into account the infamous incompatibility between various classes of cars. In a well-publicised ADAC crash test between a Fiat 500 (5*) and an Audi Q7 (4*), the 500 still came out worse.

    On the other hand, it is simply untrue that more mass ‘wins’ in a crash.

    • 0 avatar

      More mass absolutely does win in a crash.

      If the cabin holds up well enough to prevent passengers from being impacted by deforming structure, which is pretty much a given with current cars of any weight, injury is caused by acceleration. That acceleration causes your brain to slam into your skull, your organs to pull themselves apart or bruise against the inside of your rib cage, your arms to try to pull themselves out of their sockets.


      • 0 avatar

        Unfortunately, that is *not* a given with current cars of any weight, except against others in their own size class.

        IIHS did a study in 2009 comparing different size cars from the same manufacturers — particularly, the Yaris and Fit (both EuroNCAP 5* rated) against a Camry and Accord, respectively. They found that “Intrusion into the Fit’s occupant compartment was extensive,” and that “overall, [Fit’s] rating is poor in the front-to-front crash, despite its good crashworthiness rating based on the Institute’s frontal offset test.”

        The Yaris fared even worse, with most of the door being torn off, a high risk of head and leg injury, and again, an overall rating of “poor” in the test against the Camry.

        Are current minicars safer than they’ve ever been? Yes, remarkably so. But they’re absolutely not in the same safety class as a midsize sedan. That should be obvious — it’s not like manufacturers aren’t putting the best technology into all their models. With more crumple space, a midsize sedan is going to make better use of that tech than a car with almost no hood.

      • 0 avatar

        The IIHS tested a Smart and an E-class too during that investigation. The result was exactly what our physics teachers were saying it would be while some of us were too busy day dreaming about utopia. At the end of the day, for any given level of crash test standard, a bigger vehicle will fare better than its contemporary small vehicle. Don’t like it? Find a different universe.

    • 0 avatar
      Mercury Mark 75

      Unfortunatly as much as we would like to think that mass does not play into crashs we cannot ignore basic physics. If we take two cars that are engineered to the same standards/technological level the more massive one will “win” the collision.

      The physics behind this is that Force = Mass times change in velocity divided by change in time. F=M ChangeV / ChangeT

      The ammount of time that the cars collide wit one another is the same (newtons 3rd law) so we can ignore that. What is important is that a larger car does not experience the same change in velocity that a smaller car will. An extreme example of this is when your car hits a bug as it goes down the street. Both the car and the bug feel the same force, but the bug has significantly different change in velocity. Just like a smaller car hitting a larger one will experience a greater change in velocity. For example:

      Useing the idea of conservation of momentum, if a 1 ton car at -10 m/s hits a 2 ton car at 10m/s the two ton car will experince a change in velocity of 6.7 m/s and the 1 ton car will experince a change in velocity of 13.3 m/s.

      MV + MV = MV
      1*-10 + 2*10 = 3*3.33

      That means that your body in the 1 ton car will accelerate at aproxamatly twice the rate and feel aproxamatly twice the force than if you were in the 2 ton vehicle. F=MA

    • 0 avatar

      If you have more mass, that means your vehicle gets to use some of the smaller cars’ crumple space. Therefore, accelerations and intrusions in the big car are reduced at the expense of accelerations and intrusions in the small car.

      F=M*A. The force in a crash is fixed, so if you have more mass, you necessarily will undergo less acceleration.

      • 0 avatar

        Is this where the typical enthusiast says that his small, turbocharged hatchback can accelerate out of the way of danger while the drooling SUV driver plows on ahead?

  • avatar

    Sounds like VW knew what they were doing. Maybe it could be called “an amazing feat of engineering”, much like the Prius C. Making a very small, cheap car very safe takes talent.

    If Derek keeps getting hit, unfairly, for his “gamechanging” comment then surely “an amazing feat of engineering” falls in the same general area. Even though I agree with both assessments – consistency in criticism would be nice!

    • 0 avatar

      This is an amazing feat of marketing, convincing people to be reassured by having a car that will stand up well against the smallest cars on the road.

      • 0 avatar

        No marketing, it got 5 stars and is deemed amongst the safest in its class. Just as the Prius C is amongst the most fuel efficient of its class.

        Certainly no more amazing than saying the Prius V is “everywhere” – even when it is partially due to un-Toyota like fleet sales!

    • 0 avatar

      Are you still carping about that “game changing” thing? It’s been two weeks now, get over it. God forbid somebody doesn’t agree with you that the Fusion is a game changer.

      I know you’ve appointed yourself TTAC’s official fact checker/fairness police, but I find it curious how your calls for “consistency in criticism” appear only when it’s a domestic product that’s being criticized.

      • 0 avatar

        I find it curious how some, including yourself, criticize the characterization of the Fusion (test drives will let us know if it is actually a gamechanger) but you don`t mind equally apparent hyperbole for non-domestics. So before you criticize me or others for lacking consistency at least notice it in yourself.

        As for carping on it, it was Jack (and others) who just in the past 2 days have brought it up. So level your accusation elsewhere.

        Just one other point about the Fusion. I don’t know what it would take for you to think a car has the potential to move the class forward. If it is (subject to actual reviews) amongst the best driving, the most economical, introduces the first plug-in hybrid which is allegedly more efficient that the Prius, Volt and Leaf. If all those claims stand up to testing later this year then yes it is a car that moves the game forward.

  • avatar

    You cannot change the laws of physics…

    I have zero skin in the game in discussion on the Up!, never even read it or replied. But physics does win in these situations.

    I DID NOT embed the player – your WordPress install did this and has it set to the wrong size.

  • avatar

    That old Volvo crash test is a crock. Two different concepts from two eras. The Volvo trades space (crush zones)to lessen the impact force. I didn’t relook at the video but I don’t think it even had an airbag. Forget what the end result is, the only point that matters is passenger survival. The Renault benefits from air bags everywhere. Since the skeleton of the car no longer has to deform it can be made super rigid and the airbgs take care of lessening the blow.

  • avatar

    Totally discounting mass is wishful thinking: If you take two identical rocks, but one is two times the mass and smash them together, what rock would “win”? Same way with cars if they’re engineered to the same standards.

  • avatar

    Awesome little car looks safe, The emergency braking feature is great also!

  • avatar

    Seems to me that the best solution to this problem of “what’s a safe car for my kids” is obvious: Don’t have kids. Works great! Not only do I not have to worry about safety or child seats, I have more disposable income to spend on car stuff and road trips.

    I only have occasion to transport (somebody else’s) children a few times a year. This is often in an NB Miata, which I’m sure would be included in the category of “tiny deathtrap” by many in the peanut gallery.

    I don’t care. If my car isn’t “safe enough” for your little darlings then you’re welcome to drive them yourself.

  • avatar

    Compare that video to this:

  • avatar

    I’ve been an accident scene investigator for an insurance company for about 10 years now. The Dodge truck example isn’t a good one.

    Before you get into any of the safety systems of the UP, what occurs when a truck, particularly a larger 4×4 hits a small car is they tend to go over and ride up on to the top of the crush zones circumventing them. Crush zones are designed around tests like these where you plow straight into a wall. I’ve seen literally hundreds of wrecks between trucks and smaller cars and what you will see is that the crush zones on the small cars get driven down and to the side and the truck gets deflected up with relatively little side to side or backward motion.

    So depending on how hard they hit- the truck is now heading straight for the head of the driver of the little car.

    Now if you are talking about how would an Up do vs a Panther- that would get more interesting. But in an Up vs a Dodge Truck collision, I’d rather be in the truck any day.

    • 0 avatar

      Never mind a Panther. How would a Fusion or an Accord do in that scenario? Overall size would seem to have little to do with the bumper-override thing. If so, then short of saying everybody should drive a truck, there’s no reason to pick on small cars as opposed to midsize cars.

      • 0 avatar

        The passengers of the Up would probably fair OK vs the passengers of the Fusion or Accord assuming an offset frontal type impact assuming reasonably survivable speeds. They both have good structure at roughly the same heights.

        My point is trucks are rarely a fair comparison because they always look like they do worse on tests and they almost always do better in real impacts. Even with the new lower truck bumpers.

        If you are asking how a truck fairs against an accord, trucks do the same thing to a Fusion as they would do with an up.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re someone who observes the outcome of real-world accidents on a regular (daily?) basis. Your opinion of what type of car will fare best in an accident is golden.

      So, what do *you* drive?

      • 0 avatar

        If I were to buy a car built in the last five years based on safety, it would me a mid to large-sized sedan. I don’t think there’s enough difference in real world performance to really push one hard over the others for safety alone. Even though trucks have some specific advantages in some types of wrecks, they lose out in enough areas that I would never pick a truck for safety alone. Plus in more moderate (and typical) impacts truck passengers fair much worse for soft-tissue injuries due to the minimal or total lack of crush zones.

        *edit: ya that’s a cop out because I’ve never personally bought a car based on safety.

      • 0 avatar


        Your selection of a good midsize sedan is consistent with Thomas Wenzel’s studies where he concluded a well-engineered midsize is the sweet spot – as people actually drive them. But I’d still bet that trucks would do better if they were consistently driven slower than cars.

      • 0 avatar

        A more nuanced question than sedan vs. truck, perhaps — what about the difference between a mid-size sedan and a mid-size CUV? I’m thinking about something like the Camry vs. the Venza. Same platform, wheelbase and length; however, the Venza is 700lb heavier and sits 2″ higher, and presumably has a higher seating position.

  • avatar

    I am not sure what is the point of this article. There are several small cars with better Euro NCAP crash test ratings than the VW Up!

    And of course, as everyone else has pointed out, these crash tests evaluate a car’s crashworthiness against cars with a similar size.

    The commonly held belief that smaller cars perform worse in a crash with a larger vehicle is validated by Physics and was demonstrated by IIHS a couple of years ago.

    And about the award… Sure, but nine other cars got this award from Euro NCAP.

  • avatar

    Every time I read a story like this it depresses me. It’s great that small cars are safer than they ever have been, but cars on average are also larger than ever. It’s turned into an arms race of sorts.

    Thanks to people commuting by themselves in Suburbans and F-150s, many feel the need to buy something of similar size just to feel safe. The result is greater risk for those of us that refuse to cave to the “safety! think of the children!” mindset, and plenty of people running around in vehicles much larger than what they need.

    This is depressing because the average vehicle on the road needs to be smaller, yet I have no idea how to make that happen. I’m certainly not in favor of government dictating what we drive, yet people certainly aren’t going to volunteer to downsize in great numbers. Only skyrocketing gas prices have a chance to force the change, but that creates a whole new set of problems. I can’t stand being at the mercy of what the rest of the market wants.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, EuroNCAP puts the following disclaimer on its site: “Warning! A valid comparison cannot be made between some cars in your selection.”

    It then gives a link to a page explaining: “Euro NCAP’s frontal impact test simulates a car crashing into another of similar mass and structure. In real life, when two cars collide the vehicle with the higher mass has an advantage over the lighter one. Generally speaking, vehicles with higher structures tend to fare better in accidents than those with lower structures. Therefore, ratings are comparable only between cars of similar mass and with broadly similar structures.”

    So, while the Up! may be safe for its size, it is by no means the “safest car” if you compare it to larger ones.

  • avatar

    F=M*A, is all well and good, as is the many comparisons to Smarts, Modusii, Yarii, and Fits.

    Scissors beat paper, but rocks beat scissors.

    The F=M*A works just as well against panthers and F-Series trucks when one is talking about a tractor trailer or a school bus.

    Unless folks are arguing that we should all run out and buy armored trucks, the “My chassis is bigger than yours” runs aground by the existence of the freight industry, among others.

    And then there is the F=M*A counter-argument when factoring in the coefficients of friction (i.e. braking distance.) A counter-argument underscored this morning by the charming gentleman riding my ass in the F-150 while we were both stuck behind a soccer-mom.

    Additionally, some of us stayed awake during economics and physics. Particularly when the topic of resource elasticity arose.

    In that sense, when gas climbs above $5 a gallon and beyond, a triple-welded Up! frame makes more economic sense than a panther (or riding the bus) to work, and it certainly makes more physical/safety sense than a 20 year old compact.

    • 0 avatar

      Frictional force is equal to the coefficient friction multiplied by the normal force. As weight goes up, so does friction.

      That said, the suspension, balance, and tire selection of trucks isn’t exactly set up for high performance.

    • 0 avatar

      The issue isn’t absolute safety from any possible collision, it’s improved relative safety compared to a lighter option. All else being equal, a larger vehicle (say a F-150 SuperCrew) makes the physics in any given collision more favorable for the occupants than if they were in a smaller vehicle (say a Honda Fit). Maybe not enough to affect safety outcomes in all situations, but certainly enough in a lot of them.

      The mass == longer braking distance argument doesn’t really hold much water. The F-150 SuperCrew masses ~ 100% more than a Fit, and yet is about even in 70-0 MPH braking. Why? Bigger cars generally fit bigger contact patches and bigger brakes which offset the additional momentum during braking. The limiting factor there is less physics, more cost engineering.

      And really, I don’t see expensive gas killing off larger cars any time soon. Even at $6/gallon gas and the American mileage average (13.5k/year) an F-150 SuperCrew would only cost $110/month more in gas than a Fit. It’s a decent chunk of change, but fairly trivial for the middle/upper-middle class that buys F-150 SuperCrews for personal transport.

      • 0 avatar

        Check your math.. I get a difference of $230 a month, quite a chunk.

      • 0 avatar


        Well, $110 or $230 is quite a chunk. Either way that’s $1,320-$2,760 difference. Note the word difference. If you’re a middle class family with 2 drivers that is $2640-$5520.

        Which is to say, a median household earnings ~$50k/year, top quintile (upper-middle) ~100k/year, in a world where gas is pushing $6/gallon, folks wanting to take the ‘safer vehicle’ route are now siphoning 3-10% of their pre-tax income to be able to crush others, rather than be crushed, in a collision.

        One can drive what one can afford. Just be honest about what you can afford. Gas ain’t gonna be cheap ever again, no matter where we drill, or how lousy the world economy gets. Don’t like it? Build a time machine.

  • avatar

    I suppose I could up the stakes by stating that the owners of all those larger vehicles are the baby killers.

    I can’t vouch for my accuracy, but I’ve heard that most fatal accidents are single-vehicle. Safety stars ARE comparable across classes for that kind of accident, when you’re hitting a stationary object. Two factors that contribute to having a single-vehicle accident are being top-heavy or having a short wheelbase; electronics can mitigate the latter more than the former.

    In a multi-vehicle accident the smaller vehicle will take a greater impact. If the bumpers are grossly mismatched – which I personally think of as borderline criminal – that’ll hurt too. But I don’t understand why anyone’s saying that hitting a modern large vehicle will be worse than hitting a Volvo 940 (not counting the removed engine). Hitting a larger vehicle with modern crumple zones will be BETTER for the small car occupant than hitting one without.

    I also think some people are confused about what happens when there’s a weight mismatch. If the crash test involves hitting a fixed target at 40mph, that’s actually WORSE than hitting a Ford Expedition with a closing speed of 40mph, because in the latter case your small car will slow down the Ford Expedition a little bit. You’ll take more of an impact than the Expedition, but when you hit a fixed target you take 100% of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      A substantial number of fatal collisions are roll-over or side impact. Trucks roll over by far more frequently than cars do. The relative mass of the vehicles doesn’t matter so much as the height of the center of gravity relative to the width of the vehicle, and cars as a whole are better in this regard than trucks. Side impact is a tough one; there are no practical road vehicles that have side-impact crumple zones. For side impact, you need a really stiff structure to minimize intrusion and you need side air bags – and the vehicle needs to resist rolling over.

      My parents got hit in the side while driving a 2003 VW Jetta, and the vehicle that hit them was a late-eighties full-size van on a road with an 80 km/h speed limit. Both survived – hurt, but they survived. The structure of the car did its job very well.

      I’ve seen the aftermath of a Chevrolet pick-up truck head on against a (first-generation) Chevrolet Equinox on a road with an 80 km/h speed limit (and normal traffic speed is 100 km/h). The Equinox was crumpled all the way back to the firewall, but the passenger compartment was more-or-less intact (and it was right-side-up). The pick-up was not crumpled as much, but it was upside down in the ditch.

      Friend in high school got gently tagged at a 4-way stop by a cross-traffic car that didn’t stop – they were in a Nissan 4-wheel-drive pick-up. The impact was relatively gentle … but the truck rolled.

      Don’t underestimate the roll-over potential – that’s a real killer. The pick-up trucks and truck-based SUV’s are all worse than cars in this regard, by a lot.

  • avatar

    Well, in Europe you have to look very hard to find truck with lift kit…or any truck at all. In this environment where cars/crumple zones are mostly on the same level compared to road, these test results are important. VW doesn’t plan to sell this car in NA.

  • avatar

    Thats why I think all large pickups and SUV should be limited to 55mph by a foolproof speed governor.. massive fuel savings and higher safety for other cars.

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