Is VW’s Electric E-Up The Beetle of the 21st Century?

As the hew decade comes in so does the question on what the next big car technology, you would think Hybrid right? Well VW and Mercedes still thinks electric fuel cell cars are where it’s at.

The electric car really is due at a showroom near you, we can confirm, because VW, maker’s of the “people’s car” will have one in 2013. VW’s even dubbing the E-Up the “Beetle of the 21st Century”. Can this lofty claim be true?

Volkswagen just unveiled the car at the IAA auto show. It’s a new version of a concept car the German auto-maker’s been teasing for a while now–the Up–but in this case the car’s been given an eco-friendly 100% electric drive overhaul. It’s stats are pretty impressive: An electric motor that delivers peak power of 60 kW (or 40 kW at continuous speed) and delivers 210 Nm of torque right from zero revs. That doesn’t sound like much, when compared to the Prius’ electric motor’s 350 Nm, but it’s enough to give the car a 0 to 100 km/h speed of around 11 seconds, and a 0 to 50 km/h speed (the range most of interest to city drivers) of just 3.5 seconds. It also tops out at 135 km/h (nearly 84 mph), so it’s more than capable of roaring down the autobahn or freeway, no matter that VW is dubbing it a “city specialist.”

Of course electric cars are defined as much by their battery tech as their engines, and the E-Up has an 18 kwh lithium-ion unit that, at 240 kg, makes up nearly a quarter of the entire car’s weight. This unit gives the car a 130-kilometer (80-mile) range, which would limit how far you’d drive it on the freeway…but a one-hour top-up charge will fill ‘er up to 80%. So when rest-stops come equipped with electric charging points it’ll enable much longer range trips. Plugged into a household 230V power socket it’ll fill up completely in 5 hours, which means you can use cheap-rate electricity, resulting in a claimed cost of €2 per 100 km (around $3 for 80 miles).

What to say about the car design? Well, it’s weird–but the Up always has been, and electric cars (I’m thinking about you, Mr. Aptera) seem to be trending towards the kooky, anyway. Its seating arrangement is dubbed “3+1” which means the driver’s seat’s normal, the front passenger seat’s actually set a little forward, and there’s room for two to sit in the rear seat behind this one–the seat behind the driver’s works, but is really only for storage space.

But can the E-Up live up to VW’s lofty claim of being the Beetle for a new century? The original “volks-wagen” requirement was to have a car that could transport two adults and three children at 100km/h and do so affordably. Its design ended up being pretty unusual, famously so in fact. In that light the E-Up really could be the 21st Century Beetle–and check out the adorable design detail whereby the VW logo on the hood swivels to reveal the charger socket. That’s cult design-potential right there. We also won’t have long to find out if the E-Up is as affordable to buy as it is to run–VW is really going to start pushing these things off the production line in 2013.

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