Volkswagen Urban Fox 1.4 review
by David Finlay (6 July 2006)
On the day I first became acquainted with the Fox I quickly formed the opinion that the less money you spend within this range, the better a car you're going to get. Volkswagen seems confident that this is what buyers will think, too - just over half of UK sales are expected to be accounted for by the entry-level 1.2.
There was therefore a slight sinking of the heart when it was confirmed that our first test car was going to be the 1.4 Urban, the most expensive of the four Foxes currently available in the UK. The Urban bit refers to the fact that this is the higher-specification model, which gets body-coloured bumpers and door mirrors, sliding rear seats with a 50/50 split folding facility, electric front windows, opening rear side windows and remote central locking, all of which are either denied to the standard car or available with it only as optional extras.
You pay an extra £600 for the Urban trim level, and I can see that doing so would make sense. In particular, the sliding rear seats open up a possible luggage volume of 260 litres with four people on board (extending to 1016 litres if you fold the seats down), and allow for a smaller but still useful amount of luggage space without doing too much damage to the rear legroom.
There seems to be less of a case for paying the £1600 which takes you from the 1.2- to the 1.4-litre engine. The latter isn't exactly a ball of fire, providing a maximum of 74bhp, but it's in a different league from the 54bhp 1.2. It's also a bit more than the Fox can deal with in its standard form.
The extra power does help if you're having to fit a lot of miles into the day, as I did. The problem arises from the Fox's very considerable height. This is a notably tall car, not just because of its body construction but because it rides astonishingly high on its suspension - there are several inches more clearance between the tyres and the wheelarches than you would expect to find in anything this side of an SUV.
This is good news for visibility and for cabin access for those who are above-averagely stiff of limb, but it's bad news for the ride and handling. The 1.4 feels a bit unwieldy on country roads (the 1.2 isn't quick enough for this to be an issue), and in particular I doubt that the Fox and I would necessarily be singing from the same hymn sheet if we were required to swerve round a sudden obstacle in the road.
You may question the importance of this concern when the Fox is intended to be a city car (replacing, since we're on the subject, the smaller and more expensive Lupo). The point is that the 1.4 is quick enough to get itself into trouble, and that's a matter of some concern.
On the streets, of course, none of this is an issue. The Fox scores well here because it's very light and easy to drive, which all city cars should be but by no means all city cars actually are. Although the interior is not as high-quality as you would expect from a Volkswagen - which to some extent explains the low price - the major controls, particularly the steering, are nicely weighted and would cause no problems even for a first-time driver.
Visibility is much better than the class average, though the thick triangular section at the base of the windscreen pillars mean that it's not quite as good as it could be.
The rear sill is quite high, which means you have to lift your luggage some way off the ground before loading it through the tailgate. On the other hand, the tailgate itself is very light and requires little more than finger pressure to open and shut.
Combined fuel economy of 41.5mpg is useful enough, though the 1.2 beats that by 5.2mpg and has correspondingly lower CO2 emissions. A turbo diesel would probably be more impressive still, and in other markets there is a Fox equipped with just such an engine. Volkswagen UK has passed up the chance to import it because it would cost too much, though the company says it will pay attention to customer demand. Fuel economy figures would no doubt be spectacular, but something would quite definitely have to be done to the suspension to cope with the extra mid-range power.
Hands up here - I didn't expect to enjoy my time with the Fox very much, but as things turned out I found myself looking forward to a four-hour drive home after spending most of the day hurtling around the countryside in high-performance sports cars. That was a big surprise.
On the other hand, I still feel that the 1.4 Fox is neither one thing nor the other. The 1.2 is the true city car - decidedly not the most adventurous design in the class but an efficient and capable model all the same.
The 1.4 pretends to be the same thing, but with the amount of power it has it's really a supermini. Thanks to the ride height and the problems associated with it, it's also not a particularly good supermini. With a little tweaking it could be a cheap and very enjoyable alternative to the Polo, but perhaps Volkswagen doesn't want there to be such a car.
The more important point is: do you?