Michael Stahl THE CURIOUS ASCENT OF THE UP!

I have recently gathered evidence of a pervasive cult that is luring in members of my profession

IF YOUíVE ALWAYS SUSPECTED THAT CAR PEOPLE ARE A BIT UNUSUAL, WITH MOTORING WRITERS NEAR ONE EXTREME OF THAT SPECTRUM, IíM HERE TO AGREE WITH YOU ABSOLUTELY. I HAVE RECENTLY GATHERED EVIDENCE OF A PERVASIVE CULT THAT IS LURING IN MEMBERS OF MY PROFESSION.

And while normal, right-thinking people are utterly immune to its attractions, I think Iím about to join it myself.

Iím forever being asked what car a motoring journalist drives. And theyíre always expecting to be told a Lamborghini, or a Moller Flying Car (I really am thinking I should cancel my order), or some similar thing that is to a journoís wages, what a superyacht is to a ferry driverís.

But car journos donít do it for the money; we do it because itís the best job in the world for car kooks. And so, like other car people, weíll often put the ownership of a cool car ahead of other things. Like children, or superannuation. I count myself in the latter class, having bought my 1980s dream car six years ago. I know at least five other journos with various old Porsches.

But this new thing Ė itís completely out of left field. And though Iíve not driven one, and canít recall even sitting in one, itís sucked me into its strange forcefield. To the point where Iíve already worked out the colour Iíll get, how Iíll lower it, and the aftermarket wheels I want. But I know this is really serious, because Iím willing to sell my minibike to buy it.

Youíd never guess, except thereís probably a photo nearby thatís already given it away, but the car thatís stealing journosí hearts is the Volkswagen Up!

(Thatís Volkswagenís exclamation mark, not mine. Although, if I were a younger man, Iíd have added three more and be tweeting this instead).

Currently there seems to be four or five Up!wardly mobile motor-noters in Sydney alone. Aside from the profession, they have little in common, ranging from an endearingly nerdy 30-something, to a 40-ish father of two, to Mike McCarthy, former decades-long servant of Wheels, now well into his hundreds (I think).

MicMac, as astute a judge of cars as there ever was, saw the light early and bought his from new (the Up! launched here in September 2012). But itís used Up!s that are hitting the spot with motoring writers.

One of the first converts, and probably the Bhagwan of the movement, is journo Matt Campbell. He recently bought a black, five-door 2013 model Ö for $3000.

I have recently gathered evidence of a pervasive cult that is luring in members of my profession

ďThis car was a game-changer when it was launched,Ē Campbell gushes. ďIt brought AEB to this segment. It turns, stops, handles beautifully and rides like a cushion. And the fuel consumption is ridiculous.Ē

Admittedly, Campbellís $3K example was out of rego and a bit gamey, but Iíve seen half a dozen at or below $5K, and low-kay ones are usually below $7K. And Iím the guy whose current, cheap commuter hack is a 15-year-old Ducati Monster. Bought for $8000.

THE ORPHAN WHO FOUND LOVE

For the sake of torturing the typography: whatís up with the UP!? Well, trying to sell it in Australia as a manual only, in a segment where 80 percent buy automatics, made it flop when new; now itís hurting even more, for the same reason, on the used market.

So it looms into the view of someone who has shallow pockets, who prefers a manual transmission, who appreciates packaging and engineering and World Car of the Year awards, whoíll have a lash at DIY servicing Ė and who needs a car to leave on the street while theyíre driving someone elseís Lamborghini.

Little wonder

Even after a decade or so of dramatic downsizing, is there still a stigma about really small cars? I keep hearing that SUV drivers, in particular, go all Biff Tannen when they see a small car up ahead, especially on motorways. Iíve somehow always escaped the ďbig car for a big countryĒ mindset and, wifeís wagons aside, a Subaru Sportswagon (in the 1980s) was probably the biggest car Iíve ever owned, and the 911 the most cylinders.