The Fox looks like a wheelie bin

Who will bother hunting VW's Urban Fox?

Price (as tested) £7,995
Performance 104mph, 0-60mph in 13 seconds
Combined fuel economy 41mpg
Further information 0800 711 811

For many, the phrase "Urban Fox" is likely to summon visions of mangy, flea-infested vixens picking holes in rubbish bags and terrorising cats. I don't think that's quite what VW was aiming for with its latest city car.

VW has great hopes for the Fox in what it sees as a fast-growing market for small, cheap, spacious urban runarounds. With Mercedes' great Smart misadventure now facing an ignominious end (oh, if only they'd given it a decent gearbox and a better ride), manufacturers have realised that city cars are still required to venture on to motorways from time to time, and they often need to be able to carry four people. The Smart was useless at both these tasks and has only really been a success in cities such as Paris and Barcelona, where a laissez-faire attitude on the part of local traffic wardens allowed them to park at right angles to the kerb.

There'll be no such parkery-pokery with the Fox, which is virtually as big as the Polo and has the interior space to rival a supermini. Its spaciousness will guarantee sales, although, of course, for many people the fact that this car has a VW badge alone will be enough to recommend it over its better, cheaper, more efficient five-door rivals such as the Daihatsu Charade and the Fiat Panda. These are the same people who were willing to pay a grand or so more to have a Lupo - the car the Fox replaces - despite the fact that the Seat Arosa was virtually the same car with a prettier face.

Never mind that the tall, narrow Urban Fox looks like a wheelie bin and has all the charm of a plastic moulded stacking chair, the fact that it is a stablemate to the sainted Golf and the redoubtable Passat will provide great reassurance to those on tight budgets who like to feel they are getting some quality for their money. Even the fact that the Fox is built in Brazil probably won't divert the Volkswagen obsessives, but they really should think again.

Take another look at its dashboard, for example. It looks like it's been made out of recycled garden furniture. And, what's this? An un-damped grab handle! That's quite a step backwards for the company that introduced that most frivolous, but delightful, of quality benchmarks in the first place. In fact, there is not a single "surprise and delight" feature on the entire car, unless you happen to be listening to Terry Wogan on its radio.

But it's cheap, right? Well, I tried the top-of-the-range version with a 1.4-litre engine and stripy seat covers. It costs a fiver under £8,000 but despite having a comparatively large engine it was as slow as a milk float, and as noisy as a parade float. It managed to feel less peppy than a Toyota Aygo with a 1-litre VVT, most probably because the VW weighs much more. The mind boggles at how slow the 1.2-litre version must be; I'd imagine coastal erosion moves at more of a lick. Meanwhile, air conditioning costs a chilling £950 extra and side airbags inflate the price by another £235. Strange, too, that it has that rear space but they've decided that two large cup holders should take precedence over a middle seat.

Cars such as the Aygo and Panda do much of this kind of thing for less money and with considerably more charm, albeit with a little less interior space. Me, I'd either save money and buy a Panda, or save up and buy a Suzuki Swift.



It's a classic: VW SP-1 and SP-2

Volkswagen's Brazilian connection is nothing new; until 1996 Beetles were built there in a plant outside Sao Paulo in huge numbers and sold throughout South America.

Beetle production began in Brazil in 1978 and continued until 1988, before starting again due to public demand in 1993. There were very few changes from the German-built model. They even sent Beetle kits from Brazil to Nigeria, where "Nigerian" Beetles were then built. The Beetle was, thus, the first "world car", as ubiquitous on the streets of Mexico City as it was in Manchester.

But in the 1970s a little-known VW with Beetle underpinnings was also built in Brazil. The SP-1 and SP-2 were the Ford Capris of South America - cool, fast-back coupés, usually with go-faster stripes down the side and after-market spoilers. Only 10,000 were made, perhaps because it was slower than the Beetle it shared an engine with - and of those, less than a handful live in the UK.

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