Road Test: Volkswagen High Up TSI
Volkswagen’s cute-but-functional city car gets a turbocharged power lift, but can it finally satisfy those wanting a junior hot hatch? Alex Grant finds out.
Sector: City Car Price: £12,055-£12,455 Fuel: 60.1mpg CO2: 108g/km
Volkswagen set some tough benchmarks for the rest of the city car class when it launched the Up and its Spanish and Czech cousins five years ago. Chic, affordable, practical and great to drive, yet also somehow upmarket in that unmistakeable Volkswagen Group way, how do you improve on a winning formula? A turbo ought to do it.
Introduced as part of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it update at the end of 2016, the most powerful version yet gets a turbocharged version of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine used in the rest of the range. Given that Up’s agility and pared-back, no frills character, turning up the heat on the performance is a guaranteed way to make fans of early Golf GTIs sit up and notice.
This isn’t a hot hatch, though. Volkswagen is, apparently, working on a GTI version but, in the meantime, the Up hasn’t had quite the performance uplift you might want. Under the stubby bonnet is the 90bhp 1.0 TSI engine, from the Polo, not the 115bhp version of the same engine as used in the Golf. It’s only offered on the top-spec High Up and Beats Edition trim levels, but carries a tiny price tag; £175 compared to the non-turbo version.
Facelift first. The original Up had barely aged, and new versions haven’t changed much. You’ll spot them if you look out for black inserts in the front bumper and tail lights which look like an X-ray of a Helix Maths Instrument set. There’s a new set of colours, some two-tone paint options as per segment norms, and a few redesigned alloy wheels, but it clearly didn’t need a heavy update.
Nor should it; the Up wastes little of its tiny footprint with a flat bonnet or raked rear roofline, so there’s loads of space for four adults inside, a deep if not particularly generous boot and enough room with the seats folded to make surprisingly light work of trips to Ikea. It does everything brilliantly, and the new colour infotainment display adds to that upmarket sophistication it’s always done so well.
Which is perhaps the problem with the TSI version. The turbo’s biggest benefit is a large torque uplift, which means in-gear acceleration is livelier, and it’ll reach 62mph in around ten seconds. But that extra performance isn’t matched by any other ugprades; no tartan-patterned sports seats, for example. Growly under load, agile and sure-footed, the Up TSI is a lot of fun to drive, but not significantly better than the standard one.
So the Up, which had always felt like a great fit for the junior hot hatch treatment, might be a segment benchmark as a city car, but the extra power is a little unnecessary for most buyers and falls just short of satisfying the performance needs of those seeking a mini GTI.
A lovable car snagged only by the almost as strong desirability of its naturally-aspirated siblings. Choose a standard Up and make do with working it just a little harder, or wait for the GTI.