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Road Test: Volkswagen up! GTI 5dr

By / 10 months ago / Road Tests / No Comments

Returned to the market after a short hiatus, the up! GTI is still a budget firecracker offering surprisingly good economy. Jonathan Musk drives.

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SECTOR City Car   PRICE £16,540   FUEL 51.2mpg   CO2 125g/km

When Volkswagen first emblazoned the GTI badge onto the up!, it heralded notions of a bygone era of hot hatch fun with the classic formula of powerful engine stuffed into a tiny machine. And, true to the original and GTIs of yesteryear the new up!’s formula remains unchanged.

In a world governed by noise and anti-pollution – and rightly so – it’s a strange sensation to drive around something as noisy as the up! GTI. But that’s because it somehow manages to avoid the usual slurred insults aimed at gas-guzzlers, because it isn’t one. And this helps it make an unlikely fleet case for itself.

Despite its warbling exhaust note and plentiful speed, it is capable of surprising economy and of course being a small car, it’s footprint on the road is no ogre either.

Powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine pumping out 115hp and 200Nm of torque. That’s enough to push the shoe-like car to 62mph in just 8.8 seconds, although you’ll swear that it is far faster as it scrambles its front wheels off the traffic light line, like a cat running on tiles. Helping that illusion is the slick six-speed gearbox, which is also the car’s best economising tool. Use it wisely and you’ll easily see +50 mpg appear on the minimal dash display, helped by characteristic torque, long gear ratios and a double helping of overdrive.

For fleets… well. This isn’t typically a fleet-friendly car, but it could be as the up! GTI pumps out a reasonably lowly 125g/km CO2, putting it at a sensible 27% Benefit-in-Kind bracket for the 2020/21 tax year. Of course, there are far cheaper alternatives and the electric e-up! makes a case for itself, but if driver enjoyment is important and you’re a user-chooser than the up! GTI can justifiably be given a second glance.

Separating the GTI from the rest of the up! range is difficult as there’s not a lot different other than the engine. It’s a no-frills flying machine that delivers on cheap motoring in more than one way and that’s this car’s real charm. It does away with nonsense and delivers the basics needed to make a great fun car: lightweight body, a tyre in each corner and more power than the wheels can cope with.

Handling is predictably go-kartesque, although it’s a bit lumpy over poorly laid road mountains taking away some of its charm. It also has one of the worst driving positions of any small car, with minimal adjustment available and no reach-adjust. Getting comfortable is more a case of getting used to it and making do. It’s a similarly lacklustre offering in the infotainment department, unlike other superminis that lately feature all the bells and whistles of bigger cars. Instead, the up! GTI favours the use of its owners smart phone that can be harnessed in an appropriately over-engineered phone holder atop the dash board. It’s fine in practice, although the Bluetooth connection seemed a bit hit and miss on our Android test device.

Taking some points away from the joy scoring system is a lack of standard safety kit – Volkswagen did away with AEB as standard to help economise, one assumes – but there are reasurring airbag symbols around the cabin. For the asking price of £16,540 the up! GTI compares well to the Fiat 500 Abarth 695, and is much keener priced than larger hatches such as the Polo GTI-contending Suzuki Swift Sport or Ford Fiesta ST. There is the possibility of a new contender in the form of an Hyundai i10 N that could give the little Volkswagen a real run for its money, but the new i10 N Line – featuring a luke-warm turbo engine – doesn’t come close to the up! GTI, on paper Top Trump specs at least.

The up! GTI is also available as either a three- or five-door, which is refreshing in an industry that seems to have largely forgotten the merits of a three-door hatch.

The Verdict
The up! GTI is enormous entertainment on a budget, yet back off the throttle and you get all the joys and economy of a small car, with the reassurance of big car performance.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: Volkswagen up! GTI five-door
Strengths: Fun to drive, surprisingly economical
Weaknesses: Poor driving position, lack of safety kit or standard equipment

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.