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Road Test: Volkswagen Up GTI

By / 3 years ago / Road Tests / No Comments

Can Volkswagen’s smallest hot hatch punch above its weight? Alex Grant finds out.

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SECTOR City Car PRICE £13,750-£14,150 FUEL 58.9mpg CO2 110g/km

It’s taken an incredible six years to happen, but Volkswagen has finally answered the call of the GTI devotees and delivered a hot version of the Up city car. Exactly the sort of lightweight, low-frill, everyday pocket rocket that can lay claim to reigniting memories of the original Golf GTI of 1976.

We’ve been here before, of course. As the Golf has got bigger, and GTI derivatives have put more power to the ground, that iconic badge has filtered onto multiple smaller cars, each claiming a bloodline to the Mk1. But, aside from the Lupo GTI, nothing has ever come quite as close on paper as this. Volkswagen’s smallest model has some big shoes to fill.

It’s certainly not short of kerbside appeal, with its 17-inch wheels, honeycomb grilles and stripes along the sills which mimic the Mk1’s. There’s a choice of four colours – red, white, black or silver – each with tartan upholstery, black headlining and a red-stitched, thick-rimmed, GTI-branded steering wheel. Most UK cars will have five doors, but there’s a three-door model with the sportier up-kinked windowline for those who want it. Heart-over-head, that’s the one to have.

Packed into the Up’s nose is the 113bhp 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo from the Golf, which outputs power on par with the Mk1 GTI, albeit delivered completely differently. Peak torque is served up across the most commonly-used part of the rev range, so launching the boxy hatch towards the horizon like a startled terrier with only a prod of the throttle, accompanied by a surprisingly baritone engine roar through the cabin. It’ll make 50mph feel like twice that – which is refreshing now most hot hatches offer the opposite.

There is, of course, more to a performance car than straight-line speed. The Up, at 1,070kg, can’t match the svelte Mk1 Golf’s 810kg kerb weight, but the agility of the standard car is a good starting point. In GTI spec, it gets bigger brakes, wider front and rear track and a 15mm reduction in ride height. Quick steering, plentiful grip and almost non-existent body roll mean it’s as fun to dart through city traffic as it is cross country. And, with the only six-speed gearbox fitted to the Up, it’ll also return 50mpg on a motorway journey, with a little restraint.

So, has Volkswagen delivered a small GTI worthy of the badge? Yes, but only just. It’s hard not to find the Up’s over-eager engine, cutesy styling and lightweight agility endearing, but it’s missing some key ingredients. The driving position is too high, marred by limited steering column adjustment and re-using the standard front seats instead of fitting sportier buckets, and there’s little or no steering feedback either. Criticisms which can also be levelled at its closest rival, the Twingo GT.

That said, there’s a lot to fall for here, and as an affordable way to make almost any road feel more entertaining, the Up offers thrills way bigger than diminutive running costs. But a Golf GTI feels totally different to its siblings, whereas this can feel a bit like the standard Up, but with more power. Which, after six years of anticipation, falls a hair’s width short of hitting the mark.

What We Think:

The Up is a stylish and addictive performer, for a surprisingly low price. But it’s let down by not quite going the whole nine yards to become a fully fledged GTI.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.