The VW Up GTI is not a car with a long list of impressive figures, far from it. Its maximum power and torque, 113bhp and 147lb ft respectively, certainly won’t be stealing any headlines. Neither will its 8.8 seconds to 0-62mph time.
But there are two numbers in the new GTI’s specification that you need to know, both of which make VW’s new tiny warm hatch a truly very intriguing car. The first is the Up GTI’s sub-ton kerb weight. Tipping the scales at just 995kg, the engine’s modest power suddenly looks more than sufficient, while its featherweight body also suggests the Up will be more than fun enough when presented with a corner or two. In reality, both are true; the Up GTI is brisk, even if it isn’t truly fast, and it’s eager, tenacious and eminently chuckable on a tight British B-road.
The other exciting number is the Up GTI’s price. At £13,750 it doesn’t matter that it’s not the most agile car or that there are limitations to its suspension, because the torquey engine, quality interior, super-fast gear change, tough looks, and, still, very engaging driving experience, mean that it feels like a true performance car bargain.
Image 3 of 56VW Up GTI in detail
Performance and 0-62 time – 113bhp is unlikely to create record-breaking performance figures, but the Up GTI’s 0-62mph of 8.8 seconds is certainly respectable
Engine and gearbox – The 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine is gutsier than its capacity would have you believe, while the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure to swiftly swap gears
Ride and handling – As long as you don’t expect an edgy, infinitely adjustable chassis, you won’t be disappointed; the Up GTI feels more grown up than you expect
MPG and running costs – Despite more power and a sportier attitude, the GTI retains some of the Up’s frugality
Interior and tech – A highlight of the Up GTI is its well-appointed, stylish and top quality interior
Design – The handsome Up is made even more desirable by a selection of typical-GTI design cuesPrices, specs and rivals
It doesn’t really matter whether the Up GTI is the perfect warm hatch or not, because at £13,750 it’s astonishingly cheap. That it’s any fun at all for that money is remarkable, that it feels as good as it does is a miracle, really.
Be lavish with the options – make it a five-door with metallic paint, climate control and some other goodies – and you could bump the price up to £17,000. Still quite a bargain for such a well-equipped car.
There aren’t many really tiny warm hatches for the Up GTI to do battle with. The near-identical Renault Twingo GT and Smart ForFour Brabus are the only two cars available that rival the Up. Both have a rear-mounted 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that puts them a little behind the Up in terms of performance thanks to 107bhp, 125lb ft of torque and a 10.5 second 0-62mph time. Neither has the same quality feel as the Up, nor quite as fun to drive. The Twingo is comparable on price though, starting at just £14,250, but the Brabus is a huge £16,940.
Image 6 of 56Performance and 0-62 time
Outright performance really isn’t the Up GTI’s forte, but, anyway, that really doesn’t matter for a car of this sort. Still, although not outstanding, the Up GTI’s acceleration time and top speed are certainly impressive given its humble origins; VW’s hot supermini manages to accelerate from 0 to 62mph in 8.8 seconds and it tops out at 122mph.
One of the big contributing factors in getting that acceleration time down to a respectable number is the Up’s 995kg kerb weight. However, its peak power of 113bhp, available between 5000 and 5500rpm, and maximum torque of 147lb ft from 2000 to 3500rpm, certainly also help.
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Engine and gearbox
At the front, powering the front wheels, is a turbocharged three-cylinder engine that displaces 999cc. It’s essentially the same engine found in the TSI-powered Up, but boost has been upped and an intercooler added. The changes take power from 87bhp to 113bhp, and torque from 118lb ft to 147lb ft.
As well as better performance, VW has improved the sound of the engine in the cabin with a physical resonator that amplifies the noise from the engine bay. As you accelerate, a deep warble emanates from the engine bay that’s occasionally reminiscent of Porsche’s current turbocharged flat-six in the Carrera. OK, it’s not as cultured or as sonorous as the 911’s engine, and it can seem a little boomy when cruising, but the Up’s soundtrack is pleasant when you’re making progress. Lift off the throttle and a delicate sneeze is emitted from the turbos, too.
It’s the engine’s mid-range that’s most effective. It will rev to 6500rpm, but like many of VW’s other turbocharged motors, it’s happiest when worked between 3000 and 5000rpm. The motor propels the Up along at a brisk rate; only when you encounter a relatively steep hill do you start to notice its modest output.
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Any lift of the throttle when you’re climbing has a significant effect on your progress, so you resort to keeping your right foot pinned to the floor while gently brushing the brake with your left foot to trim your speed. Left-foot-braking may sound a bit over-the-top when driving on the road, but you’re never travelling at a spectacular rate in the Up and this helps sustain most of your precious pace. However, if you’re too eager with the brakes or linger on the pedal with your left foot for too long, the car cuts the engine’s power, negating all of your efforts.
There’s no option of a dual-clutch or automatic gearbox in the Up GTI, a simple manual is all you need. For the first time in an Up, the GTI gets a six-speed transmission and it’s a good one. The change is direct, close and slack-free, and you can change up as fast as your hand will move, helping you keep the engine in its mid-range perfectly.
The pedals are spaced in an awkward manner for heel-and-toe downshifts; it is possible but it isn’t helped by the engine responding slowly when you hit the throttle.
Image 12 of 56Ride and handling
Driving down an average, reasonably well-surfaced B-road, the Up GTI feels like a far more sophisticated car than its sub-£14k price tag would suggest. It rides well, as if it’s riding on more rubber than the sidewall of the 195/40 R17 tyres actually gives you.
The body’s low mass is kept well controlled most of the time, too. Roll is minimal, but the more committed you are the more it feels as though the inside wheels are going to come off the ground, rather than the chassis allow the body to roll, thanks to, what feels like, a high centre of gravity.
As the road gets rough the suspension struggles to keep wheels under total control and the tyres in constant contact with the road. This eats away at otherwise very good traction.
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Guide the GTI through a collection of challenging bends and it’s clear it doesn’t subscribe to the template dictated by many of our favourite hot hatches. There isn’t super fast turn-in, hyper agility and limitless adjustability.
Instead, the steering feels slow and the front tyres reluctant to bite; braking late and deep into a corner does little to agitate the car or amplify is agility. Even though it doesn’t snap into a bend, the Up usually finds its way to the inside of a corner. Once at the apex, and both axles start to take equal load, it tenaciously holds its line. Experiencing such grip encourages you to fight the less than enthusiastic corner entry and enter the next bend at a greater rate. With a relatively high apex speed, for a 113bhp car that is, you then don’t have to rely on the engine and huge traction to pull you out of a corner. Still, the car’s XDS differential – a pseudo limited-slip differential that uses the brakes to nibble away at the inside front wheel’s progress to force drive to the outer wheel – really helps the Up continue on the trajectory you wish. If the road is smooth, it’s a competent and grown-up experience. If it’s bumpy, however, the poor wheel control hampers the car’s ability somewhat, and you have to reduce your well-earned speed.
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Controversially, for purists anyway, VW doesn’t allow you to disable the traction or stability control. In reality, as the chassis doesn’t allow much rotation or any sideways movement, you rarely feel it interrupting.
But just because the Up isn’t the last word in adjustability or on-the-edge-of-grip excitement doesn’t mean there isn’t ample fun to be had. Its diminutive proportions mean that you have plenty of room to really choose your line, elongating every corner to best maintain speed. You have to be extremely aware of the road ahead, too, so you’re prepared for every incline properly, swiftly changing gear and being deft with the pedals. You also need to be aware of any rough, traction-sapping areas of tarmac to try and avoid them. It’s certainly demanding, but ultimately very satisfying.
MPG and running costs
One of the benefits of a small, light and not that powerful warm hatch is that you can almost guarantee it will be cheap to run. But, perhaps, not quite as cheap as VW would have you believe. The official combined fuel economy figure for the Up GTI is 58.9mpg, but during our test, where we covered over 100 miles and spent nearly five hours behind the wheel, we averaged just over half that, with 31mpg. Admittedly, that was during a lot of relatively quick road driving – the sort of driving the GTI is designed for – with not a lot of cruising, so we’d expect to see a more representative average mpg figure somewhere between the two.
The Up’s focus on grip and composure, combined with that modest power and weight, means you’re unlikely to be wearing through its tyres very quickly. However, a full set of 195/40 R17 Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance tyres, the rubber fitted to our test car, cost just less than £400, fitted. A reasonable price for any tyres for a hot hatch.
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Interior and tech
A strong attribute of the Up GTI is its interior quality. It might be based on VW’s cheapest car, but you’ll find materials and a build quality that wouldn’t be out of place in the flagship GTI model, the Golf. As well as premium materials and an excellent finish, there’s a delightfully sporty look throughout, thanks to splashes of red on the dash, GTI badges and tartan seats. The steering wheel feels identical to the Golf, too.
The fabric may make the Up’s seats slightly more exotic, but their flat shape means they aren’t very supportive and you cling to the wheel to keep you upright during cornering.
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There is no satnav or infotainment screen in the Up, not even an optional one. Instead, there’s a built-in holder on top of the dash so you can mount your smart phone and use its functions to direct and guide you. A specially designed app, Maps & More, allows your phone to access data from the car, too, so you can view driving information, control the radio and media player, as well as use a semi-integrated navigation and map. It’s very useful and works seamlessly with the car, making it the default app to use when the phone’s mounted on the dash – far more useable than Apple CarPlay.
For all the apparent quality, luxurious touches and slick phone integration, we can’t help but feel the Up GTI would be a more successful warm hatch, a more successful drivers’ car, if some of that money had been spent developing the chassis further – even at the expense of overall comfort.
As well as the Up’s very competitive price, another very significant factor in what makes it so desirable is its tough and chunky looks. The basic Up, with its clean lines and short overhangs, is a very fine looking car and fits with the very sharp, subtle and elegant designs of the rest of the VW range. Although, less understated are the VW badges on the Up that look 25 per cent too large, but that does give the impression the car is even smaller than it is.
As for the specific GTI elements – the big, diamond-cut wheels pushed right out to each corner, the red grille highlights, side stripes and its spoiler flicking off the trailing edge of the roof – they make it look like a proper performance car, no matter what its size.
Image 17 of 5627 Feb 2018