Volkswagen Up! GTI Review: Men & women behaving badly07 September 2018
The subject of this week’s automotive ditty is the new Volkswagen Up GTI. In its compilation.
arrival in 1976 of Volkswagen’s first sporty family hatchback…you know, the one that shares its name with a good walk usually spoiled. Since then, it has arguably become a worthy benchmark against which many other types of sporty performance cars are measured.
In 1995, VW expanded their GTI line-up to include the smaller Polo GTI and earlier this year – in its latest iteration – the diminutive Up GTI city car.
Recently I chucked it (mostly) safely around the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire to find out what it was really like…
The Volkswagen Up has a very unique look, sophisticated and somewhat cheeky from certain angles but in the GTI trim its toughed up and sportier.
The fancy ‘Oswald’ black diamond-turned 17-inch alloy wheels can only be found on the GTI, as are the go-faster stripes down the lower sides of the car. The rear roof spoiler is said to apply extra downforce to the rear wheels. Perhaps, but it certainly looks the part.
Even the less astute will notice the generous application of GTI badging mounted around the car. Owners can choose from four paint colours: non-metallic ‘Tornado Red’ is the standard no-cost colour, but those wanting their Up GTI in white, silver or black will pay extra as they also will for a contrasting black roof.
In addition, there is a unique honeycomb grille with its iconic red pinstripe, rear privacy glass and red front brake callipers. Overall, the application of the traditional VW GTI aesthetic is tastefully executed.
The Up GTI is available in both two and four door and accessibility to the rear seats is easy in both body styles.
Building on the same cabin as the Up, very little changes in the GTI version it still retains high levels of quality and attention to detail throughout. With hints of GTI similar to its bigger siblings around the cabin, once inside you’ll find tartan cloth on the sports seats, and GTI logos on the steering wheel and gear knob too.
It also features a familiar flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching and thumb controls for the trip computer and media system.
However, the GTI makeover is not just trim changes and badges, the ride is firmer than the standard Up, and larger 17” alloys give more chassis stiffness, but the level of craftsmanship shows as no rattles were heard from the interior fixtures.
The tartan clad sport seats are supportive in the corners and comfortable on longer trips. There’s enough room for four people with good head and leg room for a city car, taller passengers will find the rear seats a little snug but sliding the front seats forward a click or tow should allow everyone to sit comfortably.
The cabin feels airy and spacious. The large windows allow a lot of light into the cabin and as day turns to night, the cabin comes alive with its red ambient light framing the dash and its gloss red centre accent.
The drivers display comes with a large central speedometer, and two smaller gauges set slightly off the central axis either side, suppling all the relevant information a driver needs.
In true hot hatch fashion of yesterday, there is no large infotainment system in the middle of the dashboard. The Up GTI makes use of VW’s ‘Maps + More’ application, available for Android and Apple smartphones, combined with the supplied dashboard mount and the applications integrated TomTom mapping software.
Being a Segment A city car, the VW Up GTI isn’t blessed with a lot of boot space, but the available 251 litres is more than sufficient for a couple of flexible weekend bags or a weekly supermarket shop. The rear seats can be folded forward to provide more space for carrying occasional bulky items though if needed.
Standard trim and equipment levels are strong, with manual air conditioning and heated seats as standard. There's also a six-speaker stereo system featuring a small touchscreen to work with your paired smartphone. Other optional extras are available, such as a panoramic sunroof, Beats sound system and a pack that includes cruise control and parking sensors.
The Up GTI comes with exactly the same safety spec as every other VW Up. That means just four airbags – twin front and side – but the side ‘bags also extend upwards, so they cover the same area that a curtain airbag would.
Anti-lock brakes come as standard as well as electronic stability control, isofix child seat mounting points and tyre pressure monitoring, with autonomous city braking a cost option.
The standard Up earned the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests back in 2011, but the tests have become a lot more demanding in recent years.
GTI performance, ride and handling
Blessed with its small dimensions and light kerb weight, the Up GTI makes good use of its uprated, turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine. Peak power of 114hp arrives at a heady but rev-happy 5,000rpm, which is admittedly not a lot. But factor in that low overall weight and high engine torque and the Up GTI quickly reaffirms its red pinstripe credentials with responsive handling and punchy acceleration.
Squash the throttle as you join a motorway and the Up GTI makes smooth and rapid progress via its well-geared six speed manual gearbox. There is no DSG option, but the manual gearbox allows for true driver engagement, enabling you to take full advantage of the mid-range performance.
The three-cylinder engine has a lot of low gear pull, with predictable delivery allowing safe overtaking and removing any annoying torque steer pull on the steering wheel.
The Up GTI has an official top speed of 120mph but the most fun is to be had on the right side of the law. The shape of the body and its ability to seat 4 comfortably does give it a somewhat high centre of gravity, but the front wheel drive layout provides lots of grip, and the go kart like handling keeps the driver entertained on the twisty bits.
GTI MPG and emissions
The light steering weight, excellent all-round visibility combined with a small turning circle makes the Up GTI stand out in the urban environment.
Volkswagen claims a reputable 58.9mpg and 110g/km of CO2. For comparison purposes, neither the Fiesta ST at 47.1mpg, or Swift Sport (50.4mpg) are anywhere near the mpg/CO2 neighbourhood, which make an Up the perfect choice for those who are environmentally cautious.
The Volkswagen Up GTi is the most inexpensive route into a hot(ish) hatch and provides genuine laugh-out-loud fun thanks to its meagre weight, playful handling and feisty turbocharged 1.0-litre engine. It returns a hundred miles per gallon and is one of those cars you’ll absolutely love behaving badly in.
It might struggle to justify its price premium over the standard 89hp car, but the Up GTI is a hugely entertaining return of the old school pocket rocket.