Car Enthusiast - click here to access the home page


Driven: Volkswagen up! GTI. Image by Volkswagen.

Driven: Volkswagen up! GTI
Glorious. Thatís what the latest addition to the Volkswagen GTI fold is - glorious.


<< earlier review     later review >>

Reviews homepage -> Volkswagen reviews

Volkswagen up! GTI

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

This is how you do an affordable hot hatchback that's enormous fun. Volkswagen keeps it ridiculously simple for the up! GTI and the rewards are manifest. If you want to enjoy an entertaining drive on the roads without having to put yourself in a precarious position with the police, nor smash your annual finances to pieces, we can't think of anything better than this latest addition to Volkswagen's small performance car canon. It is superb.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Volkswagen up! GTI three-door
Pricing: up! GTI three-door from £13,750, five-door from £14,150
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door city hatch
CO2 emissions: 127g/km (VED £160 first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Power: 115hp at 5,000- to 5,500rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2,000- to 3,500rpm

What's this?

Can a car with less than 150hp - no, go on, let's be super-generous and raise that threshold to 200hp - that has been launched in the last 20 years have generated as much giddy excitement among the automotive fraternity than the Volkswagen up! GTI? We don't think so. Ahead of this launch, all the buzz among various industry types was about how good the up! GTI was going to be. A Mk1 Golf GTI for Millennials. A Lupo GTI brought up to date with turbocharging and smartphone capability. A hot hatch, in essence, that will allow you to have a shedload of fun behind the wheel, without driving at the sort of road speeds that would make national headlines on the BBC.

And therefore it's such a simple formula. Tiny car, moderately punchy engine, slightly dolled-up looks and interior, and a performance-oriented chassis, all slapped onto the market for less than 14 grand (£13,750 three-door, £14,150 five-door). Honestly, at that price, it looks like Volkswagen is practically giving the thing away. Anyway. The up! GTI is created like this: take the 90hp/160Nm TSI model that currently tops the range and treat it to the more powerful 115hp/200Nm iteration of the same turbocharged, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, as used in some of the VW Group's bigger superminis, increase the manual gearbox's ratio count from five to six, slap on all the usual GTI signifiers inside and out - red exterior pinstriping, honeycomb grille, 17-inch 'Oswald' alloys on 195/40 tyres, a modest roof spoiler, GTI badges, Jacara tartan cloth trim, red cabin stitching, a GTI steering wheel and gearlever, different dials in the cluster - and then subtly massage the city car's underpinnings.

On this last score, the treatment of the up! GTI has been relatively gentle. It sits 15mm lower than the regular hatch on suspension that's 15 per cent stiffer at the front and 30 per cent at the rear, mainly thanks to the use of uprated bushes. The steering and brakes have minor upgrades to the standard kit, mainly because - at 1,070kg - the up! GTI has hardly piled on masses of pounds and so not much needed to be done to the regular hardware.

On a slightly more pragmatic note, it's also the first Volkswagen since the dreaded D-word (that's 'Dieselgate', in case you're wondering) to be tested under the new Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), meaning the claims of 127g/km CO2 and 50.4mpg would actually be significantly better if stated as NEDC; then, Volkswagen would tell you the GTI could achieve as much as 58.8mpg. So that's another feather in the little tyke's cap.

Equipment is reasonably generous. On top of a High up!'s kit list, the GTI throws in a Composition Colour radio system, a six-loudspeaker stereo, a USB interface, air-con, heated seats, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, and front fog lights with static cornering lights. The 300-watt Beats audio system is an option and body colours are limited to four: Pure White, Red, Dark Silver metallic and Black Pearl. Simple, really, really simple. Keep reminding yourself of that word, because it's most pertinent to the way the up! GTI drives...

How does it drive?

Beautifully. Wonderfully. Dare we say it, thrillingly. Not gob-smackingly brilliant in the manner of some of the greatest 250-300hp 'full-sized' hot hatches of today, and it might leave the keenest of keen driving enthusiasts lamenting its lack of ultimate edge, but the up! GTI is so neatly resolved and chuckable that it's impossible not to love it from the first moment you fully open the taps. And it's that core of simplicity that makes it so appealing, because there are no driving modes to select from here. Everything, from the damping to the steering to the throttle response to the engine note, has just one setting. And that one setting has to allow the up! GTI to be comfortable and refined in town, while simultaneously providing a barrel of laughs on the right roads.

Look back through automotive history and you will see plenty of far more expensive or more thoroughly re-engineered attempts at this tricky balancing act that have singularly failed to pull it off. Not the up! GTI, though. Crikey, this thing is good. The ride quality and rolling refinement of the GTI is astonishing, because it actually covers off bumpy asphalt better than the rest of the up! Range, and the noise suppression is almost up to Hyundai i10 levels of brilliance. Light, perhaps slightly feel-free steering nevertheless is a boon in urban conditions and the torque-enriched midrange means the Volkswagen is excellent at scooting cheekily about clogged-up city streets.

But that's not why you'd buy the GTI; let's face it, the High up! TSI can do a pretty good job of all of the above. What it can't do, however, is put a massive great grin on your chops like the GTI can. Throw this thing about on a challenging road and it's a riot: the tiny footprint means placing it accurately on even narrow, gnarly mountain passes is a doddle, the body control has just enough give in it to let the up! breathe with the road without skittering across poorer surfaces. There's a surfeit of front-end grip on both turn-in and corner exit, the 200Nm motor doesn't corrupt the steering under full power, and the throttle response, brake pedal, clutch bite and gearbox throw are all calibrated so perfectly in tune with each other that the GTI feels near-flawlessly cohesive from idle to redline.

And it's meaningfully rapid, without being stupidly fast. Feels a good sight quicker than the 8.8-second 0-62mph time might suggest, with special mention for the roll-on acceleration, which is a match for cars of the ilk of the Polo GTI, never mind city fodder. Third, in particular, is a Swiss Army knife ratio - it'll lug the up! out of tight, 20mph corners and spear on up to 70mph in short order. So on the most challenging routes, you can just leave the gearlever centre-top of the gate and concentrate on picking the right lines and braking points for the corners. But even if you're caning it through the first four gears, it's unlikely you'll ever be going at the sort of pace that would outrage bystanders or, worse, law enforcement. Indeed, it's one of the few modern performance cars on sale where you can have a prolonged thrash in it, regularly using full throttle, and yet still stay within speed limits.

It's a great engine in the up! GTI, too, enriched here with sound augmentation that isn't fitted to this unit's application in cars like the SEAT Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo. That's another supremely well-judged addition to the up!'s technical constitution, because it never sounds horrible and fake; it just blesses the willing triple with a fantastic, gargling soundtrack that only enhances the joyous performance. And the three-cylinder is so keen to rev, which is not something these small turbo units are always happy to do. The GTI's lump stays velvet-smooth from bottom to top of the rev counter and it doesn't become strained of voice as the needle strays into the upper reaches of the dial.

Put short, Volkswagen has absolutely nailed the up! GTI. We said it earlier and we'll say it again: trim of stature, marvellous engine, taut but not too firm chassis, discreetly enhanced looks, reasonable price point. On every one of these design brief scores, the up! GTI is bang on target. You can't ask for much more from any car than that, can you?


There are some soft edges to the Volkswagen up! GTI's character and it is patently obvious that this is not a car for the masses - it's just too small for some folk, it's not exactly bonkers fast and, when you boil it down, it's merely a 90hp up! with an additional 25hp/40Nm, sporty suspension and some rather obvious styling accoutrements.

That summation, though, would entirely miss the point and phenomenal appeal of the up! GTI. This is a car that provides a hilarious level of driving entertainment at socially acceptable speeds. It's a car that can do the humdrum, day-to-day city commuting with the same peerless levels of comfort and refinement as anything else in its segment. This is a car which is a great-looking hot hatch in the classic mould, suitably updated for the 21st Century and yet priced at a faintly ludicrous £13,750 - that is a complete bargain. Pound for pound, there is little out there which can offer so much fun on today's congested roads as the Volkswagen up! GTI. We completely adore it - try one, and we think you will, too.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 24 Jan 2018    - Volkswagen road tests
- Volkswagen news
- up! images

2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.

2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.2018 VW up GTI drive. Image by Volkswagen.


Internal links:   | Home | Privacy | Contact us | Archives | Old motor show reports | Follow Car Enthusiast on Twitter | Copyright 1999-2024 ©