VW Up GTI (2018) review: a performance car bargain

► VW Up GTI driven

► 113bhp and tartan seats

► Priced from £13,750

We’ve had to wait a long time for this, haven’t we? Volkswagen’s Up city car has been on sale since 2011 and ever since then it’s been crying out for a hotter version. VW has finallyanswered the call for one, so this is it: the Up GTI.

Yes, you read that right: G. T. I. Calling the hottest Up yet a GTI sets a precedent and an expectation for it to be good. Let’s find out if it is…

First things first, what do you get in your Up GTI?

The cars we drove in Monaco and the south of France were equipped to European specifications rather than UK, but regardless of market all GTIs will get bespoke alloys, a subtle body kit and some stripes.

Inside, GTIs come with a five-inch infotainment system, DAB and Bluetooth, air-con and some unique detailing.

Biggest news inside, though? Classic GTI tartan seats and the chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel from a Golf GTI.

And how much does all this cost?

VW announced UK pricing during the launch; a three-door version starts from £13,750, while the five-door one kicks off at £14,150.

VW says UK option prices aren’t final just yet – sales start in February – but our Euro cars had a few extras on them like a Beats audio system and heated seats, so there’s a bit of scope for nudging the price a bit higher.

It doesn’t sound very powerful…

On paper, no. Calling the 113bhp Up GTI a hot hatch sounds like you’re stretching the phrase a bit, especially if you consider the 8.8-second 0-62mph time and 122mph top speed. But, we assure you, that really isn’t the point.

Any performance tech?

Unlike the latest crop of 300bhp+ mega hatches with their rev matching transmissions and adaptive dampers and drift modes, this thing has a simple recipe. Front-wheel drive, manual gearbox and a manual handbrake for, er… never mind.

Come on then, what’s it like to drive?

It’s an absolute hoot.

As mentioned, 113bhp doesn’t sound like much but you’re not left wanting for more shove when you’re actually driving it. The Up GTI is a small car, remember, so it’s all about nippy fun and thrashing it for all of its worth. And when you do, it just puts a huge smile on your face. Pulling away or hoofing it at low speeds forces the fronts to scrabble for traction like an excitable Terrier running to the front door to greet your arrival home.

On the move, there’s a slight delay between pressing the pedal and the engine girding its loins, but there’s a generous glut of torque to use from low down and a strong surge until around 5500rpm when it drops off toward the 6000rpm redline. You have to keep it on the boil, but on the right road you’re happy to do that.

A bit of electronic trickery is half the reason why you want to rev it out anyway; there’s an engine noise synthesiser. Like any other fake engine noise creator, it embellishes the truth but we’d argue that the Up GTI would feel a bit lost without it.

The uneven three-cylinder engine noise sounds so industrial in regular driving situations; it clatters lightly enough to make you think it’s a diesel in low load city driving and there’s a hefty amount of induction noise when you’re accelerating to a motorway pace. But when you’re sat at a set of lights there’s a faint burbling that develops into a characterful parp when you give it said beans.

And handling-wise?

The weeny dimensions and light kerb weight just give it endless chuckability, allowing you to throw it around any corner, without needing to trouble the brakes half of the time. That’s thanks partly to it not being super-quick anyway, but also because of the innate grip in the chassis.

You have to be entering corners at stupid speeds to get it to wash wide. Beefier brakes than a regular Up feel strong and even when you get them smoking after spending a bit too long on a French Riviera switchback, they don’t lose too much bite.

The ride, however, was quite a surprise. Despite being on lower, firmer springs and on 17-inch alloys, the GTI deals with huge bumps with aplomb. It’s a firm set-up, but the damping is superb – enough to put a rounded edge to the deepest of potholes.

 Control-wise, the set-up feels like it hasn’t changed from any other Up, which can be seen both ways: accessible to a lot of drivers but not hardcore enough for a select few. The steering weights up the more lock you put on, but it’s direct enough to make the car easy to place, and the late-biting clutch is light.

The biggest niggle, dynamically, is the gearbox; again, like the clutch and steering it doesn’t feel like it has changed from the more pedestrian regular Up, so the throw between gears feels just a smidge too long and it doesn’t snick into a gear quite as cleanly as you’d like in the case of the GTI. These little dynamic points, though, shouldn’t be seen as annoying – see them as small hoops you have to jump through to be more involved in driving it swiftly, properly.

Verdict

Performance car bargain of 2018? Well it is only January, so a little early to say right now. What we will say is that the Up GTI is fun to chuck around but not in an inaccessible, hardcore kind of way, it looks the part and is as fast as you could ever really want.

There are a couple of refinements we’d love to see happen to dynamically separate it from the rest of the Up range, but the combination of performance, desirability and an intrinsic fun factor make the GTI feel like it’s worth every penny.

Specs

Price: £13,750

Engine: 999cc turbocharged 3cyl, 113bhp @ 5000-5500rpm, 148lb ft @ 3150rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual, frontr-wheel drive

Performance: 8.8sec 0-62mph, 122mph, 50.4mpg, 129g/km CO2

Weight: 1070kg/steel

Dimensions: 3600/1641/1504mm

Carmagazine.co.uk

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