Currently reading: Nearly new buying guide: Volkswagen Up GTI
This sporty city car is worthy of celebration before it's too late

Take the Volkswagen Up GTI at face value and you might see it as a slightly disappointing hot hatch.

With 113bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.8sec, it wouldn’t take much to beat it in a straight line. The interior is finished in hard and scratchy plastics and you’re so surrounded by glass that you feel like you’re the centre of an art exhibition. But consider this: when you drive an Up GTI, you’re in one of only 4000 jollying around Britain’s B-roads. 

If it’s exclusivity you’re after, find an all-white GTI and you will be the talk of the town. It really isn’t like anything else on the road, with no direct contenders pitted against it.

Sure, there are cars like the Ford Fiesta ST and the Suzuki Swift Sport, but they’re both from the size above and nowadays considerably more expensive to buy new.

The Up is available in both three- and five-door bodystyles, with the five-door a more popular choice among buyers. While the added practicality does make it easier to access the rear seats, you aren’t robbed of leg room with the three-door equivalent, because their dimensions are identical.

No matter which version you go for, the Up GTI oozes German efficiency from every one of its tight panel gaps. Everything from the ventilation controls to the satisfying thud that echoes after you close the door makes it feel built to last. 

Volkswagen up gti 2018 interior

Inside, you will find Jacara tartan cloth seats, a nod to the Mk1 Golf GTI, strategically placed GTI badging and even moody red ambient lighting. Other creature comforts include heated seats, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, an optional reversing camera and a 300W Beats sound system. All in all, big-car tech for a small-car cheque.

That big-car feel extends to the way the Up GTI handles itself on the road. It feels composed and mature on a motorway cruise and in urban areas. Despite having only a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, around town the little turbocharger helps it jump away from the lights with all the fervour of a mountain goat on new-found grassland.


Read our review

Car review

VW has added a third member to the GTI family - but is it worthy of the badge?

Back to top

It sounds good, too. Volkswagen fitted a sound actuator to make the most of the miniature orchestra under the bonnet, and the result is a throaty, thrummy warble reminiscent of a Golf R32. In the corners, it grips extremely well and the accuracy of the steering inspires great confidence. 

The brakes are strong and progressive, a high point for the city car class. Both the brake and throttle pedals are nicely weighted, too.

Prices? You will need to pay around £11,000 for a 2018 car, between £12,000 and £13,000 on ones from 2019, and at least £15,000 on excellent examples from 2020 and 2021 with low mileages. 

So, the Up GTI didn’t rewrite the hot hatch rulebook, but for celebrating the simple thrill of driving, not much else gets close any more. It’s a last hurrah for the sporty city car breed, the like of which we’re unlikely to see much more of, sad to say.

Need to know 

Volkswagen up gti 2018 side tracking

Euro NCAP awarded the Up only three stars for safety in 2019, down from five stars under the previous testing regime. It scored poorly for protection of vulnerable road users and assistance tech, though, rather than for its occupant safety.

The Up came eighth in the latest What Car? Reliability Survey. No common major faults have arisen. Some issues have been reported regarding carbon build-up on the intake ports and valves in the 1.0 TSI engine, but this can be flushed out with a slug of super unleaded. A mechanical decarbonisation is recommended every 50,000 miles

Back to top

Buyer beware

Volkswagen up gti 2018 wheel detail

Kerb your enthusiasm: The wheels of the Up GTI are highly unusual, being large in diameter but thin in profile, and therefore there isn’t much sidewall to the tyres, making it easier to kerb. The alloys are diamond-cut, which makes them more expensive to repair. To have an alloy repaired at an approved workshop, set aside £90 to £110.

Cold snap: In especially cold weather, the springs are at risk of snapping under significant loads. Until they’ve had time to flex and the damper has travelled, take it easy over bumps. When buying used, always check the springs and dampers for signs of wear.

Brake check: Before buying, check the brakes have been properly maintained. A car like this is likely to need its brakes checked every few months, depending on the level of usage. If they’re worn, budget around £200 for new discs and pads.

On the latch: The small engine size means that there’s plenty of room in the Up GTI’s engine bay for mechanics to inspect and access easily. When you’re looking under the bonnet, look up to check the bonnet latch. Stone chips can strip away the paintwork and leave the area prone to rust. Thankfully, because the Up GTI is a relatively new car, there should still be time to rectify any corrosion issues. 

Back to top

Emissions reduction: In 2020, Volkswagen gave the Up GTI its new badge and reduced the power output slightly (118bhp to 113bhp) to comply with emissions regulations. However, the performance is much the same as the pre-facelift car. 

Top spec

Volkswagen up gti 2018 rear quarter cornering

GTI: Every Up GTI has the same trim and equipment level, with a reasonable amount of kit including air conditioning, heated front seats, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, interior ambient lighting, electric front windows and front foglights. You also get bespoke 17in alloy wheels, plenty of GTI badging, distinctive red exterior detailing and tinted windows.

Our pick

1.0 TSI: There’s only the one engine, but this has an impressive amount of shove from low revs. It zips readily round to the redline, made a real pleasure by the enhanced noise. Expect 45mpg in daily use, too.

Wild card

Abarth 595: The tiny, tarted-up 158bhp, 130mph 595 is questionable on space, quality and value but is an amusingly big-hitting, puppy-dog hoot on the right roads. The ride is firm but the fun factor’s high.

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Assistant

Jonathan is an editorial assistant working with Autocar. He has held this position since March 2024, having previously studied at the University of Glasgow before moving to London to become an editorial apprentice and pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, travelling to launch events and interviewing some of the industry's most influential executives, writing used car reviews and used car advice articles, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, and regularly appearing on Autocar's social media channels including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Scotbybarron 1 September 2022

I'm on my second UP! The current car is the Gti version. It's an absolute hoot to drive, and I prefer it to the Cupra Formentor we have. Simple fun. Easy to park on Londons streets, very economical. After 29k miles nothing has gone wrong or fallen off. It's just a pleasure to own. Unlike the Cupra, which has too much tech to be fun.

si73 1 September 2022
@Jason_recliner, I disagree, my wife's 2015 Mii is a great little city car, yes as the review says it has hard plastics, but so do all city cars, I don't find it tinny though, it definitely feels of better quality than my 500, though that's mostly perceived quality, switch gear etc, but I don't consider it to be a horrible or nasty place.
I totally agree with your sentiment though, that VW group car reviews are always pre loaded with the words quality and reliability which I don't think is accurate, well not since the 90s.
I always thought it a shame that SEAT and Skoda didn't do hot versions as well, as I prefer their styling to that of the up!
jason_recliner 2 September 2022

Fair enough, I'm glad you like your Up but I was appalled, it felt to me a step up from a Maruti or similar, but not a big step (while being twice the price). I've sat in a 500 Arbath but never driven one - I thought it felt quite a bit more solid than the Up.

jason_recliner 1 September 2022

Has the author actually driven an Up? Or is this article just a rehash of VW brochures and hackneyed generalistaions about VW 'build quality'. The Up is the cheapest, tinniest, nastiest post-2000 car of which I've had the displeasure to experience. By a BIG margin. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Arlo 2 September 2022

@jason_recliner What an utterly crap comment. Think you have absolutely no idea about the cars or engineering, I also doubt that you ever have tried up gti, the chassis is very good not like your post 2000 which were not nastiest according to you - your mk3 and mk4 golfs which were simply woeful. Again I don't think you ever driven in a little gti...