What is it?
When you scan the spec and see the VW Up GTi is powered by a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine producing a meagre - by the standards of this illustrious performance brand today - 114bhp, you might come over a bit cynical. You might, for instance, wonder if this baby GTi, set to launch early in 2018 and driven here in prototype form, is a cynical marketing exercise to add a bit of vim to the Up range.
But, even before you get behind the wheel or chat to the wide-eyed engineers working on the project, VW has a pretty convincing counter-argument through a comparison with the Mk1 VW Golf GTi. Demonstrating once again how safety requirements have grown modern cars, for starters, the Up GTi is not far removed from the Golf - 3600mm of length plays 3705mm, 1627mm width 1610mm, a 2415mm wheelbase 2400mm, 1020kg to 880kg.
And if that latter figure makes you twitch, consider that the Up’s 114bhp tops the 109bhp made by the 1.6-litre engine of the 1976 original. Sure, the safety kit and technology packs add a significant amount of extra heft, but the power-to-weight ratio is not far removed at all. Nobody is revealing torque figures just yet, but this manual Up GTi will do 0-62mph in 8.8sec, compared to the Golf’s 9.2sec. If it’s offered with DSG, the Up GTi’s will come down further, too.
Even on this prototype - still more than a year from launch - all the GTi hallmarks are present and correct. There’s a stripe down the bottom edge, tartan seats, red stitching on the steering wheel and a fancy red and black finish on the Up’s moulded dashboard, plus a six-speed gearbox with reverse up and off to the left and a chunky steering wheel to grip; entry-level GTi or not, there’s no corners cut.
Technically, the engine is quite a remarkable feat, running 1.5-bar or turbo pressure (the same as a 911 Turbo, no less) and at a 10.5: 1 compression ratio. Coupled with a water-cooled intercooler, the output from the three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit is pretty impressive and, while engineers reckon they could have pushed closer to 125bhp, this they reckon gives the best trade between power, torque and response.