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Baby GTi proves that just enough is just fine
Jim Holder
15 December 2016

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.

Read more about the confirmed Up GTi here

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.

What's it like?

The Up GTi's peppy engine pulls remarkably well and has a linear power band. The only interruption is an overly-long second gear ratio, which pauses progress in the name of fuel economy gains, reason enough to pause to curse some aspects of the modern world. Work it hard and you are amply rewarded, aided by the slick manual gearbox shift and precise control weights of the pedals. It’s surprisingly refined too - almost disappointingly so, in fact, given its lineage.

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Mechanically, the Up GTi is much changed from standard, not least in its use of some Polo-derived (but heavily modified) parts such as the steering rack and ventilated brakes. The car sits 15mm lower than standard and has a heavily reworked suspension set-up on its MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear, including stiffened top mounts, new-shape lower suspension arms and dampers tuned to control bounce at lower compression speeds.

Just how effective all this is was hard to judge on the largely straight roads of South Africa, where VW conducts hot weather and durability testing, but what opportunities there were suggested the car is set up with decent weight through the wheel and a balance that leans towards neutral before dipping into the safety first of understeer. Engineers suggest you can make it oversteer if you really try - but, again, the modern age demands they err towards a responsible set-up. Ride comfort was impressive, soaking up low-frequency ripples and damping down bigger bumps despite its sporty leanings.

Should I buy one?

From this prototype drive, what we can conclude is that the Up GTi is a car that has abundant promise even so far from making production. It won’t make your eyes water, but it is engaging and eager to please - even in top gear, the engine keeps pulling towards its 119mph v-max. Some will struggle to reconcile the idea of a three-cylinder GTi, but it’s worth noting that VW is believed to ahead of the curve here, as even the likes of Ford consider similar units for ST models; the times, they are a’ changing.

Of course, with time, so expectations have moved on too, and for all the comparison with the original Golf GTi it would be misleading to think that the Up GTi is going to evoke memories of yesteryear and have a generation of retirees rushing to dealerships to relive their youth. It’s a different car for a different era.

Instead, what VW is hoping to create is a car that will draw in a new generation of GTi lovers - albeit potentially financially aided by misty-eyed parents. Much will depend on pricing and running costs - especially insurance - but rumours already suggest an asking price of around £15,000. That’s a lot for such a small car, but on this evidence it may well be worth it. 

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2018 VW Up GTi

Location South Africa; On sale Early 2018; Price £15,000 (est); Engine 3cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 114bhp at tbc; Torque tbc; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1020kg; 0-62mph 8.8sec; Top speed 119mph; Economy tbc; CO2 rating/BIK tax band tbc Rivals Renault Twingo GT, Abarth 595

 

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Comments
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mpls 18 December 2016

Lookss are weird..

Lookss are weird.. especially the front end, whilst the rear look awful. It tries to look like the Peugeot 107/Citroenc1/Toyot Aygo but in a bad way.. However, because of the name VW, there will be people taken in by it..
Marc 18 December 2016

mpls wrote:

mpls wrote:

Lookss are weird.. especially the front end, whilst the rear look awful. It tries to look like the Peugeot 107/Citroenc1/Toyot Aygo but in a bad way.. However, because of the name VW, there will be people taken in by it..

Perhaps those people may think it's the better car. Which it is.

Thumper 17 December 2016

How much was the 'writer' paid for this article?

Yet another free advert for VW....really Autocar, get some morals! I had to check whether this was a joke article when the 'author' went on about red stitching on the steering wheel and other general GTi rubbish!

£15,000 for a car offering 114bhp, you can pick up a new 100bhp 500 T/A for several grand less, never mind all the other competition already offering 100-110bhp for thousands less. £15k puts it (as is mentioned as a rival) into Abarth 595 territory, a car with 145bhp even in the base model.

Only an idiot would spend £15k for a tepid hatchback.... or it seems trust Autocar to provide decent car previews/reviews. Get your act together, or admit you are being paid by VW for these biased articles!!

Marc 17 December 2016

Thumper wrote:

Thumper wrote:

Yet another free advert for VW....really Autocar, get some morals! I had to check whether this was a joke article when the 'author' went on about red stitching on the steering wheel and other general GTi rubbish!

£15,000 for a car offering 114bhp, you can pick up a new 100bhp 500 T/A for several grand less, never mind all the other competition already offering 100-110bhp for thousands less. £15k puts it (as is mentioned as a rival) into Abarth 595 territory, a car with 145bhp even in the base model.

Only an idiot would spend £15k for a tepid hatchback.... or it seems trust Autocar to provide decent car previews/reviews. Get your act together, or admit you are being paid by VW for these biased articles!!

You could argue only idiots would buy any new car but many do. Alternatively, we could all ride the short bus with you.

Kiero12 19 December 2016

An Abarth as an alternative?

No no no...
the Abarth rides badly doesn't handle that well and is very noisy - also has a Fisher Price interior, the only thing it has going for it is straight line performance, which is not the point of this type of car.

I bought my daughter a Citygo Monte Carlo and was blown away with how good it was, it just make you smile thrashing it down county lanes, embarrassing friends in their BMWs who can't keep up. So nearly double the power would make it huge fun as long as the ride remains composed and not too harsh.

I just wish VW would give the front bumper the treatment it deserves. the one in this article looks like its been punched in the face and all its teeth feel out!

Hiram Fletcher 17 December 2016

VW Up GTI.

I am sure this Up will be a great car. I purchased a Mk 1 Golf GTi at the beginning of 1980, one of the first 5 speeders in the UK and in Mars Red. A brilliant car and when i tell people today ( especially VW sales where i got a new 2.0 Turbo ) that it came without a nearside ext mirror, without ABS, without PAS, without traction control etc they think you are being funny !!!!. I actually did saloon car racing in it briefly & succesfully. In those days if you were driving a 1600 cc car or below with PAS you were considered a wimp !!!!. The Golf i have today like every other car including supercars has all the safety and gadgetry, do the road or even F1 cars of today have the same driver input / raw appeal / thrill --- DEF NO NO NO.