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

Two’s company, but three’s enough for a performance model family. That seems to be the logic on which Volkswagen’s strategy is being founded, with its long-established GTI sub-brand having just received a rare third product pillar.

The new Up GTI makes it a happy triumvirate of go-faster VW hatchbacks alongside bigger brothers the Polo and Golf. We’ve only been treated to that many GTI production models once before: between 2000 and 2005, when VW’s Lupo GTI was in production. And what a cracking little driver’s car that was.

There’s nothing that says ‘sporting intent’ quite like red front brake calipers, is there? They really stand out against our test car’s white paintwork.

The upright, narrow, diminutive Up is a very different prospect than even the Lupo was; so what dynamic DNA can a modern, warmed-up city car share with its larger, more powerful and more by-the-book GTI hot hatch stablemates? And does this car really make the GTI family stronger - or does that famous three-lettered badge on its rump imply more performance purpose and credibility than the Up can carry off?

First confirmed in 2016, VW’s go-faster city car made its public debut in prototype form at the annual GTI Meet at Wörthersee in Austria last year, before UK order books opened last month. Since it broke cover, VW has been quick to draw comparisons between this newcomer and the original Golf GTI of 1976; but, as you’ll go on to read, there are some problems with that association.

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At present, the performance city car class into which the Up GTI is launching is – funnily enough – a compact one, populated by the likes of the Renault Twingo GT, Abarth 595 and pricier Smart Forfour Brabus. That its rivals are few doesn’t necessarily mean that the Up GTI will stand out, though. To do that, the little VW must not only deliver the compelling and composed driving experience its model identity promises, but retain those dynamic characteristics that are fundamental to the appeal of any good city car.

So, how well does it strike that balance between performance and inner-city practicality? Let’s find out.

Volkswagen Up GTI First drives