From £13,7508
Funky, light, enjoyable and even reasonably priced, the Volkswagen Up GTI is a car to be appreciated on its own compelling terms

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Up GTI 2018 review on the road

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

  • First Drive

    Volkswagen Up GTI 2018 review

    Funky, light, enjoyable and even reasonably priced, the Volkswagen Up GTI is a car to be appreciated on its own compelling terms
Matt Prior
18 January 2018

What is it?

Every time you read about the new Volkswagen Up GTI, you’re going to read a lot about the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1, because Volkswagen has pitched the Up as some kind of homage to its original (albeit perhaps not the original) hot hatch.

The Up and that first Golf have a similar level of power, for example, and not dissimilar performance figures, while all of the original’s design cues have been replicated here; just like they’ve been replicated on every pretty much every GTI from every manufacturer since 1976. 

Most notably, though, the Up is meant to have the sparkle, the entertainment, the breath of fresh air that came as standard with that first hot Golf. Talking of fresh air, the Up is among the first cars to have a ‘close-coupled petrol particulate filter’, which Volkswagen says reduces particulate emissions by up to 95%. 

So it’s nice to know the company hasn’t lost its sense of humour.

Anyway, during all this homage business there’s one figure they don’t reference, which is that while the Up GTI weighs 1070kg, the first Golf GTI weighed 810kg, despite this city car being not just one but two entire classes lower than the Golf small family hatch.

But that’s okay, you know. I’m not going to get all prickly about that, because it’s just the way of things. Sure, an Up is heavier, but it would also be better than a Mk1 Golf at coping with a really cold morning, or a really warm afternoon, or letting you listen to Radio 4, or being driven into a tree. It’s just how it is. 

Anyway, 1070kg is still sufficiently light that you can make this a warm hatch by giving it a 999cc triple engine, making a modest 114bhp at 5000rpm, and a more immodest 147lb ft, which is generated from just 2000rpm thanks to the fact the motor’s turbocharged. Driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, it’s enough to propel the Up GTI to 0-62mph in 8.8sec.

I rather like the mostly subtle look of it too, especially in the £13,750 3dr form you find here. That the suspension has been dropped by 15mm over a standard Up, and that it gets 17in alloy wheels with 195/40 tyres, probably does it no harm.

There are changes beyond the ride height. The electrically assisted steering rack and ventilated brakes are Polo-derived but modified, the torsion beams at the rear and MacPherson struts at the front have stiffer top mounts, with new shape lower arms on the front too. There are no adaptive dampers or such like – this is a sub-£14k car – but being a small, light car, it shouldn’t need them. Let’s see.

What's it like?

Volkswagen always gets some things right. Doors close with a thunk, interior materials and their layout are sensible and clear. The front seats are big, sweetly patterned, somewhere nearer flat than hugging, but the ergonomics are the sort of thing you don’t really notice – always a good sign – to the extent that you could comfortably replace your Golf or Passat company car with an Up and drive it without noticing most of the time, except there’s less behind you.

Our first drive, meanwhile, begins on some towny roads on the way out of an airport, during which the ride seems a curious mix of mostly absorbent but with occasional brittleness over sharper bumps: otherwise sensible suspension settings meet low profile tyres, you wonder. Those roads give way to some motorway driving, during which the stability is where it ought to be for a German car, with low wind and road noise levels too.

But it’s beyond those kinds of roads where life gets more interesting, and are where the Up GTI also feels very well suited; although, to be honest, mountain hairpins are great-looking but are rarely particularly exciting to drive. Few cars make them entertaining. A nicely judged brake pedal feel makes corner approach enjoyable in the Up, as does its light but extremely positive gearshift.

The throttle’s high for easy heel-and-toeing, though right-hand-drive cars might have better-spaced pedals. But really hairpins are all about braking, then turning but without challenging the chassis’ limit of lateral grip except at the front, waiting a lot, and then getting into a winding-off of lock versus application of throttle compromise, and visibility is usually terrible too. As a scientific endeavour it’s fine, but it takes a pretty special car to make bends like that exciting, and one usually driven by the other pair of wheels. 

It’s in faster corners where chassis get to show what they’re capable of, where you can load them up and where both front and rear wheels come into play and where, when there’s enough lateral grip, the steering takes on some weight and tells you what it’s doing beyond just understeering under power while you try to get the car straight. 

The Up GTI is really good on roads like these. The pliancy you feel at lower speeds doesn’t relate to a loss of body control – because there’s only a lightweight body to control, I suppose – while the relatively modest width of the tyres delivers grip to an ‘about right’ level. The performance does too: you can use what performance it has without irritating other people. 

The GTI’s steering is accurate, quick and gathers useful weight, so even though it doesn’t bristle with feel, it’s rewarding, while the chassis’ inherent balance is pleasing too. Eventually, you’ll find understeer if the corner’s clear enough and you’ve gone looking for it, but mostly you’ll just have fun, driving up to sensible limits that are a similarly equal level of its and yours and the road’s, at a giggly and entertaining, rather than sweaty-palmed, pace.

The engine and box lend itself to this kind of driving too. There’s no dual-clutch option at this price, but you won’t be so busy or surly that you can’t be bothered to shift yourself. There’s a little lag at low revs, despite peak torque arriving at 2000rpm. I don’t doubt that it does arrive then – but down there you need to ask for it a second before it really gives it to you. A sound symposer adds to the three-cylinder’s thrummy soundtrack, which has been made more sporting than I expected, with a bit more rort on the way to the soft rev limiter. 

Should I buy one?

What a cool package, then. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s a bit like a Suzuki Swift Sport but with more ride maturity and a less immediate engine.

Is it like the original Golf GTI? Not really; at least not dynamically. Remove the visual cues and similarities and they could be from entirely different manufacturers. 

But that’s fine too. Judge the Volkswagen Up GTI against an 810kg hot hatchback and it’s always going to suffer for the comparison. But compare the Up GTI with what you can buy today, at the price you can buy it for today, and it comes across as a fizzing, willing, compelling little proposition.

Volkswagen Up GTI

Where France On sale February Price £13,750 Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 114bhp at 5000rpm Torque 147lb ft at 2000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1070kg Top speed 119mph 0-62mph 8.8sec Fuel economy 49.6mpg CO2, tax band 129g/km, 24% Rival Renault Twingo GT

Join the debate

Comments
39

18 January 2018

Is it really 1070kg? Autocar’s previous article quoted a more reasonable 997kg. I can’t believe that it really is 30% heavier than the Golf and suspect that some of the increase is down to different measurement techniques. For homologation, I believe that kerb weight now includes all fluids plus driver, whereas possibly the Golf figure was a dry weight.  Would be interesting to compare both models on the same scales to see. 

 

19 January 2018

Swift is larger car, 5 doors, with a larger turbo motor (1.4L) more equipmemt as std and still manages to only weigh 970kg.  Why is this Up so heavy?  Maybe the price of some ‘premium’ soft touch plastics...

i haven’t driven an Up let alone this GTi version, but I have spent a few hours in the new Swift Sport in the last week (some countries unlike the UK don’t have to wait until May), and the ride is pretty damn good. I’d be pretty surprised if this Up is noticeably better, if at all in this department.

19 January 2018

Surely a cracking little car like this which offers fun and civility in equal measure and at a bargain price deserves more?  From the text it’s obvious that this little VW is way better than anything else that the sector can offer. I think you’ve been a little mean!

19 January 2018

Can't understand why they didn't put get a little more out of the engine, 114 is par for most 1.0T's but below par for the GTi name.

5 door version will be around £14,300 which I'm sure the bigger 4 cylinder Switch will beat, my money is on the Suzuki.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

19 January 2018

Sorry just seen the another site where the expect the Swift Sport price to be around £15,995, with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

TS7

19 January 2018
xxxx wrote:

Sorry just seen the another site where the expect the Swift Sport price to be around £15,995, with a 0-60 time of 7 seconds.

 

Well the current top of the range Swift (SZ5) is £15,499, so I'd take that expectation with a pinch of salt.

19 January 2018
xxxx wrote:

Can't understand why they didn't put get a little more out of the engine, 114 is par for most 1.0T's but below par for the GTi name.

 

Because we are talking about VW here and the GTI label is simply there to attract ignorant buyers. A 1.0l Ford Ecoboost makes 123hp and they don't call it GTI or any other fancy names. And when they do (Red Edition, for example), it makes 140hp.

The same happens with Golf GTD. It tries to make you think they it's some sort of hot hatch but its 2.0 diesel only produces 180hp, just like a run-of-the-mill 2.0 BluHDi.

As opposed to that you can have a 1 Series with a 2.0 diesel that makes 225hp, albeit only in the M Sport trim.

19 January 2018
Andrew1 wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Can't understand why they didn't put get a little more out of the engine, 114 is par for most 1.0T's but below par for the GTi name.

 

Because we are talking about VW here and the GTI label is simply there to attract ignorant buyers. A 1.0l Ford Ecoboost makes 123hp and they don't call it GTI or any other fancy names. And when they do (Red Edition, for example), it makes 140hp.

The same happens with Golf GTD. It tries to make you think they it's some sort of hot hatch but its 2.0 diesel only produces 180hp, just like a run-of-the-mill 2.0 BluHDi.

As opposed to that you can have a 1 Series with a 2.0 diesel that makes 225hp, albeit only in the M Sport trim.

Which may make some believe they're driving an M car.

19 January 2018
Andrew1 wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Can't understand why they didn't put get a little more out of the engine, 114 is par for most 1.0T's but below par for the GTi name.

 

Because we are talking about VW here and the GTI label is simply there to attract ignorant buyers. A 1.0l Ford Ecoboost makes 123hp and they don't call it GTI or any other fancy names. And when they do (Red Edition, for example), it makes 140hp.

The same happens with Golf GTD. It tries to make you think they it's some sort of hot hatch but its 2.0 diesel only produces 180hp, just like a run-of-the-mill 2.0 BluHDi.

As opposed to that you can have a 1 Series with a 2.0 diesel that makes 225hp, albeit only in the M Sport trim.

As an owner of a Mk7 GTD, I disagree with your ignorant comments. Firstly, have you driven one? If not, I will say, yep sure it's not a GTI, but as an all round proposition, with masses of torque, good mpg and being good to drive, it's not as hugely far away from the GTI as you say. It's down to the suspension and steering which are shared with the GTI. Are you referring to the 125d? If so, yep I will agree that's quicker. I wouldn't compare a GTD to the 125d but I would compare it to a 120d. Around the same pace but the Golf is by far the more rounded package. I've driven several hundred miles in the most recent 1 series for work and although the initial (about 1 second) turn in is good, it's not all that. The interior also is OK but not that great...especially when considering the price they charge. You'd be better spending extra on a 3 series if you HAVE to have a BMW! Which says it all if you do!

19 January 2018

...'cause even the old (or still actual) heavier model -- 1.6 non-turbo,136 hp -- would beat the Up GTI, not only performance-wise. It is just my subjective opinion of course -- as a current happy SSS 1.6 owner -- but an (improbable) future comparative test would be interesting anyway.

Not a bad mini-mild-hot-hatch this ...almost GTI though, whose price is also a pleasant surprise (in the UK at least, where it costs approx. 1.200 £ less than in Germany, for the actual euro/pound change rate.).

P.S. The mistery of the different communicated (kerb?)weights of this UP (997 kg some time ago vs 1070 kg now, German reviews included) remains unsolved for me too. The *standard* driver-weight might have been added now, but this would be a 75 kg plus, not 73...

-- Old fart with petrol in veins, so off the e-cars grid literally --

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