At this price and strata of the performance car market, quality of performance matters much more than outright quantity. You expect junior hot hatchbacks to set a slightly unspectacular standard against the clock, but it matters greatly that they make up for what they may lack in pace with free-revving willingness and readiness to be wrung out. In some ways, the Up GTI strikes that compromise well, but not in every detail or across the board.
The car’s three-cylinder turbo engine doesn’t have perfect throttle response, but it fronts up with grunt in sufficiently strong and immediate fashion as to seem both energetic and likeable. Through the middle of the car’s rev range, the rush of torque that accompanies your every dig into the right-hand pedal’s travel makes the Up accelerate keenly even at middling revs and in third and fourth gears.
The car’s quickest 0-60mph run against our timing gear was timed at just 8.3sec in one direction. That would be less than half a second behind that of an Abarth 595, and is also a shade quicker than VW’s 8.8sec 0-62mph claim would lead you to believe it might be. On the road, there’s enough potency here to make the car feel peppy and enthusiastic right the way up to motorway speeds – at which point, the car’s available acceleration is quite a lot less distinguishing.
But, while working that engine hard between 2500 and 5000rpm is certainly a cheery treat, keeping your foot in and chasing the car’s 6500rpm redline is an act less compelling than it might be. You simply needn’t use the last thousand revs of the Up GTI’s engine’s range to get the best out of it and in a car like this, that seems like a lost opportunity.
Likewise, although the shift quality of the Up GTI’s six-speed gearbox is respectable, it’s not desperately special. The car’s shift planes seem a little oddly spaced, and there’s also only an ordinary sort of precision and slickness to the way the lever moves through the gate – and not quite enough to entice you to swap cogs just for the tactile pleasure of it.
Details like this matter as much in a cheap driver’s car as they do in an expensive one and, as far as we’re concerned, there’s no reason they can’t be provided. The encouraging firmness, progressive feel and outright power of the Up GTI’s brakes suggest that VW had an eye on some of those details, but it’s clearly missed some too.