Our first taste of the Up GTI on British roads took place in Wales, starting in the town of Crickhowell before heading out into the wider Brecon Becons National Park. There are some phenomenal roads up here, with tight hairpins, fast flowing bends, the occasional straight and constant changes in elevation – all on road surfaces that aren’t exactly stellar. Basically, it’s proper hot hatchback territory.
Unsurprisingly, the Up GTI was a bit of a riot in this environment. It’s electromechanical steering doesn’t provide the last word in feel, but it's well weighted, responsive and pretty confidence-inspiring, meaning you can throw the Up into just about any bend without fear of greatly upsetting its natural balance.
There’s plenty of front-end grip, although it will wash out to understeer through a turn if you’re a bit of an idiot with your entry speed or the application of throttle mid-corner. And even when this does happen, you’re never really going to be travelling so fast that this temporary loss of traction will be unmanageable.
The uprated suspension works a treat, too. Considering this is a relatively high-sided, narrow little car, body roll is contained and the ride is generally absorbent when travelling at speed. Those larger 17in alloys can make the odd rut feel a bit more pronounced, though.
With 147lb ft of torque on tap from 2000rpm the engine has a muscular feel to it and will get the Up GTI from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds. That’s not enough to mean that a prod of the throttle will have you travelling at break-neck speeds, but that’s all part of its charm.
The power is accessible, and coupled with the Up GTI’s diminutive size it does a good job of providing the illusion of speed, despite the fact that you’ll never really be in any danger of grossly breaching the national speed limit. The soundtrack isn’t bad, either. Sure, there’s a degree of synthetic aural trickery going on here, but it fits well with the Up’s “small but mighty” character.
So, the Up GTI is a cracking little car out on a interesting road, but how does it perform elsewhere? On the motorway it feels like any other Volkswagen: comfortable, settled and largely refined, although there is a bit of wind noise at higher speeds. Plenty of in-gear shove also means overtaking isn’t an arduous, drawn-out procedure. It’s largely ergonomically sound, too, although the steering rack doesn’t adjust for reach.
Around town – an important point, given the Up GTI’s city car roots – it feels like any other Up, but with even more scope for darting in and out of traffic thanks to the additional power. The only caveat here is that the sports suspension does mean the ride is a bit firmer at lower speeds, but considering the breadth of its abilities that’s not going to be a deal breaker.