What is it?
Volkswagen was never going to wait long before coming up with a sporty version of its new A-segment entry, the Volkswagen Up, launched recently. Though the production version is at least six months away from the showrooms, even in Germany, the major spec of the Volkswagen Up GT (pictured here still as a concept car) seems quite confirmed and includes all the enhancements you'd expect: more power and torque courtesy of a turbocharger, a six-speed gearbox, bigger wheels and tyres, sportier suspension settings, more supportive front seats, some extra interior brightwork — and more aggressive nose styling to advertise it all.
The Wolfsburgers insist the exact package isn't entirely fixed yet, but our drive in the personal car of technical chief Ulrich Hackenberg's showed a high degree of maturity.
What’s it like?
In a word, it’s brilliant. The 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, now with 109bhp and an especially impressive 120lb ft of torque to pass through the gearbox (which has one more forward speed than standard manual gearbox cars) begins to sound like a baby Porsche 911 as soon as you use it with a bit of commitment, which its light but accurate controls instantly encourage you to do.
The turbo triple feels strong where you'd expect — towards its 6500 rpm redline — but it also pulls keenly from below 2000 revs and has remarkably little turbo lag for such a small engine. Not just that, it also glides smoothly and discreetly around the city on light throttle openings. The fact that it’ll do 0-62mph in a brisk 8.5 seconds, and about 118 mph flat out is only a fraction of the story. The whole thing simply reeks of painstaking VW development.
The Volkswagen Up GT rides a little more firmly than the standard car, but remains well-damped and supple. It's ultra-stable in corners and has lots of grip, but will reluctantly understeer when you get to the limit. Driving it hard is easy, but very rewarding. And thanks to the tall sixth gear (I think I saw around 3500 rpm at an indicated 90-odd mph) you feel you could drive this car comfortably and quietly across Europe. It's that good.
Should I buy one?
You can’t for a while. When it becomes available, you’ll have to battle a lot of other eager takers, we predict, if they make the showroom cars as good as Hackenberg’s prototype. The RenaultSport Clio is bigger and goes much harder, but it's pricier, too and scarcely roomier. VW won't talk pricing - in the UK they have a year to decide - but a fair estimate would be around £13,500. For that, you’ll be getting one of the best-driving cars on the road.
Volkswagen Up GT
Price: circa £13,500 (2013); Top speed: 118 mph; 0-62mph: 8.6 sec; Economy: circa 62 mpg (combined); CO2: na; Kerbweight: 960 kg est; Engine: in-line 12v, 3cyl turbo, 999cc turbo; Power: 109 bhp; Torque: 129 lb ft; Gearbox: Six-speed manual