VW Up GTI review

  PROS

  • Brilliant fun to drive
  • Keen engine
  • Funky styling
  • Low running costs

  CONS

  • Steering could do with more feel
  • Manual gearbox needs a shorter throw
  • Some drivers may wish the chassis was more focused

Parkers overall rating: 4.6 out of 5 4.6

The Volkswagen Up GTI sits at the base of the German company’s range of performance hatchbacks, and boasts a number of upgrades over the standard car. Available in three- and five-door form, direct rivals are thin on the ground, although the upcoming Suzuki Swift Sport and Abarth 595 provide the closest match.

Headline figures for the Up GTI are a 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 122mph, however these numbers only tell half the story. Read on for why we reckon Volkswagen’s sped-up Up is one of the best performance cars of the year…

Volkswagen Up's sharp new look

In designing the Up GTI, Volkswagen has given its humble city car a sprinkling of sporty styling addenda. Boasting chunkier front and rear bumpers, 17-inch Oswald alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, red brake calipers and chromed exhaust tips the Up GTI is every bit the baby hot hatch.

It's lower too, sitting 15mm lower to the ground, giving the car a far more aggressive stance – not to mention more body control in the corners.

What’s the Volkswagen Up GTI like to drive?

Brilliant clean fun. And when we say clean, we mean that you can pin the throttle through first, second and third gears without having to worry about doing speeds that’ll land you in jail should the boys in blue come up behind.

Want to know more about the Volkswagen Up? Head over to our full review for the full low-down on Volkswagen's compact city car.

The 115hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine might not sound particularly potent on paper, but there’s good reason for this. It isn’t. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 8.8 seconds, while the top speed is 122mph.

However, the Up GTI never feels slow or underpowered, revving keenly to its redline or surging forward on a useful wave of 200Nm of torque if you fancy taking things a little easier.

Putting the power down onto the road is a front-wheel drive drivetrain and a six-speed manual gearbox. The latter is decent to use, but could have a shorter, more precise action if we’re being fussy.

Fake sound, but genuine thrills

A sound actuator (amplifies engine noise in the cabin) adds to the aural drama, and increases the grumbly warble from the three-cylinder engine to create added mischief. Listen closely, and you can even hear that pint-sized turbocharger whistling away as you accelerate hard.

Tilt the Up GTI into a corner and, despite the lower ride height, there’s still a reasonable amount of body roll – but not enough to spoil the fun. See, the baby GTI is softly sprung enough to cope with the worst of Britain’s B-roads (the ride is firm but not uncomfortable), the payoff being that it’s not quite as darty or pointy-feeling as an Abarth 595 in the corners.

What it is, is predictable and easy to control, with enough – but not too much – grip from the front wheels to have enormous fun on a tight, twisty road. Granted, the steering could have a touch more feel – especially just off centre – but it’s not enough to spoil an otherwise excellent package. The brakes, also, are strong and provide excellent feel.

Fuel economy is a claimed 50.4mpg on average, while CO2 emissions are 127g/km for the three-door model and 129g/km for the five-door variant.

Up GTI adds more equipment

As well as the regular Volkswagen Up standard kit, the GTI adds a Composition Colour radio system, six loudspeakers, USB connectivity, climate control, heated seats and heated electrically adjustable wing mirrors.

In addition to this, the cabin has also had its share of GTI influence. The seats are finished in the famous tartan GTI pattern, there’s a GTI gearlever, red stitching and a (slightly suspect looking) red pixel dashboard. Of most importance to the driver however is the steering wheel which has been lifted straight from a Volkswagen Golf GTI.


The Parkers Verdict

Enormous fun on a budget, the Up GTI is one of the finest cars out there when it comes to pound-for-pound driving thrills. As is often the way, Volkswagen’s cheapest GTI model might just be one of its best. If not the best.

It's a sure-fire contender, so do keep an eye out for how the Up GTI fares in our Cheap Fast Car of the Year 2018 group test.