Volkswagen, the company that gave us the first GTI in 1975, has decided to sprinkle some magic dust over its up! city car to create a pint-sized hot hatch…
What is it?
The up! has been around since 2011 and has spawned near-identical sister models; SEAT’s Mii and Skoda’s Citigo. It has long been regarded in the motoring world as being one of the best city cars. Selling points include superb packaging and great value compared to most rivals. The styling is effective in disguising the boxy proportions and looks grown up and smart.
By turbocharging the 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine found in lower models they have squeezed out an extra 23bhp to give 115bhp in total. This is about the same power as the original Golf GTI Mk 1 in a car that weighs about the same as its iconic predecessor. As a result, their performance figures are almost identical.
Externally, the famous GTI insignia is all there. Double stripes down each side and red trim strips are complemented by special alloy wheels.
The interior gets tartan trim and a thicker steering wheel together with a GTI gearknob. Air-conditioning and heated seats are standard on the GTI but sat-nav is only available as an app, ‘Maps + More’, which has to be downloaded onto your smartphone which can sit in an integrated dock.
The standard car comes with three doors but for an extra £400 the five-door model provides extra versatility.
Ever since ‘dieselgate’, VW has been keen to promote its green credentials and the up! GTI is one of the first of their cars to launch with a petrol particulate filter. This reduces particulate emissions by up to 95 per cent.
My test car was finished in white with a contrasting black roof, which suits its character perfectly. The interior is typically Volkswagen, which means clear instruments and solid functional switchgear. The standard sports seats are firm but comfortable and, being a city car, all-round visibility is excellent.
Rear space is pretty good for such a small car with enough room for two adults and the boot is surprisingly large with a deep floor.
As there is no integral infotainment screen, controls for the radio etc. are fairly basic but work well enough. I did not get a chance to use VW’s own sat-nav software but the smartphone dock is perfectly situated centrally above the main dashboard so using Google Maps is really easy to use as an alternative.
How does it drive?
Well, the first thing you notice on start-up is the sporty exhaust note. This has immediate appeal even before you turn a wheel and, although some of the noise is artificially enhanced via the audio speakers, it will impress any petrolhead.
Take off is swift rather than super-fast but the six-speed gearbox snicks easily between ratios so the engine is always on the boil. Aided by its compact dimensions, the up! can dart in and out of traffic like a little dodgem. The steering is direct, the brakes are strong and the chassis stays flat around even the tightest of turns.
I was also relieved to find that as I left the urban traffic behind and headed for open roads, the GTI did not feel out of its depth. In fact this pocket rocket revels in tackling fast A and B roads.
It accelerates strongly, hugs the road and does it all at a speed that avoids the risk of losing your licence.
It is just great fun to drive and I found myself extending every journey just to enjoy the experience. It holds its own even on motorway trips. It may be a bit noisy but never feels underpowered.
Volkswagen has nailed it with the up! GTI. If you are looking for a new small car that is great around town, but also practical and fun on any road then it ticks all the boxes. As an antidote to the stress of hard work and busy days, I cannot think of a cheaper way to blow away all the cobwebs.
Volkswagen up! GTI factfile
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 115 bhp
Torque: 2000 Nm
Top Speed: 122mph
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 8.7 secs
Economy: 58.9 mpg combined cycle
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
On the road price: £ 14,455 (£14,055 3-door)