The Volkswagen Up GTI is a tiny hot hatch that’s loads of fun to drive, nippy enough to put a smile on your face and can even seat four – the engine can be a bit noisy on the motorway though
The VW Up GTI may be a small city car, but it’s big fun. Like the regular Up, it’s surprisingly spacious inside for a car that’s not much bigger than an American-style fridge, but the GTI’s more powerful engine and sporty suspension give it the ability to hurtle down a twisty road far more quickly than you’d think.
You can tell the GTI apart from the regular Up by way of a GTI badge on the front grille, boot and front wings, red stripes across the grille and boot, sporty alloys and a pair of black stripes down each side. The boxy shape remains, but you get a surprisingly big spoiler for even more sporty looks.
Inside there are lots of visual tweaks too – Golf GTI-style tartan cloth seats, a red and black gear knob, red stitching on the steering wheel and even red mood lighting across the dashboard remind you that you’re in the fastest Up ever. You get a small five-inch colour screen that controls the air-con and other functions, and a cradle for your smartphone – on which you can download VW’s Maps + More app to display MPG data, sat-nav software and trip data. It’s a bit of a fiddly system though, and you’re better off using your phone’s normal navigation apps.
More practical is the fact that you can get the Up GTI as a three-door or five-door car, and it’s the latter you’ll want if you plan to use the back seats with any regularity. Your passengers will find back-seat space is the same as the regular Up – it’s okay for two regular-size adults, and they won’t be rubbing shoulders because there are only two seats back there. You get the same 251-litre boot space as in the regular Up, so you can carry a few soft bags.
The Up GTI may not have a load of power but it's great fun using it all – it's just so much fun!
So far, so typical VW Up. The GTI’s real ace card is what happens when you put your foot down. It’s powered by a 113hp three-cylinder turbo petrol engine – a good 23hp more than the most powerful normal Up. It has a surprising amount of pulling power and feels strong accelerating around town and up to 70mph. It feels plenty fast enough and has a bassy, throaty noise that’ll have you grinning as you rev through the gears and realise you’re still under the speed limit.
Sadly, that noise does cause a drone on part throttle on a motorway cruise, but get onto a twisty road and the Up GTI’s 15mm-lowered suspension gives you the confidence to corner as quickly as in a much bigger car. It doesn’t have as much outright grip as a Polo GTI, but the Up’s narrow body releases you from that nervous feeling you get driving a wider car quickly on narrow British roads.
That sporty suspension doesn’t make things uncomfortable, but you’ll want to slow down a bit more for speed bumps than you would in a regular Up – but it’s a small price to pay for the fun you can have keeping up with much faster cars in the corners. Because the Up GTI keeps the normal car’s shape and seating position it’s still a complete doddle to drive and park in tight spaces.
But to keep your Up GTI constrained to town would be to miss out on its fun handling and punchy engine – it’s a characterful little car and one that really raises a smile.