Volkswagen gave us the market’s first GTI, the Golf GTI in 1975 has most recently turned its attention to their little city car, the up! So, what have they done to create this pint-sized hot-hatch and how successful have they been?
What do we have here?
The up! has been around since 2011 and has spawned identical sister models; SEAT’s Mii and Skoda’s Citigo. It has been regarded as being one of the best city cars ever since. Selling points include superb packaging and great value compared to most rivals. The styling is effective in disguising the boxy proportions, looking 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 113bhp in total. This is about the same power as the original Golf GTI Mk 1 in a car that weighs about the same is its iconic predecessor. As a result, their performance figures are almost identical, too.
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 logo on the 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.
How does it drive?
Well, the first thing you notice on startup 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 small 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 license. 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.
What's it like Inside?
My test car was finished in white with a contrasting black roof, which suits its character perfectly. The interior is typically VW, 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 (251-litres).
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.
Volkswagen has really nailed it with the up! GTI. If you are looking for a new small car that is great around town but practical and fun then it ticks all the boxes. As an antidote to the stress of hard work and busy days, the up! GTi is an affordable and fun way to blow away those lingering cobwebs.