Volkswagen UP 1.0 115PS Up GTI 3dr
Under the Up GTI’s stubby bonnet is a 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which delivers 113bhp and 147lb ft in a laggy but cheery sort of fashion. The engine benefits from a ‘sound symposer’ similar to the Golf R’s, which echoes the intake noise to give it a bit of a burble. It’s more authentic than piping in fake engine noise via the speaker (yep, we’re looking at you, BMW), and it adds some angrier edge to the Up’s otherwise cute-sounding three-pot.
Stir the teeny thumb of a gearlever fast enough and you’ll be powered from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds. Does that even qualify as hot hatch performance? Well, consider that the original Golf GTI also developed around 113bhp in later 1.8-litre form, and took nine seconds to hit the same benchmark. It was good enough for us in the Seventies, and in 2020 it proves that fun is not necessarily the same as speed.
Once you’re through the inevitable turbo lag, the engine pulls with gusto and revs out happily toward 6,500rpm. There’s a lot of flywheel effect – inertia, basically – in this little engine, though. So, when you peel off the throttle, the revs hang in no-man’s land. And if you rush the gearchange, it can get a bit crunchy. At least you get a sixth speed, to take advantage of that torque on the motorway.
While the Up is indeed the best of all the city cars at a motorway schlep, because it’s quite refined, the GTI is not at its happiest here. It wants to be bounding along a B-road like a puppy going walkies. There, you’ll discover that, like said small dog, the GTI is full of fun but also a tad clumsy. The steering lacks feel, which is a pity. You turn in, gripping the bolstered GTI wheel, and just sort of hope the grip is there. On the whole, it is, because the GTI weighs only 1,070kg and has relatively fat tyres, so with its squat, square stance, it’s got the grip to corner with vim and vigour.
What it doesn’t do is raise its game and keep getting better the faster you go. You can’t turn off the rather pessimistic traction and stability nannies, and while that’ll stop plenty of young owners having to call their mates to tow them out of a ditch before mum and dad find out, it unavoidably dampens the GTI’s handling.
The 15mm lower, firmer suspension’s crashy if you fail to dance between potholes. Course, you’d expect a hotted-up city car on 17-inch rims to be a tad firm, but what’s odd is that a normal Up actually rides with more maturity, even if there’s a bit more body roll thrown in. It seems VW didn’t really spend all the time and money it could’ve done honing this entry-level GTI. And that was easier to forgive when it was £2k cheaper.
Still, the pocket-sized dimensions, low weight and sheer grip mean the GTI makes the most of scampering around twisty lanes that even a Golf GTI would feel bloated along, and you might even have a giggle on a car park’s exit ramp. Sure, it has widely spaced pedals, and the torsion-bar suspension feels a bit farmyard. It’s not the best hot hatch VW can make, but it’s one they felt they had to.
It’s not trying to be professional. Think of it as the office Christmas party. It’s not the most fun night out you’ve ever had, and in some ways, it’s a bit kitsch and embarrassing. But you’ll still look back on it with a wry smile, because you got to lark about and no-one really noticed.
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