London: VW has since expanded it to also include the smaller Polo and now, in its latest iteration, this Up city car. If the very idea of an Up GTI seems a little incongruous to you, then you’re not alone.
As driving enthusiasts, we’d always be the first to encourage a sportier and hotter version of any car, especially with all the added enjoyment that that entails.
However, the very idea of the Up – a car that we love, incidentally – is that it’s a fun and affordable city car that brings new levels of build quality and refinement to the sub-supermini market.
In effect, it’s back-to-basics prices and running costs but without the back-to-basics interior. So it’s understandable that trying to shoehorn a GTI version into that concept is a little awkward.
Not that it looks awkward on paper. It boasts a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo engine with 115bhp (a healthy boost on the High Up’s 90bhp).
That’s enough to get this pocket-rocket from 0 to 60mph in just 8.8 seconds and on to a 122mph top speed while returning a 58.9mpg average fuel economy and 110g/km emissions.
But in reality, like other GTIs, this Up is about so much more than how it looks on paper. That three-cylinder engine, for instance, has a gorgeous off-beat burble and has so much grunt that it can’t help but paint a huge Cheshire Cat-like grin across your face the first time you push your right foot into the carpet.
It’s fair to say that the Up’s acceleration initially catches you a little unawares. Those 8.8 seconds aren’t slow, obviously, but it’s the Up’s light weight that means that those 115 horses seem much more spritely than those figures suggest.
It has a really lively feel that has you grabbing at the six-speed manual gearbox to engage the next gear as it races ahead. The midrange acceleration is little short of an absolute hoot. However, there’s a “but” coming. In fact, not just one but several.
The engaging engine note that’s initially so much fun quickly becomes tiring at higher speeds and there’s simply not enough noise insulation to protect the cabin from road and engine noise.
The same goes for the ride quality, which is fine at lower speeds but the short wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) and the lowered sports suspension just make it constantly fidgety at higher speeds and it quickly becomes tiring.
In the standard Up, you might be a little more forgiving, but this is a car with a GTI badge and those buying are likely to drive it harder and further than the standard model.
While that six-speed manual gearbox is excellent, and slick and the steering itself is quick to initially turn into the corner, there’s little feedback about what the car is doing beneath you and the lack of reach-adjustment (there’s only height adjustment) on the steering wheel isn’t great for taller drivers.
Again, all these are factors that normally at this level you’d allow a little leeway. But not on a car with a GTI badge and at a premium price too – more on which in a moment. Talking of the interior, will many drivers still get the nod to the 1976 original with the tartan fabric on the seats? Maybe, but we doubt it.
While we like the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the black and red graded pattern across the dashboard looks like something out of a car from when Kajagoogoo were last in the charts. Again, while for some that’s pleasingly retro, for us that – and some of the other elements of the Up’s interior – just feel a bit forced.
Ironically, this sums up much of how we feel about this Up GTI. You can see VW’s thinking, that its GTI models have been successful with the Polo and Golf up until now so why not recreate that with some of those same elements in the Up?
Except that the Up holds such an unusual place in the city car market – over and above its sister Skoda and Seat models – that it feels like forcing a square peg into a round hole.
The fact that the GTI is the thick end of £1,100 over the very well-specced five-door High Up, and that you could also buy an Up costing two grand less further down the range, and probably be just as happy – if not more so – just underlines its folly. Yes, that GTI badge is held in much affection, but sometimes less is more.
Engine: Petrol – 1.0-litre, turbo
Power: 0 to 60mph in 8.8
seconds, 122mph top speed
Fuel economy: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Rivals: Audi A1, VW
High Up, Hyundai i10