The UP GTI has been a long time coming from VW, but is worth the wait
You may be wondering why it’s taken Volkswagen seven years to get around to giving its diminutive Up (or Up! if you accept the excruciating official stylisation) the pocket-rocket treatment and the answer, I suspect, is very simple. It didn’t need to. The car has led its class since launch and ever since it has been creating standard cars like corn popping in a microwave.
But as cars enter the autumn of their lives, people often need new reasons to buy them and, for the Up, the GTI is it.
As ever, those three little letters imply a significant performance upgrade without any accompanying degradation in the car’s daily functionality, which would spell death for a city car like this. So, the power of its 1-litre three cylinder engine is raised to just 113bhp. This is only a fraction more than that provided to the original Golf GTI 42 years ago.
Balancing this, the turbocharged Up has far more torque and a snappy six-speed gearbox, so its acceleration is similar to that of the old Golf and, thanks to aerodynamic advances, its top speed is somewhat higher.
And like its ancient stablemate, it may well modify your view of what the phrase ‘fun to drive’ actually means. It might not have much power but with its compact dimensions, light weight (at least by modern standards) and a subtle but extensive suite of modifications to an already highly competent chassis, the Up GTI is an almost constant delight to drive.
It’s more than quick enough not to feel gutless on the fast, open roads of our dreams, but nor is it so quick you find it frustrating on busier roads where the performance of a car with greater potential serves only to reduce the amount of time spent enjoying the gaps between clumps of traffic. It feels on its toes, agile, precise and, to be honest, more fun to drive than certain much quicker but less deftly realised hot hatchbacks costing many thousands more.
Best of all, when you’re not in the mood or environment to enjoy the infectious enthusiasm, it does all those other things Ups have always done so well: it’s quiet and comfortable for such a small car, conspicuously well built and comes with a smartly arranged interior that would not look out of place in a car from a class or two higher.
And this is where I’d normally give you the bad news, except there is none. It’s not even that expensive, costing barely a grand more than an upmarket standard Up. For a certain sort of person – a town dweller who makes occasional forays to the country, or someone with a short but entertaining daily commute to a train station, perhaps – it’s probably the most perfectly realised solution on sale at present.