Volkswagen up! GTI a little pocket rocket that socks it to ’em!

PUBLISHED: 10:02 23 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:02 23 August 2018

Volkswagen up! GTI may be small but it’'s no lightweight when it comes to performance. Picture: Volkswagen

Volkswagen up! GTI may be small but it’'s no lightweight when it comes to performance. Picture: Volkswagen


The most potent Volkswagen up! city car, and the brand’s smallest GTI, is a little bruiser that packs a punch. Motoring editor Andy Russell drives this knockout pocket rocket.

Go kart-like handling ideal for city driving and twisty rural roads. Picture: VolkswagenGo kart-like handling ideal for city driving and twisty rural roads. Picture: Volkswagen

The saying ‘All the best things come in little packages’ could have been coined for Volkswagen’s most potent up! – the new GTI.

Take a capable, characterful city car, add a beefed-up tiny turbo petrol engine, portion of potency, splash of sportiness, turn up the heat and its a recipe for a tasty treat.

Volkswagen says this junior GTI is the spiritual successor to the original Golf GTI – which started the hot-hatch craze in 1976 – in terms of size, weight and performance. It’s certainly got the makings on another GTI cult classic.

Looks and image

Volkswagen up! GTI has the makings of being another cult classic
. Picture: VolkswagenVolkswagen up! GTI has the makings of being another cult classic . Picture: Volkswagen

The up! is cute in any spec, the GTI’s a little cracker, especially in Tornado Red.

It picks up GTI styling touches – double black side stripes, red trim strips, 17in black and silver Oswald alloy wheels filling the arches, sports bumpers and side skirts, red front brake callipers, gloss black door mirrors and tailgate spoiler and traditional tartan Jacara seat fabric

GTI badges – outside on front, back, sides and, inside, on the flat-bottomed steering, gear knob and door sills – leave you in no doubt of its heritage.

Under the bonnet

Smart 17in alloys fill the wheel arches. Picture: VolkswagenSmart 17in alloys fill the wheel arches. Picture: Volkswagen

Like all up! models, it uses a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine but turbocharged to give 115PS and a good shunt of torque from 2,000rpm for flexible, low-down punchy performance.

Once rolling, it feels peppier than the figures suggest, revving eagerly accompanied by a throaty engine note, which has been enhanced in the cabin to add to the fun, and you can still average 55mpg with 60mpg on a run.

How it drives

Designed for the city, the standard up! boasts impressive bump absorption over humps and holes but those smart 17in alloys and 15mm lower sports suspension don’t do the low-speed ride any favours. It’s firm and thumps and bumps over poor roads, although not uncomfortably so, but smoothes out with speed and is a surprisingly capable motorway cruiser.

Volkswagen's traditional GTI  Jacara tartan seat fabric. Picture: VolkswagenVolkswagen's traditional GTI Jacara tartan seat fabric. Picture: Volkswagen

It handles like a go kart, sticking to the road and flicking through twists and turns or roundabouts. With the wheels pushed out to the corners, it maintains a flat, stable stance, and has direct, responsive steering.

Space and comfort

With a bit of give and take on legroom, four adults – it seats only two in the back – can manage reasonable journeys without being cramped or complaining about headroom, especially in the snug front sports seats. The five-door model, expected to take 60pc of sales, means you don’t need to be a contortionist to get into the back.

The boot doesn’t look big until you remove its sill-level floor panel to open up the full 251 litres but its depth means lifting loads over a high, painted sill so take care not to scratch it. Folding the 60/40 split seat backs flat frees up 959 litres. My biggest complaint is having to lift the rear parcel shelf manually and, if you forget to put it down, not seeing much out of the rear screen!

No shortage of GTI badges. Picture: VolkswagenNo shortage of GTI badges. Picture: Volkswagen

At the wheel

The fuss-free fascia, with a full-width red and black patterned panel, gloss black trim and bright highlights, is dominated by a large speedo, with inset driver information display, flanked by a small rev counter and fuel gauge. You can’t disguise all the hard plastic but it looks better than it feels.

You can raise and lower the driver’s seat but the steering wheel only goes up and down, not in and out, and I found the seating position a compromise, having to have the seat lower or wheel higher to see the top of the speedo.

Final say

If you want a little car that’s big on fun, but with small running costs, the up! GTI nails it. I still miss it.


Price: Volkswagen up! GTI £14,455

Engine: 999cc, 115PS, three-cylinder turbo petrol with six-speed manual gearbox

Performance: 0-62mph 8.8 seconds; top speed 122mph

MPG: Urban 47.1; extra urban 68.9; combined 58.9

CO2 emissions: 110g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 23pc

Insurance group: 17 (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? L 3,600mm; W (including door mirrors) 1,910mm; H 1,478mm

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