First Drive

2018 Volkswagen Up GTI review

We try a prototype of the VW Up GTI, more than a year ahead of its launch. Does this Suzuki Swift Sport rival look like being worth the wait?

Words ByJim Holder

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Volkswagen Up GTI

VW’s GTI badge has become something of an icon, adorning some of the finest hot hatches in automotive history.

Some may bristle, then, to discover that it will soon be attached to a humble city car – and one powered by a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre engine at that.

But before anyone complains, they'd do well to investigate further, because the key figures of this Volkswagen Up GTI are remarkably similar to those of the original and much-heralded (MK1) Golf GTI. The two cars are a similar size, a similar weight and have similarly powerful engines, while the Up is actually fractionally quicker at sprinting from 0-60mph.

What's the 2018 VW Up GTI like to drive?

Small in size it might be, but the 1.0-litre engine is responsive and flexible. It pulls remarkably keenly from low revs and keeps accelerating strongly all the way to the red line. Only a slightly lanky second gear – the result of fuel economy considerations – interrupts the flow.

That performance – surprising, if not mind-blowing – sits well with the Up GTI’s other qualities, too: a slick manual gearbox and nicely weighted pedals to make you feel really involved in the driving experience. It’s even pretty refined; at high revs the engine remains hushed, while the ride is remarkably supple by hot hatch standards.

Our test route didn’t give us too much opportunity to explore the Up GTI’s handling, but what chances we got revealed a surefooted and alert car that changes direction eagerly and grips well. It seems to have all the dynamic qualities you could reasonable hope for considering the expected Β£15k starting price.

What's the 2018 VW Up GTI like inside?

All the GTI hallmarks are present and correct on this prototype, although you'll have to take our word for it because VW wouldn't allow any photos to be taken.

Key GTI differentiators from more run-of-the-mill Ups include tartan seats and red stitching on the chunky steering wheel. Then there’s the neat red and black colour scheme, which really helps the GTI stand out.

Beyond that, this is essentially the VW Up as we know it: reasonably spacious for this type of car, poky boot aside, with a well built interior.

Verdict and specs >

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