Volkswagen Up GTI review

Category: Hot hatch

Section: Performance & drive

Available fuel types:petrol
Available colours:
Volkswagen Up GTI 2020 rear cornering
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RRP £16,140What Car? Target Price from£15,605

Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Let’s begin with the heart of the Up GTI: its 1.0-litre 113bhp engine. When you consider that most three-cylinder turbo engines need to be worked like a washing machine on fast spin to get them going, this one’s a revelation. Okay, it's not as explosive as the Abarth 595’s, and it trails the Suzuki Swift Sport for outright power, too, but it has an impressive amount of shove from low revs. In fact you can pull away from a standstill in second gear if you’re feeling lazy, but there’s nothing lazy about the power delivery itself. The rev counter needle zips readily round to the red line; something that's made a real pleasure by the three-cylinder’s cheekily (albeit digitally enhanced via the car’s speakers) chirpy engine note.  

On the move, the Up GTI will haul itself up a hill in third gear from a little over 1000rpm. The standard six-speed manual gearbox’s well-spaced ratios play a part in the Up GTI’s verve, while its slick gearchange, positive clutch action and progressive brakes make it feel more refined than anything that’s based on a city car has the right to be. Wind and road noise aren’t overbearing at speed, either.

Now, the Volkswagen Up has always been a tidy-handling thing in regular form; with sports suspension that drops the ride height by 15mm, the GTI feels even more tenacious. It puts its power down with good effect, changes direction sweetly and hangs on gamely through bends like the jaws of a Jack Russell on its prey. When it comes to dynamics, the car wipes the floor with the Abarth 595 and runs the more expensive Swift Sport pretty close.

If you’re still hoping for some of that Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI’s spirit, the Up GTI lacks the last layer of polish to be considered an equal to its illustrious forebear. Sure, its steering possesses good gearing and weight, but little in the way of feel. However, for a car costing less than half as much as a Honda Civic Type R, that’s absolutely no disgrace, and, by dint of its small proportions and vivacious character, the Up GTI is still good fun to drive.

Although the Up GTI’s ride is pretty cushy by hot hatch standards, it’s not as comfortable as the regular Up; stiffer suspension and bigger 17in wheels mean the GTI doesn’t take the edge off sharp intrusions as adroitly, particularly over scruffy town roads, and passengers will sway in their seats a bit as a result. In comparison, a Swift Sport controls its body movements more tightly at little cost to passenger comfort, but an Abarth 595 is a real boneshaker in comparison.

Volkswagen Up GTI 2020 rear cornering

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