Volkswagen up! GTI hatchback
“The Volkswagen up! GTI isn’t a thoroughbred performance car, but it has a strong engine and makes a fun, sporty and stylish runaround”
- Strong engine
- Plenty of equipment
- Competitively priced
- Firm ride
- Not a true performance car
- Brakes struggle with hard use
Anybody who remembers the very first hot hatchbacks will find the up! GTI a tantalising prospect. It directly recalls the first generation Volkswagen Golf GTI, which was a far lighter, more nimble machine than today's rather more sophisticated incarnation. In fact, the up! is about the same size and weight as the first Golf, and with 113bhp, VW has given the up! GTI roughly the same amount of power as the original Golf GTI, too.
The up! GTI gets its 113bhp from a turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. It’s the most impressive part of the car from a driving point of view, providing a surprising amount of punch and entertaining noise given its small size. The up! GTI is fun and very nippy as a result, and while it isn’t a purist’s performance car, it’s certainly a good compromise between speed and safety for the younger buyers at whom it’s aimed.
Facelifted for 2020, the up! GTI is no longer quite the bargain it was at first (it now costs around £16,000) but it does now come with more equipment and it still undercuts the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is arguably its closest rival.
Inside, the up! GTI has the same tartan seats as the larger GTI models in the Volkswagen range and plenty of standard equipment for a city car. Practicality has long been an up! strength in its class and the GTI version makes no sacrifices in this regard, so there’s still decent interior and boot space.
The GTI’s stiffer suspension and larger wheels compared to the rest of the up! range mean it doesn’t ride quite as compliantly, but if you’re a potential buyer, this is likely to be a trade-off you’re prepared to make for the fun of throwing the GTI into corners with more confidence.
The up! GTI offers buyers some of the sporty style and extra power of cars such as the Abarth 595 and Ford Fiesta ST for less money. Not only that but it’s more fun to drive than the Suzuki Swift Sport.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The up! GTI is only available with one engine, which is a 113bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol. Its small size and the up!’s relatively low weight mean economy is very reasonable; Volkswagen claims economy of between up to 53.2mpg.
CO2 emissions of 110g/km also give the up! GTI a low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rating for company-car buyers, particularly for a performance model. Regardless of spec, all versions of the up! GTI cost £145 a year in road tax after the first year.
The up! GTI is fitted with relatively small tyres and brakes, which shouldn't cost too much to replace, while it sits in a reasonable insurance group 17 out of 50. This could make quite a difference for younger drivers, particularly considering the Suzuki Swift Sport sits in group 28.
Engines, drive & performance
A power output of 113bhp may not sound like much by today’s standards, given many hot hatchbacks have more than 300bhp, but in a car as small and light as the up! it makes for an entertaining drive. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine is actually the best aspect of the up! GTI from a performance perspective, with impressive acceleration from low down in the rev range and plenty of pulling power in all of the car’s six manual gears. A 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds is brisk rather than scarily quick, but the up! GTI is more about fun than raw speed.
Volkswagen has taken steps to make the engine sound as evocative as possible, including acoustic enhancers to amplify the three-cylinder thrum – even the windscreen has been used to help make more of the engine’s sonic qualities, but we wish the exhaust sounded a bit better from the outside.
Compared to the standard up!, the GTI has stiffer, lower suspension and bigger brakes. The upgrades aren’t flawless by any means, as the car feels a little soft when you really try to hustle it around corners and the brakes start to complain pretty quickly with fade and smoke if you work them hard for an extended period. The steering lacks ultimate feel, too. The gearbox is something of a saving grace, along with the engine, as it's slick and satisfying to use.
The up! GTI is aimed at younger buyers, so it’s understandable (and perhaps for the best) that it’s a fun little town car with sporty style, rather than an out-and-out performance car. Seen in this light, it doesn’t disappoint.
Interior & comfort
The interior of the up! GTI is high quality and well equipped, with a five-inch colour screen, leather-trimmed steering wheel, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a six-speaker Beats stereo system. Buyers also get seats upholstered in tartan, as per the other GTI models in the Volkswagen range.
There's no dedicated infotainment system, though, as there is in the Swift Sport. Instead VW provides a smartphone mount atop the dashboard, along with a 'maps + more' smartphone app. This allows your device to connect with the car, providing navigation, media and trip computer functions, so long as it's compatible and powerful enough.
The stiffer suspension and sporty 17-inch alloy wheels mean the up! GTI isn’t quite as comfortable as models in the standard up! range, particularly on rough roads and over big potholes or bumps in the road.
Practicality & boot space
Practicality is no different in the GTI to the rest of the up! range, so there’s a choice of three or five-door bodystyles, just enough room for five passengers and a reasonable boot for a city car.
The up! easily accommodates four adults, with three manageable on the rear seats, but not for long journeys. Rear headroom is slightly restricted for people more than six feet tall, and this is exacerbated for anyone in the middle seat.
The 251-litre boot is pretty big compared to the likes of the Hyundai i10 and Toyota Aygo, and although there’s a boot lip over which you’re required to lift heavy items, a false floor means the boot is completely flat when you fold the rear seats down.
Reliability & safety
The standard up! didn't appear in our 2019 Driver Power satisfaction survey, but Volkswagen as a whole came 17th out of 30 manufacturers. Around 20% of owners reported at least one issue with their car in the first 12 months.
The up! GTI’s turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine has seen plenty of service in numerous models across the Volkswagen Group, so we wouldn’t expect it to prove anything other than reliable in this car.
The GTI version of the up! won’t be crash-tested by Euro NCAP as a standalone model, but its construction is the same as the standard range, so buyers can take heart in the five-star safety rating, which included a 89% score in the driver protection category and 80% in the child protection category.