VW Lupo GTI: review, specs and buying guide - What to pay, what we said and 'I bought one'

Compact, feisty and well-built, the hottest Lupo has a cult following with good reason. And you could find out why for as little as £2500.

Rivals

Mini Cooper

Like the Lupo, it benefits from Germanic build quality, and is a right hoot to drive thanks to the diminutive dimensions. Between £4000-5000 gets you a vast selection of naturally aspirated R56 Coopers or blown S models.

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> Mini Cooper (R50) and Cooper S (R53) – history, prices and specs

Peugeot 106 GTi/Rallye

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Pared back and even more involving to drive, the 106 is cheaper (and a classic in Rallye spec), too. Good examples are fetching around £3500, however it’s closely related relative – the Citroen  Saxo VTS – is cheaper.

> Peugeot 106 GTi - review, history, prices and specs

Suzuki Swift Sport

Reliable, nippy and bags of fun, the Sport is an evo favourite. Well-kept, first-gen examples can be found for as little as £3500.

> Suzuki Swift Sport review

What to pay

Low build numbers mean there’s only a handful of Lupo GTIs for sale at any given time, so you might have to be patient to find the right car at the right price. At the lower end, high-mileage but presentable cars start at around £2500. Better examples tend to sit in the £3500-5000 bracket , though some dealers are asking bigger money – £7500 or even more for immaculate, low-milers. Six-speeds are more sought-after, while desirable options include leather, air con and the upgraded hi-fi. There are lots of modified cars and high-milers out there, but it’s the low-mileage, unmolested ones that will pile on pounds in years to come.

What we said

Driven - evo 028

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‘Give it the gun and you are immediately struck by the Lupo’s lusty mid-range response. A peak torque figure of 112lb ft doesn’t sound much, but when it arrives at 3000rpm it endows VW’s tiddler with surging low-rev flexibility that melds cleanly with the zing of top-end power. Sadly the 16-valve motor is somewhat charmless – not that the Lupo’s B-road pace seems to suffer.

> VW Golf GTI

‘No matter how twisty the road, the Lupo GTI hits 80mph in no time and parries awkward bumps, dips and crests with aplomb. There’s more body- roll than you might expect , but the tenacious way it resists understeer is admirable. And even if you do overcook things, it won’t bite you with an armful of lift-off oversteer. Strong wet-road traction is final confirmation that the chassis is a good ’un.

‘The Lupo GTI is a very strong, highly desirable contender within the baby hot hatch sector. It also wears the GTI badge more convincingly than any VW hatchback since the Mk2 Golf. High praise indeed.’

I bought one

‘I bought my car in 2004 – it was the demonstrator at the VW dealership where I work. I’d had a couple of hatchbacks – I was driving a 6N [third-gen] Polo at the time – but as soon as I had a test drive in the Lupo GTI, that was it , I just fell in love. It was up for £11, 500. With the spec it had, which included leather and the CD player, it would have been about £15,000 new, and I managed to get it for £10k.

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> Best superminis

‘It was six months old then, with 7000 miles on the clock. It’s now done 165, 500! It was my daily driver for a long time, but I’ve now got an Up as well, so the Lupo’s semi-retired, though I do try to drive it for at least a week every month.

‘The only major issue I had was the engine started using oil and I was getting lots of little black spots on the tailgate. When I had the head taken off it turned out the number three piston ring was worn. I was lucky that it hadn’t damaged the bore, so they rehoned it and put a new set of rings in. That was at around 115,000 miles and it’s been absolutely fine ever since. It doesn’t use a drop of oil. Also the gearbox was getting a bit whiny, so I replaced that.

Low build numbers mean there’s generally no more than a dozen Lupo GTIs for sale at any given time, so you might have to be patient to find the right car at the right price. At the lower end, high-mileage but presentable cars start at around £2500. Better examples tend to sit in the £3500-5000 bracket , though some dealers are asking bigger money – £7500 or even more for immaculate, low-milers. Six-speeds are more sought-after, while desirable options include leather, air con and the upgraded hi-fi. There are lots of modified cars and high-milers out there, but it’s the low-mileage, unmolested ones that will pile on pounds in years to come.

‘I’ve done a few mods – at about 85,000 miles the suspension felt tired so I replaced it with AP coilovers, so it rides slightly lower, and it’s got a Janspeed exhaust and a K&N filter, so it makes a good noise. Around town or driving it enthusiastically, I get mid-30s mpg. On long runs I get over 40 to the gallon.

‘It still makes me smile every time I drive it . It’s nippy, it handles well, and one of the other things I love about it is that it’s so rare. You never see them. People really notice it and want to know what it is.

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‘When the mileage started to creep up, I did think about selling it , but I couldn’t bear to part with it . I’m going to be buried in that car!’

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