On the face of it the VW Up GTI isn't the sort of car that should have your adrenal gland working overtime. With peak power of 113bhp and a 0-60mph time that only just dips under nine seconds the bare figures don't look all that promising. In fact, even compared to pint-sized rivals such as the Suzuki Swift Sport the VW looks a little undernourished. Yet as with many things in life, you should never judge on first impressions, because look beyond the six stone weakling statistics and you'll find a genuinely engaging pocket rocket.
Part of the VW's appeal is down to a couple of key features. The first is the Up GTI’s sub-ton kerb weight. Tipping the scales at just 995kg, the engine’s modest power suddenly looks more than sufficient, while its featherweight body also suggests the Up will be more than fun enough when presented with a corner or two. In reality, both are true; the Up GTI is brisk, even if it isn’t truly fast, and it’s eager, tenacious and eminently chuckable on a tight British B-road.
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The other exciting number is the Up GTI’s price. At £15,895 it doesn’t matter that it’s not the most agile car or that there are limitations to its suspension, because the torquey engine, quality interior, super-fast gear change, perfectly resolved looks and fun-loving driving experience mean that it feels like a true performance car bargain.
VW Up GTI in detail
Performance and 0-62 time – 113bhp is unlikely to create record-breaking performance figures, but the Up GTI’s 0-62mph of 8.8 seconds is certainly respectable
Engine and gearbox – The 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine is gutsier than its capacity would have you believe, while the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure to swiftly swap gears
Ride and handling – As long as you don’t expect an edgy, infinitely adjustable chassis, you won’t be disappointed; the Up GTI feels more grown up than you expect
MPG and running costs – Despite more power and a sportier attitude, the GTI retains some of the Up’s frugality
Interior and tech – A highlight of the Up GTI is its well-appointed, stylish and top quality interior
Design – The handsome Up is made even more desirable by a selection of typical-GTI design cues
Prices, specs and rivals
It doesn’t really matter whether the Up GTI is the perfect warm hatch or not, because at £15,895 it’s astonishingly cheap. That it’s any fun at all for that money is remarkable, that it feels as good as it does is a miracle, really.
Be lavish with the options – make it a five-door with metallic paint, climate control and some other goodies – and you could bump the price up to £17,000. Still quite a bargain for such a well-equipped car.
There aren’t many really tiny warm hatches for the Up GTI to do battle with. The near-identical Renault Twingo GT and Smart ForFour Brabus are the only two cars available that rival the Up. Both have a rear-mounted 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that puts them a little behind the Up in terms of performance thanks to 107bhp, 125lb ft of torque and a 10.5 second 0-62mph time. Neither has the same quality feel as the Up, nor quite as fun to drive. The Twingo is comparable on price though, starting at just £14,250, but the Brabus is a huge £16,940.
In terms of performance and agility, you have to move up to something like the Suzuki Swift Sport to match the Up. It's barely any heavier than the VW, but thanks to a punchy turbocharged 138bhp 1.4-litre the Suzuki is even, erm, Swifter, easily dipping below eight seconds for the 0-60mph sprint. It feels quick too, pulling hard from low revs and delivering a muscular mid-range. If only it had the Up's appetite for revs. Or its hunger for fun. Ironically, in it's effort to push the Swift upmarket and for the Sport to deliver more of a 'GTI' ownership experience Suzuki has robbed its quick hatch of its trademark infectious personality. It's quick and capable, but there's precious little excitement to be had, the Swift preferring safe and stable over edgy and entertaining. Oh, and there's another catch - at £16,999 the Sport is closer in price to the larger and more Polo GTI than it is to the Up.