Volkswagen Up GTI (2017-2023) review
The Up GTI was a pint-sized evo favourite until it was taken off sale in early 2023
On the face of it the Volkswagen 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 supermini 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.
Unfortunately, the narrow profit margins generated by small hatchbacks prompted Volkswagen to discontinue the Up in 2023, with EV development taking priority. With that, we lost one of the few remaining affordable hot hatches on the market, and what was an honest, well-engineered supermini in base form.
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.
With an asking price of £16,390 before it went off sale, it doesn’t matter that the Up GTI isn't the most agile car or that there were 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 felt like a true performance car bargain – and it still is if you're willing to venture into the classifieds.
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 when you could purchase it new at £16,390, it was an absolute bargain. That it’s any fun at all for that money was remarkable, that it feels as good as it does is a miracle, really.
By the end of its life, the Up GTI had the market largely to itself – both the Renault Twingo GT and Smart ForFour Brabus were canned prior to the Volkswagen going off sale. These models had a rear-mounted 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that put 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.
In terms of performance and agility, you have to move up to something like the Suzuki Swift Sport to match the Up, which remains on sale in mild-hybrid form for £24,270. The Suzuki lost some of its effervescent character and performance by switching to a 127bhp 1.4-litre mild-hybrid engine in 2020. 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.