Volkswagen Up GTI (2017-2023) review – engine, gearbox and technical highlights

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

Evo rating
  • An entertaining car to drive, even if it isn’t in the conventional hot hatch manner; high quality interior
  • Some of the interior’s quality should have gone into the chassis

Under the short bonnet powering the front wheels, is a turbocharged three-cylinder engine that displaces 999cc. It’s essentially the same engine found in the standard Up, but boost has been upped and an intercooler added. The changes take power from 87bhp to 113bhp, and torque from 118lb ft to 147lb ft.

As well as better performance, VW has improved the sound of the engine in the cabin with a physical resonator that amplifies the noise from the engine bay. As you accelerate, a deep warble emanates from the engine bay that’s occasionally reminiscent of Porsche’s current turbocharged flat-six in the Carrera. OK, it’s not as cultured or as sonorous as the 911’s engine, and it can seem a little boomy when cruising, but the Up’s soundtrack is pleasant when you’re making progress. Lift off the throttle and a delicate sneeze is emitted from the turbo, too.

It’s the engine’s mid-range that’s most effective. It will rev to 6500rpm, but like many of VW’s other turbocharged motors, it’s happiest when worked between 3000 and 5000rpm. The motor propels the Up along at a brisk rate, giving it that gloriously elastic feel that's reminiscent of cars that combine a big engine in a small body - classic hot hatch in other words.

Any lift of the throttle when you’re climbing has a significant effect on your progress, so you resort to keeping your right foot pinned to the floor while gently brushing the brake with your left foot to trim your speed. Left-foot-braking may sound a bit over-the-top when driving on the road, but you’re never travelling at a spectacular rate in the Up and this helps sustain most of your precious pace. However, if you’re too eager with the brakes or linger on the pedal with your left foot for too long, the car cuts the engine’s power, negating all of your efforts.

There’s no option of a dual-clutch or automatic gearbox in the Up GTI, a simple manual is all you need. For the first time in an Up, the GTI gets a six-speed transmission and it’s a good one. The change is direct, close and slack-free, and you can change up as fast as your hand will move, helping you keep the engine in its mid-range perfectly.

The pedals are spaced in an awkward manner for heel-and-toe downshifts; it is possible but it isn’t helped by the engine responding slowly when you hit the throttle. Get the knack though, and you'll be whipping up and down the slick 'box just for the hell of it.

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