Review: Volkswagen Up GTI (2018)


Great fun to drive. 1.0 TSI engine is packed with character. High quality interior.

Doesn't really do enough to justify its premium over the Up 1.0 TSI 90PS. Extremely noisy on the motorway. Production held up by WLTP.

Volkswagen Up GTI (2018): At A Glance

The Volkswagen Up GTI is the cheapest route into a hot hatch and provides genuine laugh out loud fun, thanks to its miniscule weight, playful handling and zesty turbocharged 1.0-litre engine. It might struggle to justify its price premium over the 90PS car, but the GTI is an entertaining throwback to the old school pocket rocket.

The Volkswagen Up GTI doesn't win any sports car power offs, with its turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine mustering just 115PS and covering 0-62mph in a leisurely 8.8 seconds. However, with a kerb weight of 1070kg, the 1.0-litre unit's 200Nm of torque provides a powerful bump through all of the gears to give the impression you're travelling a lot faster than the speedo suggests.

Indeed, point this mico machine at a twisty road and it’ll scamper round with the eagerness of a demented Bloodhound, with its burbling soundtrack emitting a deep growl as you drop a gear and accelerate hard out of a tight bend. There are some drawbacks, with the overly light steering and stumpy chassis making it quite hard to pinpoint the Up’s handling limits.

Drivers expecting a razor sharp drive will undoubtedly be disappointed with the lack of feedback through the wheel and pedals. The front-wheel drive set-up has a tendency to get restless when presented with less than perfect road or weather conditions too, which places a nagging doubt about the Up’s suitability as a hot hatch.

Most will not be bothered by the lack of F1-type precession and simply enjoy the fact that you can go pedal-to-the-metal without fear of clocking up triple digits on the speedo and a difficult conversation with members of the local constabulary. And for this end the Up GTI comes into its own, because it is fast car fun without the frivolous fast car figures.

As with the standard car, the cabin is among the best of any city car on sale. The build quality is top notch and there is plenty of space for four adults to fit in comfort. The ride quality is on the firm side of comfortable and potholes provide an unwelcome wallop as the suspension crashes down heavily. The engine and wheels also generate quite a lot of noise on the motorway too, which some might find grating after an hour or two.

The Up GTI is a worthy addition to the long line of Volkswagen hot hatches, even if it doesn't do quite enough to justify its premium price tag (and insurance rating) over the standard 90PS car; however, even with this criticism in mind, it's difficult to deny that the Up GTI is anything but fantastic fun.

Volkswagen Up GTI Video Review

What does a Volkswagen Up GTI (2018) cost?

List Price from £15,895
Buy new from £14,690

Volkswagen Up GTI (2018): What's It Like Inside?

The cabin mirrors the layout of the standard Volkswagen Up with space for up to four adults to fit via two or four doors - depending on which version you choose. As you might expect from a GTI, there are lots of sporty trims and logos scattered across the interior, and the seats are finished in the trademark tartan cloth. The Up also gets a flat bottomed steering wheel with thumb controls for the trip computer and media system.

In our opinion the cabin of the the Up is among the best of any city car and nothing changes here, with lots of high quality materials and excellent attention to detail. Admittedly, the firm suspension and 17-inch wheels give the GTI a firm ride quality, but you'd be hard pressed to hear a single rattle or squeak from any of the plastics or metal fittings.

The sports seats in the front are comfortable and supportive, with lots of padding on the sides and base. Head a leg room is excellent for a car of this size too, although large passengers will find the rear seats a tight fit. However, if those in the front are willing to compromise and slide their seats forward a little it's a comfortable fit in the back and both seats are supplied with a headrest each. There’s no space in the middle for a fifth passenger.

The instrument binnacle is dominated by the large speedometer and the well-sized door mirrors are large enough to cover the Up’s small blind spots at either side. The wide windows also allows lots of natural light into the cabin, while the red dashboard covering gives the interior a vibrant feel that’s bolstered when it gets dark by ambient red lighting that frames the entire dash.

The Up doesn’t get a navigation - not even as an option - but you can connect a mobile phone and mount it to the dashboard by a supplied mount. Connecting your phone is simple enough, but the quality of the navigation and media are dependant on the type of phone, network coverage and data plan. Volkswagen offers a TomTom backed app called Maps + More for handsfree navigation and call answering.

The Up GTI isn’t blessed with a lot of boot space, but the 251 litres you do get is more than sufficient for two squashable weekend bags or a weekly supermarket shop. The rear seats can be folded forward to provide more space for carrying occasional bulky items. 

Specification (from launch) 

17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension lowered by 15mm, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights, LED number plate illumination and wing mirrors with integrated indicator lights, tailgate spoiler, rear privacy glass, remote central locking, cloth sports tartan cloth, leather flat bottomed multifunction steering wheel, smartphone optimised infotainment, USB port in the centre console, multi-function display, ambient lighting, air conditioning, six speakers, red 2D dashboard covering, GTI gearstick, stainless steel door plates with GTI logos, tyre repair kit.


Child seats that fit a Volkswagen Up GTI (2018)

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What's the Volkswagen Up GTI (2018) like to drive?

The Volkswagen Up GTI gets more power, larger 17-inch wheels and harder lowered suspension over the standard car, which gives it a purposeful hot hatch appearance. However, being a city car, it tips the scales at just over a tonne, which is 300kg less than the Fiesta ST.

Being so small and lightweight, the Up GTI makes good use of its uprated, turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine with peak power - 115PS - raising its head at a rev-happy 5000rpm. That might not sound like a lot - that's because 115PS isn't a lot - but factor in the low weight and high torque and the Up quickly reaffirms its GTI credentials with responsive handling and punchy acceleration.

Press hard on the throttle as you join a motorway and the Up makes smooth but rapid progress, with aid of a well-judged six-speed manual gearbox. For a three-cylinder unit, the powertrain has lots of low-gear pull for overtaking and its delivery is predictable too, without any annoying torque steer jolts through the wheel.

Mid-range performance is good too, which means the Up provides a rewarding thump through every gear; however, there's no DSG option and this means the GTI is manual only experience.

The soundtrack is deep and in keeping with the hot hatch experience too, even if it is piped into the cabin via the speakers. However, while the exhaust note is mostly artificial, it can’t be switched off or lowered and this means it can gnarl the senses after a while on the motorway.

The official top speed is 120mph but you don't need to break any laws to get the most out of this little GTI, with its front-wheel setup providing lots of grip. Admittedly, the handling isn't the last word in cutting edge refinement - the overpowered steering and high centre of gravity erode that - but there's lots of fun to be had in a go kart type of way.

Few owners will put their car to the limit; instead, it'll be a glitzy small car for the mooch around town. And for this end the Up shines bright, with its light steering, excellent visibility and small turning circle running rings around larger hot hatches when it comes to parking. The Up also has some easily digestible running costs, with Volkswagen claiming 58.9mpg and 110g/km of CO2. In comparison neither the Fiesta ST (47.1mpg) or Swift Sport (50.4mpg) come close.

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