Approach the up! GTI as a tool designed for outright speed, and it might disappoint. But at a time when many hot hatches pile on the power as compensation for carrying a few extra pounds, the up!’s bias towards light weight and simplicity is to be applauded.
At just 1,070kg, it’s almost 300kg lighter than the Golf GTI. Compared to the standard up!, it rides 15mm lower on wider tracks both front and rear. There are no performance packs, no option of a DSG automatic and no selectable driving modes.
The benefits can be felt within the first few yards behind the wheel. All of the controls are beautifully matched to one another; the brake pedal feels firm, the clutch and gear shift are slick and the steering is light, but accurate. It all means that it’s very easy to get settled in.
Increase the speed and the up! GTI eggs you on. The chassis remains composed over all but the harshest bumps, and the narrow body paired with huge reserves of grip mean that you’re filled with confidence to attack a twisty b-road. While lurid lift-off oversteer isn’t on the cards, a quick input on the throttle mid-corner trims its line nicely.
It’s by no means perfect – some extra feeling through the steering wouldn’t go amiss, and the ESP can’t be switched off. But these are only minor complaints; the former still feels precise and the latter only intervenes in response to overly oafish inputs.
What impresses almost as much is the way the up! simultaneously feels both enjoyable and grown up. The ride, though firm, could never be considered uncomfortable; and by city car standards, road, wind and engine noise levels at motorway speeds are low.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The GTI uses a version of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder found throughout the standard up! range. The addition of an intercooler allowed VW’s engineers to up the turbo boost for a total of 113bhp and 200Nm. Both are figures which out-gun the up!’s closest rival, the Renault Twingo GT.
Despite the generous slug of torque, the little three-pot needs revs to extract its 8.8-second 0-62mph time. Fortunately, it’s matched to a six-speed gearbox which shifts very sweetly.
A sound synthesiser pipes an enhanced engine noise into the cabin via a speaker behind the dash. It adds a little extra drama without sounding naff, but a fruiter exhaust note still wouldn’t go amiss.