ENGINE 999cc inline-3, DOHC, 12v, turbo / POWER 85kW @ 5000rpm / TORQUE 200Nm @ 2000rpm / WEIGHT 1070kg / 0-100KM/H 8.8sec (claimed) / PRICE AUD$26,560 (in Europe)
STAR RATING 4.0 Like Sweet boosted three-pot; cheap thrills; dynamics Dislike Itís not coming Down Under; gearchange VOLKSWAGEN dragged this one out, didnít they? The Up city car has been a thing, and a popular one at that, since 2011. Well, thatís not completely true for Australia, as the Up was discontinued. Still, itís taken seven whole years for Wolfsburg to actually put a hot one into production. VW has toyed with the idea of a sporty version since it unveiled the Up GT concept at 2011ís Frankfurt motor show. It even ended up being engineering legend Dr Ulrich Hackenbergís daily driver; and now that weíve driven the production version, we can see why he opted to drive it when he would have had the pick of anything he wanted. This is a superb car. Not because itís got a huge amount of power or any innovative tech, but because it offers easily accessible performance that can be enjoyed every day. Just as well. Opting to label it GTI, rather than stick with the conceptís GT moniker, set a huge expectation for it to be good. And while not every GTI-badged VW has been brilliant (Mk4 Golf GTI...), thereís 40 years of prestige behind the name. So much so that VW is very keen to point out performance similarities the Up GTI has to the original Golf GTI from 1976. It turns out not to be marketing spin. How has this miracle been achieved? By remarkable modest means. The Up GTI has a 999cc, threecylinder turbocharged engine that sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual. Power is rated at 85kW and torque tops out at 200Nm, good for an 8.8sec 0-100km/h time and a top speed of 196km/h. Doesnít sound hugely exciting, does it? Pretty sure Iíve seen one of those Dyson cordless vacuum cleaners with more grunt than that. But bleating to your mates at the pub about on-paper figures is absolutely not the point of this car, and not only because all youíll get from them is a raised eyebrow and a snort from their unimpressed faces. Read the stats again. Save for an engine noise synthesiser, there isnít any unnecessary performance car faff getting in the way. No adaptive dampers, no drift mode, no rev matching. Thereís traction control, but nothing fancy. And, crucially, a kerbweight of 1070kg (more than most Ups, and more than the rival Abarth or Suzuki Swift Sport, but much less than most hot hatches). Itís a simple recipe for getting the most out of a small and simple car. The engine is the best bit of that recipe. Itís such a sweet little thing, its three cylinders rumbling unevenly at tickover, a cheeky burble emanating from the chrome exhaust out back. Itís a bit industrial to the ear at low speeds and thereís loads of whooshing induction noise at a motorway cruise, but this thing yearns to be revved. And when you do, youíre rewarded with a healthy dose of torque from 2000rpm. Power peaks at 5000rpm and drops off sharply beyond that, so you need to stay focused and keep it in the zone. And because itís not a stupidly quick car, you can have all of this fun without speed-camera anxiety. The Up GTI sits on sports springs that are 15mm lower, bigger brakes at the front (drums at the rear) and light tweaks to the steering. Clearly VW could have done more, but that would have added cost and could have been less successful dynamically. The suspension and brakes both have a big effect on the way the GTI drives. The ride setup is firmer, but itís extremely well damped. Body roll is a little more controlled than in the non-GTI, but crucially (even with big alloys) the ride is far from uncomfortable on rutted roads. The brakes have plenty of stopping power, and youíd have to be driving hard (or badly) to get them to fade. The steering feels pleasingly direct and weights up the more lock you put on. Itís accurate and reassuring. Something that hasnít been changed, but perhaps should have been is the gearchange action. It still feels too long and a little imprecise, making some shifts feel excessively drawn out. The Up GTI is a car you get to grips with incredibly quickly, and you donít need to head off to remote mountain passes to experience it at its best; itís eminently chuckable in any location. It also has plenty of kit and looks the part. The whole package is spot on. Performance car bargain of 2018? Well, itís a tad early to say, but that combination of value, accessible performance, desirability and laugha- minute thrills makes it a contender Ė can we have it please, VW?
Bleating to your mates at the pub about on-paper figures is not the point of this car