Review

Volkswagen Up GTI hatchback (2018 - ) review

Being small, light and reasonably powerful, the Volkswagen Up GTI aims to recapture the spirit of the original 1970s Golf GTI. But, can a tarted-up city car really encapsulate the true essence of a hot hatch icon? You bet it can…

Words by: First published: 18th January 2018
The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.3
The Up GTI has exactly the same strengths as every other Up – quality, sophistication, image, practicality, style and dynamic polish – but also builds on that with a cheekily raucous character thanks to its perky turbocharged engine and pointy handling. It’s also affordable to buy and run and, overall, makes a very compelling financial proposition. If you’re after a car that’s small, fun and satisfies both your head and your heart, look no further.

Pros

  • Fabulous to drive all round
  • Spacious, high-quality cabin
  • Compelling financial proposition

Cons

  • Smartphone-based infotainment is confusing
  • Access could be better in three-door model
  • Some reliability issues reported

Interested in buying Volkswagen up!?

How good does it look? 4/5

The regular VW Up is already a very handsome little car, combining cheekiness and sophistication in one stylish package, and the GTI’s sportier visual treatment adds a fair bit more appeal on top. The funky 17-inch alloy wheels are unique to the GTI, as are the two stripes down the side of the car, and the rear roof spoiler to apply more downforce to the rear wheels. You’ll also notice plenty of GTI badging, and you’ll choose from four paint colours: white, red, silver and black.

What's the interior like? 4/5

No surprises there’s plenty you’ll recognise from the regular Up. The materials used inside look and feel decidedly posh for a city car, and with exposed body-coloured metal in the doors and colourful patterned panels on the dashboard, there’s plenty of character to add to the sophistication. The GTI-specific interior adornments include tartan fabric sports seats (a classic GTI trademark) and a stitched leather steering wheel, not to mention even more GTI badging. Everything works fairly simply, with the one exception of the infotainment system. It works via an app on your smartphone rather than through an integrated touch-screen. It’s not particularly easy to find your way around the interface, and the small screen looks cluttered much of the time.

How practical is it? 5/5

The GTI is available in both three- and five-door forms, and while both have the same amount of interior space, getting in and out of the five-door is way easier due to the tightness of the space you have to clamber through in the three-door, along with front seats that don’t return to their original position after you’ve tipped them out of the way. However, the space you get is as good as any other car in the city car class, with adequate head- and legroom for four lofty adults. The 251-litre boot is also among the class best, and although there’s a hefty lip you’ll have to lug items over, the same is true of pretty much all the Up’s rivals.

What's it like to drive? 5/5

Make no mistake, the Up is definitely a ‘proper’ GTI, but in an endearingly old-school sense. It’s not one of those cars that’s razor sharp and unerringly precise; the body rolls around a wee bit when you attack a corner, and while the grip is strong, it’s not altogether infallible. But, it’s all the better for it. This is a car you have to fling about mercilessly to get the best from it, giving it a charmingly raucous character. What it does have is a really pointy, darty feel, thanks partly to the quick steering – which is also very nicely weighted and gives you bags of feedback – and partly due to the improved balance of the car that comes courtesy of the revisions made to the suspension. Importantly, though, those revisions haven’t scuppered the ride. The suspension is lower and a little stiffer, but it doesn’t feel it, so the GTI (like every other Up), is a really comfortable little car.

How powerful is it? 4/5

The GTI has the same turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine found in other high-end Ups (not to mention a shedload of other VW-Group products), but with the wick turned up to 115 horsepower. Compare it with bigger, brawnier hot hatches, and the pace isn’t exactly blistering (0-62mph takes 8.8 seconds and the top speed is just 122mph), but the engine is really eager at the lower end of the rev range and it’s also really hungry for revs, and this really eggs you on to work it harder and harder. It makes a good noise as well, with a pleasant three-cylinder thrum that’s made to sound fruitier with the help of an electronic sound actuator.

How much will it cost me? 5/5

Obviously, the GTI is one of the priciest versions of the Up, but because there are so few city car-based hot hatches on the market, it’s still a really affordable way to get into a junior pocket-rocket. It’s actually very similar in price to its main rival, the Renaultsport Twingo GT, but much cheaper than the Smart Brabus. Fuel economy of 58.9mpg means it’ll cost less at the pumps than your average hot hatch, too, and a correspondingly low CO2 figure of 110g/km means it won’t break the bank on tax, either. What’s more, the Up’s resale values are as strong as anything else in the city car class, and the GTI’s extra desirability is likely to strengthen this position even further, which is more good news for your whole-life costs.

How reliable is it? 3/5

Look at the owner reviews on our site, and there are mixed reports about the Up’s reliability. Most owners are very happy with their car’s dependability, but a couple seem to have been lumbered with somewhat more troublesome examples. What’s more, Volkswagen features in a surprisingly – and disappointingly – low position in the manufacturer standings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty is about par for the course, but a little mean compared with what’s provided with some city car rivals.

How safe is it? 4/5

UK specs are yet to be confirmed, but we’d be staggered if the GTI didn’t come with exactly the same safety spec as every other Up. That would mean just four airbags – twin front and side – but the side ‘bags also extend upwards so they also cover the same area that a curtain airbag would. Systems like tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are provided as standard across the range, but autonomous city braking will most likely be a cost option, albeit a very affordable one. The Up earned the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests back in 2011, but the tests have become a lot more demanding since then, and we can’t be sure the result would be the same were it to be tested today.

How much equipment do I get? 4/5

UK specs are yet to be confirmed, so we don’t yet know exactly what equipment the Up GTI will get as standard. However, if it mirrors the European-spec cars we’ve driven, the standard roster will include heated seats, a six-speaker stereo with USB interface and smartphone cradle, air-conditioning and powered and heated door mirrors. Options should include a reversing camera, cruise control and an upgraded stereo system.

Why buy? 5/5

With limited power, the Up GTI isn’t exactly the ultimate hot hatch weapon, but it’s one of those cars you’ll absolutely love behaving badly in. Rev the unmentionables off it, throw it around, and you won’t stop smiling. If you’re looking for a laugh and you’re on a tight budget, we can’t think of a better place to put your money.

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