VW UP GTI – The only way is UP

Ian Lamming drives the latest VW UP GTI a modern homage to a classic hot-hatch.

HOW things have changed, especially when it comes to cars.

Think of the VW UP and what do you see? I see a tiny little city car, a weeny little shopper in which you can whiz to school, the shops and the office.

But little cars have grown ‘up’ over the years and you may be surprised – as I was – to learn that the latest UP is actually the same size as the original Mk1 Golf, to accommodate, no doubt, how we as a race have grown in girth over the years.

So if you can’t imagine the UP ever being a credible GTI then you need to think again, particularly as the Mk1 Golf invented the genre and it shares its hot-hatch ethos and performance.

And it’s not just a city car either, it’s definitely at home on twisty rural roads where it will spread a grin across your face to match our ever-widening waistlines.

The lovely thing, or one of the lovely things, about the UP GTI is its purity. It’s a sporty little car that puts the driver in touch with the world around. Too many cars nowadays are sterile, so insulated are drivers and passengers from the things that get the blood coursing – noise, feel, dynamics.

UP roars into life thanks to a spirited three cylinder turbo-charged engine that aurally puts a smirk on your chops. Pulling next to no weight means the 115PS on tap is more than enough to give you genuine push-in the-back performance. There’s also a hint of a chirp from the tyres and smidgen of torque steer through the steering wheel, just enough to make you feel alive.

Modest proportions make it nimble, particularly on the narrow roads, and the ride and handling are exceptional. The nice thing is that you can drive the car with verve but the terminal velocity remains low so it’s safe should you come across any obstacles, the brakes easily scrubbing any excess speed away. What I’m trying to say is that it feels fast and fun but you aren’t actually travelling at hooligan speeds to get your kicks.

Inside is stripped out and functional, which I love. I do get tired of over-complex space station-esque dashboards which boast countless touchy swipey menus that I never use. UP just provides all the info I need to enjoy the ride with little to distract from the road ahead.

It is all smartly dressed too with enough red to remind you that you are driving a GTI. The ‘Jacara’ cloth heated sports seats are fitted alongside a unique GTI gear knob and leather-trimmed GTI steering wheel with contrasting red stitching. There’s even ambient red lighting inside.

The pocket rocket’s sports running gear lowers the car by 15 mm, while the front and rear track widths are increased by 8mm over the standard UP which explains why it grips the road so well.

It’s an UP to look at but like no other. Sporty styling includes an exclusive body kit with sports bumpers and side skirts, as well as a rear spoiler in addition to red GTI trim and badges front and back, black door mirrors and distinctive black honeycomb front air intake.

The 17-inch ‘Oswald’ alloys, fitted as standard, are the largest alloys available across the UP range and also show off the red brake callipers to good effect.

It’s also nice being ‘top of the range’ with the hot-hatch performance and GTI heritage easily available for just over 16K. It’s all an aged ‘boy racer’ could ever hope for – so perhaps things haven’t changed that much after all.

Fact File


Engine: 1.0 diesel

Power: 115PS

0-62mph: 8.8 secs

Top speed: 122mph

Combined MPG: 50.4

Transmission: six-speed manual

CO2 g/km: 126

Price: £16,310.00