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In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Up GTI (2017-2023) review – a modern-day Mk1 Golf GTI?

The Up GTI was an instant hit when it arrived in 2017, packing a characterful three-pot engine in an affordable, Mk1 Golf GTI-sized package.

Evo rating
  • An entertaining car to drive, even if it isn’t in the conventional hot hatch manner; high quality interior
  • Some of the interior’s quality should have gone into the chassis

On the face of it the Volkswagen Up GTI isn't the sort of car that should have your adrenal gland working overtime. With peak power of 113bhp and a 0-60mph time that only just dips under nine seconds the bare figures don't look all that promising. In fact, even compared to supermini rivals such as the Suzuki Swift Sport the VW looks a little undernourished. Yet as with many things in life, you should never judge on first impressions, because look beyond the six stone weakling statistics and you'll find a genuinely engaging pocket rocket.

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Unfortunately, the narrow profit margins generated by small hatchbacks prompted Volkswagen to discontinue the Up in 2023, with EV development taking priority. With that, we lost one of the few remaining affordable hot hatches on the market, and what was an honest, well-engineered supermini in base form. 

Part of the VW's appeal is down to a couple of key features. The first is the Up GTI’s sub-ton kerb weight. Tipping the scales at just 995kg, the engine’s modest power suddenly looks more than sufficient, while its featherweight body also suggests the Up will be more than fun enough when presented with a corner or two. In reality, both are ; the Up GTI is brisk, even if it isn’t truly fast, and it’s eager, tenacious and eminently chuckable on a tight British B-road.

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With an asking price of £16,390 before it went off sale, it doesn’t matter that the Up GTI isn't the most agile car or that there were limitations to its suspension, because the torquey engine, quality interior, super-fast gear change, perfectly resolved looks and fun-loving driving experience mean that it felt like a performance car bargain – and it still is if you're willing to venture into the classifieds.

VW Up GTI in detail

  • Performance and 0-62 time – 113bhp is unlikely to create record-breaking performance figures, but the Up GTI’s 0-62mph of 8.8 seconds is certainly respectable 
  • Engine and gearbox – The 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine is gutsier than its capacity would have you believe, while the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure to swiftly swap gears 
  • Ride and handling – As long as you don’t expect an edgy, infinitely adjustable chassis, you won’t be disappointed; the Up GTI feels more grown up than you expect
  • MPG and running costs – Despite more power and a sportier attitude, the GTI retains some of the Up’s frugality
  • Interior and tech – A highlight of the Up GTI is its well-appointed, stylish and top quality interior
  • Design – The handsome Up is made even more desirable by a selection of typical-GTI design cues 

Prices, specs and rivals

It doesn’t really matter whether the Up GTI is the perfect warm hatch or not, because when you could purchase it new at £16,390, it was an absolute bargain. 

By the end of its life, the Up GTI had the market largely to itself – both the Renault Twingo GT and Smart ForFour Brabus were canned prior to the Volkswagen going off sale in 2023. These models had a rear-mounted 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine that put them a little behind the Up in terms of performance thanks to 107bhp, 125lb ft of torque and a 10.5 second 0-62mph time. Neither had the same quality feel as the Up, and weren't as fun to drive. 

In terms of performance and agility, the Suzuki Swift Sport got closer to the Up. Granted, it lost some of its effervescent character and performance by switching to a 127bhp 1.4-litre mild-hybrid engine in 2020, but it's still an honest, enjoyable supermini that feels like a breath of fresh air in today's market. It isn't an out-and-out thriller (neither is the Volkswagen, it must be said), but there's plenty to be said for the Swift's stable, intuitive handling and compact size. 

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Reviews

Volkswagen Up GTI review

Tightly priced and surprisingly capable, the Up GTI leads the sporty city car field – only lacking the last degree of involvement
28 Jan 2018