New Volkswagen up! GTI 2020 review

Emissions regulations have done little to spoil the Volkswagen up! GTI pocket rocket

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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At a time when so many performance cars boast silly power outputs and vast dimensions that render their potential on public roads unusable for the most part, the up! GTI proves that it’s still possible to have a huge amount of fun at completely legal speeds. Yes, it’s a little pricier than before, but it’s slightly better equipped, too. And few cars offer this much fun for the money.

This is the Volkswagen up! GTI. VW has relaunched its smallest hot hatchback for 2020 with minor tweaks that, among other things, help it comply with the latest emission standards.

The up! is eight years old now, but the GTI model looks clean and fresh, with 17-inch alloy wheels, red detailing on the grille, brake calipers and GTI logo, a deeper front bumper, a larger rear wing and a chromed tailpipe. As before, it’s available in both three- and five-door bodystyles.

Inside, it’s also much the same as before: clean, simple and easy to use. It feels more special than an ordinary up!, courtesy of the tartan-like fabric on the seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching that matches the dashboard. The wheel itself doesn’t adjust for reach, though – not unusual on a city car, but it means some might struggle to get the perfect position for enthusiastic driving.

As before, the up! does without a conventional infotainment system. Instead, drivers can download the Maps + More smartphone app. Through a Bluetooth connection and a neat dash-mounted cradle, this takes care of navigation, media and trip functions. It’s a fairly slick system – if your phone is powerful enough.

The GTI’s 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine musters up 113bhp and 200Nm, the same as before the updates. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a car that weighs just 1,070kg, performance is lively enough. There’s plenty of joy to be had fully exploiting all three of those tiny cylinders and six-speed gearbox, safe in the knowledge that it’s all happening at sensible speeds.

The fairly wide spread of torque means that there’s not a huge incentive to rev the engine to its limit, but at least the digitally enhanced engine note sounds fairly exciting. It’d be nice to have a slightly fruitier exhaust tone, though.

On the road, the shortage of outright pace encourages you to carry more momentum through the corners. The narrow body isn’t just great around town; it lets you pick the ideal line through your lane. It’s such a refreshing change from big performance cars and SUVs that fill the road.

There are one or two minor nits to pick about the driving experience, though. The stability control system is the main sticking point; it’s a little too keen to interfere during hard driving, and there’s no way of turning it off, or even relaxing its hold. The gearbox is fine for the most part, but can become a little notchy when rushed.

These two things, plus slightly lifeless steering, might hold the up! back from being a truly brilliant car to drive, but aren’t enough to knock the smile off your face.

The 17-inch alloy wheels make the ride a little more fidgety than on lesser models, but for the most part the GTI remains impressively comfortable and refined for a small car. It’s a doddle to park, you can even get four adults in at a push, and the 251-litre boot is only a little smaller than a Ford Fiesta’s.

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The up! GTI is more efficient than before, too. It will officially manage 53.3mpg on the latest WLTP testing programme. This seems like a perfectly achievable figure in the real world, too, and one which should make the GTI very cheap to run compared with more exotic machinery.

There’s a sting, though, because the up! GTI’s price has risen. The three-door is £15,895, and the five-door is £400 extra. That’s still over a grand less than the Suzuki Swift Sport – a rival that is quicker in a straight line, but less polished in corners.

The generous kit list can be upgraded with a couple of optional packs. Our test car featured the Cruise and park pack, which adds cruise control, parking sensors all round and a rear camera for £430. While air- conditioning is standard, a digital two-zone system is also available for an extra £270.

Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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