Prototype drive: VW Up GTI

Prototype drive: VW Up GTI
Prototype drive: VW Up GTI

We drive the prototype of the next iconic GTI badge holder

Can this be right? The famous Volkswagen GTI badge fixed to a small city car with a three-cylinder engine? While some may be offended, they’ll be missing out one vitally important dimension – time.

Do you perhaps remember the first VW Golf GTI? The new Up GTI is really quite similar in terms of numbers to that Mk1. About the same size and weight, with engines of about the same output although the Up GTI is a touch quicker to 62mph than the original Golf GTI and a bit faster at the top end.

Sit inside and there they are, the GTI trademark tartan seats and there’s red stitching on the steering wheel. Naturally the infotainment is slightly more comprehensive than the on the Mk1 Golf, but otherwise the Up displays the same sense of high build quality, integrity and classic class.

The engine is VW’s 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot and it pulls lustily away in the Up GTI. The turbo endows it with a very solid midrange so there’s no need to scream the thing about the place, although you can if you want to. It pulls well from stop to stop on the rev counter, working its way slickly up through the six-speed manual gearbox. The pedals, gearlever and controls are well weighted and feel top quality, definitely not something flimsy for a city car.

On our test route we couldn’t really put the handling to the ultimate question, but it feels supple and controlled, with noise particularly well controlled. Grip levels feel high.

As yet we’ve more than a year to wait until a production model hits the showrooms, but we’re hugely encouraged by this prototype. It seems worthy of the GTI badge and heritage, even if it isn’t ridiculously fast or powerful. It’s a modern take on the GTI and it should be a worthy and contemporary addition to the badge pedigree.

How much will it cost? The signs are that it will be more than say a Suzuki Swift Sport but less than a Ford Fiesta ST by a reasonable amount, and that should help this next GTI keep sales up long after it goes on sale.

Still not convinced that a city car is worthy of the GTI badge? Take a look at these figures for the Up GTI and a Mk1 Golf GTI and see how they match up.

2018 VW Up GTI 1977 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Price From £15,000 (est) From £31,000 (when new, adjusted for inflation)
Engine 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol 1.6-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol
Power 113bhp 108bhp
Torque 147lb ft 104lb ft
Kerbweight 997kg 810kg
Power to weight 113.3bhp/tonne 133.3bhp/tonne
0-62mph 8.8sec 9.0sec
Top speed 119mph  113mph
Length 3600mm 3705mm
Width 1641mm 1628mm
Height 1489mm 1390mm


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