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  1. Analysis
August 25, 2020

up!dated GTI – the bargain baby Volkswagen

In a world where cars are going digital in ever more ways, the newly revised and soon to be nine years young Volkswagen up! GTI is a breath of fresh analogue air.

In a world where cars are going digital in ever more ways, the newly revised and soon to be nine years young Volkswagen up! GTI is a breath of fresh analogue air.

Approach most cars and a proximity sensor or gentle touch of the door handle activates the expected unlocking. Not in the just-updated Volkwagen up! GTI, the tiny hatchback being still specified with an old-school key which needs a press. There’s painted metal on the tops of the doors, no push button start or electric parking brake either, no automatic high beam, no soft to the touch plastics, nor is there one-shot up/down for either of the front electric windows. In variants with back doors, the glass doesn’t lower at all, merely pivoting open a fraction via manual catches. Pretty much all of that holds quite a lot of appeal to many of us.

The only thing about the tiny GTI which could cause its owner any annoyance would be the need to press a certain new button every time you start the car: this prevents any unwanted tugging of the steering wheel should you for example cross a white line when overtaking a cyclist. Pre-2020 cars had a blank piece of plastic high up on the dashboard where this control now sits, next to the driver’s seat heating switch.

Another way you can tell the latest edition of VW’s tiniest model is the new Volkswagen badge: there’s more black background with the V and W being thinner. Aside from the legislated so-called ‘Lane Assist’, that’s pretty much the extent of the changes. Not that the up! GTI needed any major attention. This remains the sole sporty Volkswagen that anyone could call a bargain and I include the Polo GTI which, while definitely being a great little car isn’t exactly inexpensive.

The revised up! range starts at GBP12,475 for the 60PS base car with the GTI sitting mid-way up the pricing ladder, costing GBP15,910 in three-door form and GBP16,310 as a five-door. The electric e-up! is the dearest variant, priced at GBP23,500 before a GBP3,000 grant is deducted.

There’s only one transmission for the GTI, a six-speed manual, while the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine produces the same 85 kW (115 PS) and 200 Nm as it has done since the car first went on sale in early 2018. Even though some might wish there was more oomph, the GTI is zesty in practice so it’s just about enough.

Being only 3.6 m long there’s not much weight to the car, which is why the CO2 average is 120 or 121g/km, the slightly lighter three-door having the lower number. WLTP Combined consumption is 53.3 mpg and that’s entirely believable in everyday conditions although motorway speeds sees that drop into the 40s.

The little VW hasn’t got an exhaust note anything like the burbly-bass which comes out of the tail pipes of the Abarth 500. Even so, the GTI sounds fairly fruity when you want it to, and that tiny engine spins willingly to the redline. It also steers beautifully accurately and being such a dinky thing, roads become wide and corners a total treat for times when you want to enjoy the car to its limits. And even with the standard 17-inch wheels and such a short wheelbase, the ride quality is surprisingly good.

For the record, zero to 62 mph takes 8.8 seconds yet the GTI is one of those cars which feels faster than its official numbers. That’s probably partly down to how raw the whole experience is. You won’t find heavy carpets or lots of sound deadening materials, plus there are big windows and for a Volkswagen, slim doors which lack the usual thick trims. It’s not dissimilar to being in a warm hatchback such as the Citroen Saxo VTS from decades ago, only the up! feels far more substantial and would be way safer in a collision.

In addition to the GTI badges on the glass tailgate and front wings, Volkswagen specifies red front brake callipers (the rears are drums), a chrome exhaust pipe, lowered suspension, black door mirrors and the same colour for the honeycomb air intake. Those special ‘Oswald’ 6.5J diamond-turned alloy wheels I mentioned earlier carry 195/40 series tyres. As an aside, the model name is nowhere to be seen, something which the up! shares with the GTI editions of the Polo and outgoing Golf.

Leather features on the thick steering wheel but it’s nowhere to be seen when it comes to the seats, these being covered in ‘Jacara’ cloth which provides a link to many generations of the Golf GTI. Other changes over lesser up! variants include red instrument lighting – joyously, there are large dials instead of a busy digital cluster full of way too much information – and there is heating for the front seats. The door trims will accommodate a one-litre bottle and the cupholders (one in the front and one in the back) are deeper and more generous in diameter than in certain plush Audis I have tried.

Something which took a little while to become accustomed to was the tiny screen for the reversing camera. There again, in such a small car with splendid visibility thanks to those large panes of glass, it’s surely better to turn your head than rely solely on a small monitor when backing out of a driveway. It also costs an extra GBP440, being packaged into a Cruise and Park Pack which includes cruise control and front and rear parking sensors as well as the camera.

Without any options, the up! GTI packs a lot of smiles-per-gallon for sixteen thousand pounds and stands out from the few competitors it could be compared to. It’s going to be a tricky car to replace when the time comes for that to happen, as getting the CO2 average down into the 90s from the current 120-121g/km will be a tough thing for Volkswagen’s engineers to achieve. It could be done with electrification yet that cost would have to be passed on to buyers.

We do know that sub-20,000 euro EVs for several Volkswagen Group brands are being developed, each one based on a new version of MEB, the group’s electric vehicles platform. SEAT has been tasked with engineering the architecture, the company’s CEO announced in March 2019. There should be vehicles for VW, Skoda and SEAT and Jetta.

The ‘ID-Entry’ will reportedly be revealed within the next three to six months as a Volkswagen concept but a production model won’t appear until 2022, insiders have said. This car could replace the e-up!, with the model name potentially to be ID.1 (or ID.2). Hopefully, there will be an eventual GTI or equivalent to succeed the most characterful car in today’s up! line-up.

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