New to the Used Market: Volkswagen up! GTI

Ask any car manufacturer where its performance models are most popular and the answer will almost always be the UK. We are a nation of fast car – and in particular hot hatch – addicts, a point well and truly demonstrated by the fact that Volkswagen UK’s director, Alison Jones, this week told us that the company has already sold out of its initial allocation of up! GTIs. Fear not, however, for if you are desperate to get your hands on one of these pocket rockets but can’t wait until the next build slots materialise (likely to be in the new year) the first approved used examples have just appeared on CarGurus.

Your desperation would be well placed too, for this is a cracking little car. Volkswagen is understandably happy for people to draw comparisons between the up! GTI and the original Golf GTI of 1976. After all, the mk1 version of the go-faster Golf is a legendary machine, being one of the first cars to merge hatchback practicality with the performance of a sports car.

Start to look at the similarities between that Mk1 Golf and the up! and the comparisons seem legitimate too. Both, for example, weigh less than 1,000kg, and while the Golf’s 108bhp plays the up!’s 113bhp, both take almost exactly 9 seconds to get from 0-62mph. In those points alone, the up! is more of a spiritual successor to the original Volkswagen GTI than a larger and much faster modern Golf could ever be.

The first few miles in an up! GTI are surprising, albeit for unexpected reasons. You see, this hot (OK, warm) hatch feels much more relaxed than its styling might suggest.

With 147lb ft of torque from just 2,000rpm in a car weighing so little the up! GTI pulls along effortlessly, its driver barely needing to change gear. The six-speed gearbox itself isn’t perhaps as tight or as mechanically satisfying to use as you might hope, and the steering is very light, but as a city car built for narrow streets and small parking spaces the up! remains unbeatable.

As with any up! the back seats are big enough to take a couple of adults, and the boot is surprisingly deep, while capping off the car’s practical nature is that fact it is available with with three or five doors.

However, this is still a GTI and therefore creates certain expectations when it comes to offering a fun driving experience. Sure enough, once you up the pace and start to rev the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo engine for all it’s worth the up! takes on a much more interesting character, zipping enthusiastically down the road, and feeling as nimble as a squirrel.

It is not a seriously fast car, but that’s actually quite refreshing for it allows you to extend the revs through first, second and even third gears without breaking the speed limit, while by artificially enhancing the engine’s off-beat thrum VW has made the up! sound more muscular than it actually is.

On the handling front the steering takes on more weight as the speed builds and is beautifully accurate, and while there’s enough grip to lean on in order to carry speed, it’s not so much that the up! ever feels inert or aloof. It’s just a lot of fun.

So is the up! a proper GTI? To call it a hot hatch would be stretching the point in an age when the best on the market can get from 0-62mph in less than half the time it takes VW’s compact contender. But if you measure such things by driving enjoyment as much as outright performance this souped up city car really does stand up.

It absolutely looks the part, too. In fact, it’s amazing just how effective adding a double red stripe to the grille can be, while the 17-inch alloy wheels and 15mm lowered ride height provide the car with a stance that is subtly tougher than you’ll find in a standard up!.

Inside meanwhile the tartan seat fabric, GTI gear lever and red stitching also lift the car out of the ordinary, while using a phone cradle so that your smartphone can take care of navigation is a nice touch.

As already mentioned, there’s a very simple reason to buy your up! GTI used at the moment, and that is because it is not available to order new. It’s not like you’ll be sacrificing much either, the car being so fresh to the market that the few examples that are already for sale have only had time to cover a handful of miles, plus will still come with most of their original three-year, 60,000-mile warranty left to run.

So, if you can live without your name being first in the logbook, and don’t mind giving up the chance to choose the exact specification of your up! GTI, buying used is currently the way to go.
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