Since the 1970s, the hot hatch has developed apace, gradually increasing in technical complexity, size and grunt to the point where Volkswagen’s rangetopping Golf R now produces more horsepower than a Ferrari 250GTO.
Exciting, then, that the German firm has decided to go back to basics with its most recent variant – the up! GTI – by matching low weight with moderate power, harking back to the pioneering cars that helped define the hot-hatch breed.
The base for the new model is the diminutive up! – an affordable city car with a tiny footprint, simple body and a frugal 999cc, three-cylinder engine – which was universally well received on launch in 2011.
This version takes things up a notch, with ride height lowered by 15mm, a slick six-speed manual ’box (the standard car makes do with five ratios) and a high-pressure turbocharged version of the ‘EA211’ triple producing 114bhp and 147ft lb of torque.
The track has been widened by 8mm, and the huge 17in wheels offer 4mm less positive offset than the cooking model, further widening the footprint.
The interior is well finished, with smart tartan trim, a chunky leather wheel and a red-and-black carbon-effect dashboard.
And, unlike its 1976 Golf ancestor, the up! has a five-door option, too.
On the road, the GTI exceeds the expectations born of its modest power figures, no doubt helped by a kerbweight of just 1070kg.
In this pint-sized package, 0-60mph in 8.8 secs feels much faster and, while the turbo isn’t instantly responsive, the punch of useful torque from 2000-3500rpm is very impressive – beating the torque-to-weight ratio of both the Mk1 Golf GTI and the later Lupo GTI.
The steering is well-weighted and communicative, never feeling over-assisted or dull. The combination of a gutsy engine and lively handling encourages spirited driving and, though power dies off at around 5500rpm, the engine’s grunt means you’ll have more fun blasting out of roundabouts and tight bends than you will chasing the redline.
At around £1000 more than the top-spec standard up! it makes a compelling proposition as a second car, and with Lupo GTIs holding their value incredibly well – plus growing interest in Fiat’s similarly themed 100HP Panda – the signs are good that the up! GTI will become a sought-after machine in years to come. And while you’re waiting for that to happen, the weekly shop will rarely be more fun.
Few badges carry such weight of expectation as VW’s GTI, and the up! makes a solid fist of keeping up the tradition.
It doesn’t rival the Mk1 Golf for driver appeal – despite similar vital statistics – but offers a refreshing change from the hot hatch horsepower arms race, and could have the makings of a true classic.
- Engine 999cc turbocharged triple; 114bhp @ 5500rpm; 147lb ft @ 3500rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, FWD
- 0-62mph 8.8 secs
- Top speed 122mph
- Mpg 58.9
- Price £14,115