heycar editorial team
- Great fun to drive without intimidating
- Add ons increase the visual appeal inside and out
- Still good on fuel as long as you drive with some restraint
Not so great
- Quite a lot of money for a car this size
- 90PS version gets quite close for less money
- Ride is compromised by stiffer suspension
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
"The Volkswagen Up GTI is catering to a pretty small audience, but it does it very well. It’s even better to look at than the regular Up, drives with a great deal of enthusiasm and doesn’t use a great deal more fuel in the process. It’s quite a bit more expensive than a 90PS regular Up, but it is a very appealing package if you can afford it."
Volkswagen decided to have a serious crack at the city car market back in 2012 by creating the Volkswagen Up. The Up was the centrepiece in a trio that included the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo and shared a body structure, almost all the mechanicals and the basic layout of the interior, with only some engine choices, specification and visual elements to distinguish them. As is usually the way, the Volkswagen was the smartest of the three, and you paid a premium for it too.
To give some separation between the Up and its ‘lesser’ siblings, Volkswagen gave the Up some things that the Mii and Citigo had to do without. The first of those was the e-Up, a pure-electric version, and then latterly a 90PS turbocharged version of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine used across the range. In 2017 Volkswagen took that model one step further and created the Up GTI.
The basics of the Up GTI are exactly what you’ll find on the regular version. You get the same choice of three- or five-door body shells, both of which are as boxy as they come to offer as much interior space as possible for the given tiny footprint. It works too, as the Up GTI provides a decent amount of interior space, particularly for front seat occupants, while boot space is up there with its key rivals.
It’s a similar story on the inside of the Up GTI, although given that this is the range-topper and a performance model, you do get a few tasty extras. It’s still a pretty simple layout inside, with a slim dashboard and all the main controls grouped together in the centre of the cabin, but it feels a bit more special in here than in the regular Up.
You get smart sports seats for starters, with the check cloth that harks back to Golf GTIs, a red pixellated dash panel that looks smart and a tasty three-spoke steering wheel pinched from the Golf. You still have to make do with the regular Up’s integrated smartphone system rather than a full-house infotainment setup however.
The big news is under the bonnet however, where the Up GTI gets an enhanced version of the turbocharged 1.0-litre 90PS unit already seen in some regular Up models. By fiddling with the engine internals including the turbocharger, the Up GTI’s engine kicks out a useful 115PS and 200Nm of torque - that’s double the torque output of the non-turbocharged Up.
The Up GTI also gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, the only Up that gets this feature, and there’s no automatic gearbox option either. The Up GTI also rides on bigger 17-inch alloy wheels with fatter tyres, and also has mildly tweaked suspension to improve the handling.
The Up GTI is something of a curio. It’s too expensive to be just a city car, but it is one of the cheapest small hot hatchbacks. If the money is right and you want something a bit more fun than just a regular small car, the Up GTI is a strong contender.
Comfort and design
"This is still a city car - even if it isn’t really a city car anymore - which could be problem when asking punters to pay almost £17,000, but the basic Up has always punched above its weight and manages to feel more grown up than its size and status would suggest."
It’s easy to get comfortable in the Up GTI, more so in fact, because you get a pair of tasty sports seats as standard, which are not only more comfortable than the standard chairs but have better lateral support too, something a bit lacking in the standard car. The driving position is better as a result too, although it’s always been surprisingly good even for taller drivers.
You still get the same Germanic approach to the cabin layout, with all the major controls grouped conveniently high up on the dashboard and exactly where you’d expect to find them. There’s not too many of them of course, and with no massive touchscreen to accommodate the Up’s cabin feels refreshingly clutter-free.
Like the regular Up, the GTI is available in both three- and five-door forms. Access to the rear on the three-door version is reasonable, but you wouldn’t want to be flipping the seats forward if you were planning to use the rears on a regular basis. Getting in the back of a five-door is much easier of course, although if the front seats are pushed some way back rear passengers don’t have a lot of space in the footwell when climbing in.
Handling and ride quality
"Anyone looking at an Up GTI is prepared to prioritise handling over ride quality - at least to some degree - and while it hasn’t turned into a track-destroying roller skate, the small changes do make a significant difference to the way it behaves on the road."
One thing that hasn’t really changed is how easy the Up GTI is to handle. Even if you’re a relatively inexperienced driver there’s nothing about the GTI that intimidates, and it’s just as easy to pilot around busy urban streets and into parking spaces as the regular car - just watch out for those fancy alloy wheels on the kerbs.
Where the standard Up rides impressively well for a car of such diminutive dimensions, the GTI wears larger 17-inch alloy wheels and tyres with a smaller sidewall - a significant contributor to how well a car deals with bumps. With further stiffening to the suspension, the Up GTI is more niggly when dealing with poor road surfaces. It’s not that it fails to deal with them at all, but that compared to the standard car it feels less comfortable for passengers.
There is a payoff for this sacrifice of course. The steering is unchanged from the standard car, so it is quick and accurate, giving confidence to the driver whatever kind of speed they are travelling at. It might not be the most communicative through the steering wheel - the best sporty cars give the driver lots of feedback this way - but it’s still engaging and in keeping with the GTI tag.
Best of all, the stiffer suspension and extra grip from the bigger wheels and tyres give the Up GTI impressive cornering abilities. You can exercise the performance and carry that speed through the bends with ease, and enjoy yourself doing it. This is not a hot hatch that needs to be driven at the speed of light to be entertaining.
MPG and fuel costs
"As if to prove the efficacy of the modern turbocharged engine, the Up GTI is the most economical model in the range - at least under the tougher WLTP testing rules. The official figure is 53.3mpg combined, something that should realistically be within reach if you drive sensibly."
Like any performance car, that figure will plummet if you start to enjoy the performance, but it proves that the Up GTI is a car that can be fun but also not ruinously expensive - as long as you behave of course.
How much should you be paying for a used Up GTI?
"The supply of used Up GTIs is not huge, partly because the car actually went off sale for a while until it completed the required tests for WLTP regulations, then went back on sale in 2020."
A quick search turns up some early examples from 2018 with moderate miles for around £11,000. The cheapest example had 30,000 miles and was selling for £10,500."
As for newer examples, we found several 2020-registered cars with under 5000 miles on. The freshest example we found in had less than 3000 miles on and was selling at £16,000.
Is the Volkswagen Up GTI right for you?
The Up GTI delivers a good deal of fun for not very much money, and it offers useful rather than searing performance, so it is an ideal choice if you’re moving up from ‘ordinary’ cars into sportier offerings. It’s quick enough to be fun but not so fast you’re likely to scare yourself, which is exactly what you want if you’re new to the idea.
It would also make a good second car if you were looking for something that didn’t cost the earth to buy and run, but was a fun alternative when you don’t want to drive the regular family wagon and you’re driving solo or with a friend.
Where the Up GTI is less successful is as a city car. It’s no bigger so it’s just as adept at zapping through traffic - arguably more so with the extra power - and just as easy to park, but the changes mean the ride quality is now not what it was, and it’s less comfortable on poor roads.
What’s the best Up GTI model to choose?
There’s not much to consider here. The Up GTI is in effect a trim level too, so you just get to pick between three or five doors. We’d always suggest five as it makes life a little easier when you use the rear seats and is more appealing when you’re selling it on, but if you don’t care about that then the three-door does look cooler.
With a high standard specification there’s not a great deal on the options list for you either. You can upgrade to the better Beats audio system - we think it’s worthwhile at £410 - and add climate control, but you get air conditioning as standard anyway. You can also add the Light and Sight pack or the Cruise and Park pack - of the two we’d say the latter is more useful, adding cruise control, rear parking sensors and a parking camera.
What other cars are similar to the Volkswagen Up GTI?
The main rivals for the regular Up, like its siblings from SEAT and Skoda, the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Skoda Citigo, don’t come in heated-up form like the Up GTI does, so they aren’t valid competition.
You need to look a but further afield to find rivals for the Up GTI, and there aren’t that many of them. The closest in size and cost is the Abarth 595, which actually has less interior space than the Up but has a fizzy turbocharged engine and a little more power, but is a bit more compromised as a result and is less appealing in normal driving. Another rival is the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is a little larger and about the same price, but offers a good blend of fun, comfort and practicality.
Quality and finish
This is a Volkswagen, and the brand has built itself a reputation of offering varying degrees of poshness - if not always what you would call premium. The Up is a little different though, being a low-cost city car, but the GTI version turns that on its head. It’s a city car that costs as much as the bigger Polo, and you can have it with a similar engine too.
However, the fundamentals of the Up are still good. Yes, it’s a relatively stripped-back cabin, with no big centre console or swathes of buttons and display screens, but it feels well-constructed, and even where the materials themselves are relatively cheap and hard to the touch, they do at least feel like they can stand up to years of abuse.
The GTI goes some way to justifying its price with the additional kit in here too. The sports seats are a big part of that, and they are finished in an attractive check cloth that harks back to classic Golf GTIs of the past. The steering wheel is also far smarter than standard - a racy three-spoke item finished in leather and with a flat bottom section. It also has better control buttons for operating the infotainment hook-up.
The Up GTI gets the same standard infotainment provision as (most) of the rest of the regular range, which might be something of a disappointment. You get a DAB radio (with FM and AM) plus an 3.5mm auxiliary input and Bluetooth, as well as a phone cradle mounted on top of the dash. Some buyers may struggle with this, as it only accepts phones up to 5.5 inches in size.
The system is designed to work with the Maps + More dedicated app, which includes TomTom navigation, an eco trainer, phone book functions and audio streaming. The system works well enough, but many buyers will probably choose to use the native apps on their phone - either way, you have a choice.
The Up GTI can also be specified with the upgraded Beats audio system, which adds a digital sound processor, six speakers and a subwoofer in the spare wheel well (so that means it’s a tyre inflation kit only) and 300 watts output. If you love your music then it’s an option worth considering, although £410 would buy you a decent aftermarket system if you were so inclined.
Space and practicality
It might be wearing a sporty name tag but the Up GTI is still essentially the same car underneath the glitz, so you can expect the same impressive levels of practicality too. At 3.6 metres long this is unquestionably a small car, but the boxy profile pays dividends when it comes to fitting in you and your stuff.
Comically-tall drivers can still get comfortable as the high roof and good seating position means there’s head and legroom to suit pretty much all shapes, while the passenger can enjoy enough legroom to stretch out. Despite the generous areas of dark-coloured trim, the windows are generously-proportioned so you get plenty of light coming into the cabin.
It’s less capacious in the back of course, but as long as the front seat occupants aren’t greedy it is possible to get two adults in behind them, for short journeys at least. Kids of a reasonable size will be OK back there too, although if they are in bulky car seats you may find they run out of legroom rather quickly. Don’t forget that all Ups have only two seatbelts in the back, so carrying a fifth person isn’t really an option.
The Up GTI has the same 251 litres of boot space as the regular car, so it compares favourably with the Abarth 500 that has a mere 185 litres and is just a little less than the bigger Suzuki Swift Sport . Fold the rear seats and this goes up to 959 litres - almost twice as much as the Swift and Abarth - and you get an adjustable boot floor too so you can hide more valuable items.
There’s a useful amount of storage space in the cabin too, including decently-sized door bins that can hold a 1-litre bottle, a dinky cubby ahead of the gearlever - with a removable insert designed to hold a smartphone if you wish - plus a larger than average glovebox add up to a practical cabin.
Engines and gearboxes
The Up GTI comes with a single engine and transmission option, but in truth it’s all you could need. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit is essentially the same lump you’ll find in the rest of the Up range, but the GTI gets its own bigger turbocharger and some other exclusive detail tweaks, pushing the power up to 115PS and torque to 200Nm. That might not sound like much, but the Up GTI only just weighs over 1,000kg, making it considerably lighter than most small hot hatches.
The result is a car that feels far more engaging than the 1.0-litre engine would suggest. Although it has only an additional 25PS compared to the other 1.0-litre turbo engine in the Up range, the strong torque at low and medium revs transforms the way it behaves. Acceleration no longer needs to be planned - you can just squeeze the accelerator and make swift progress, and you don’t have to be in a low gear either. You still get the engaging character of the three-cylinder engine too, although it is better to change up a little early than rev the thing really hard.
The performance justifies the extra outlay - the Up GTI’s acceleration and top speed are competitive and more than enough to suit most drivers, but the crucial factor is that this performance doesn’t come at the expense of its flexibility or even economy. It’s still an easy car to drive in town - arguably more so because of the generous torque - and because of the added efficiency of the turbocharger, the official combined consumption figure under the stricter WLTP rules is better on the GTI than the rest of the Up range.
Refinement and noise levels
Trading up to a GTI doesn’t mean abandoning all semblance of comfort. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of the bigger Volkswagen GTIs is that they can be fun when you want them to be but relaxing and comfortable the rest of the time. The Up GTI has a slightly tougher brief here, being based on a far from luxurious city car, but it actually strikes a good balance between the two goals. The build quality of the Up certainly helps here, and although the cabin is still not luxurious, the standard of materials and the way it is put together means an absence of unwanted vibrations or tinniness.
With the extra power and torque from the three cylinder engine - the turbocharger plays a part here too - the Up GTI is more refined than the regular car most of the time. There may be a more fruity sound from the exhaust but unless you’re really making the most of the performance, you have to exercise the engine much less to stay up with the traffic flow, helping to keep noise levels down.
The flip side is that there is more tyre noise - generally speaking, the bigger the tyres, the more noise they generate - although this is less of an issue at lower speeds.
The Volkswagen Up has been tested twice by Euro NCAP. Once in 2011 when the car was initially launched, and then again in 2019 as the e-Up. In the first test it scored five stars, but in the most recent test it achieved three stars. There are two mitigating factors in respect of the change in score - firstly, EuroNCAP frequently raises the bar, so cars must keep getting safer to achieve a higher score, and secondly the e-Up is substantially heavier than the petrol Up - almost 400kg.
In the 2011 test the Up achieved 89 per cent for adult protection and 80 per cent for child protection, and although pedestrian mitigation was quite low at 46 per cent - a result of being such a short car - it managed a high 86 per cent for safety assist. Standard equipment includes front and side airbags, seat belt pretensioners and load limiters and Isofix child seat mounting points, ESC, hill hold assist and tyre pressure monitoring.
In terms of options, there are no specific safety packages that can be added to the Up. Automatic Emergency Braking is not an option on any model, while the Cruise and Park pack adds rear parking sensors and a reversing camera - potentially something that could reduce accidents but only in very specific circumstances.
Insurance groups and costs
The downside of the extra performance and the jacked-up sticker price is that the insurance grouping for the GTI is considerably higher than the rest of the Up range. It falls into group 17E, compared to 2E for the rest of the range and still far above the e-Up that falls into group 10E. Not only are you more likely to be in an accident because it’s faster, the Up GTI is more likely to be a target for thieves than the standard car, all of which ups the premium.
That’s likely to put it out of reach for most new drivers, unless they have access to serious funds, but for more mature drivers it should still be relatively affordable to insure, even if it is a fair bit more expensive than other Ups.
VED car tax
Because all Up GTIs arrived after the most recent alteration to the VED rules you’ll pay the same rate regardless of whether you buy new or used - unfortunately. The standard annual rate is £150, with £175 payable in the first year if you buy new due to the showroom tax. The amusing part is that this is exactly the same for the rest of the Up range, because the GTI has the lowest CO2 figure apart from the e-Up. So you can look smug while accelerating away from other Ups.
Trim levels and standard equipment
With a single trim level for the Up GTI there’s not much to think about whether you are buying new or used. The standard specification is relatively high, although it doesn’t include everything on the list. If you’re buying new, consider upgrading to the better Beats audio system at £410, and although there are things like climate control and automatic wipers on the options list, the only one we’d consider adding is the Cruise and Park pack, which adds cruise control, rear parking sensors and a parking camera.
If you’re buying used, the standard specification should cover all the bases, so you don’t need to pay over the odds for a car with some added extras.
On the inside
How much does it cost to run
Prices, versions and specification
Reviews of similar cars
Quality checked, all cars less than 8 years old and warranty included