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VW Up GTI (2019) long-term test review: our new little devil

Published: 31 January 2019

► CAR runs a VW Up GTI
► It's our new little pocket rocket
► Jake is its rather besotted keeper

I’ve been looking forward to getting into this – can you tell? That big grin on my face should be enough of a giveaway. As our long-term Nissan Leaf leaves my care and enters the dapper embrace of Ben Whitworth, I’m buzzing at the prospect of six months with the VW Up GTI. I drove it on the press launch last winter and have been figuring out ways to get one into my life ever since.

The stars aligned and here we are with an Up GTI, built exactly to my specification. I rarely use the back seats of any car, so going for the three-door was a given. An all-black look was considered, so the red detailing would stand out, but I’d be hated from here to Hanoi by our photographers, because black rarely works well on the printed page, and in any case the Tornado Red with black roof combo (£125) looks equally tasty. The City Emergency Braking pack (£380) comes with automatic lights and wipers, and I ticked the Cruise and Park pack (£300) box mainly for the cruise control – useful for my regular trips to Tyneside – rather than the parking sensors, which really aren’t necessary on a car this small and with such good visibility. I couldn’t resist the excellent Beats audio system (£370), which is a nice fit for my habit of blasting bassy house at deafening levels almost all the time when driving.

VW Up GTI interior

Those extras are on top of a very well sorted basic package. The Up GTI comes with a series of improvements over any other Up: sports springs, bigger front brakes with red calipers, tasty 17-inch alloy wheels and heated seats. At the front, the grille looks meaner. At the side, the rear windows are tinted. At the back, there’s a black diffuser and chromed tailpipe. Oh, and there’s that peach of an engine: 999cc, three cylinders, one turbocharger, 113bhp and an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

How is the day-to-day reality matching up to those sky-high expectations? Put it this way: I regularly take the Up home instead of far more powerful/expensive/luxurious metal that’s available in the office car park. On the few occasions when I’ve been separated from it, I find I really miss the GTI. When I’m in the office I keep coming up with all sorts of flimsy excuses for taking it out at lunchtime. Whatever the journey, every slip road and every roundabout becomes an opportunity to squeeze the most out of a sweet fruit. So yeah, it’s going well.

VW Up GTI badge

Not everything is rosy. The lack of steering wheel reach adjustment is irksome. The seats are crying out for thicker bolsters. And on some roads the ride feels too firm. And you can’t turn off the traction control. Still, I’ve got a plan for the next few months: keep a tight grip of the GTI steering wheel, revel in the gargly triple’s mid-range pull, and don’t come back until the brakes smell. 

Logbook: VW Up GTI 3dr

Price £14,055
As tested £15,230
Engine 999cc 12v turbo 3-cyl, 113bhp @ 5000rpm, 148lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance 8.8sec 0-62mph, 122mph, 129g/km CO2 
Miles this month 741
Total 841
Our mpg 41.7  
Official mpg 58.9  
Fuel this month £109.80  
Extra costs None

Check out more of our long-term test reports

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches