VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?

Published:03 May 2019

VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • At a glance
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By Jake Groves

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

By Jake Groves

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

► Milltek's VW Up GTI driven
► Meaty exhaust, crazy wrap...
► ...and more upgrades besides

We love the VW Up GTI at CAR. It’s a performance car bargain and a well-loved long-termer among the team. But what if you wanted a little bit more poke and control from your tiny GTI?

During my time living with one, I’ve come across loads of forum posts from owners discussing what to do next with their dinky hot hatch. Since it’s such a bargain, some owners are thinking about spending a bit more by tweaking the suspension or upgrading the seats or tyres. Mostly, owners just want it to sound a bit angrier on the outside.

This seems like a good fit, then…

Absolutely. This demo car from Milltek Sport, UK-based exhaust system specialists, is primarily here to promote its cat-back exhaust system for the Up (the company does versions for both the TSI 90 and the GTI) and you can get different trims for the tips.

Milltek Up GTI seats

But the car itself is a melting pot of interesting modifications that’ll be enough to make anyone keen to upgrade take notice. Best of all, the total estimated price of all of the modifications (bar the bespoke wrap) still comes in under £20,000 on this white five-door Up GTI. Check out the list:

  • Milltek Sport Road+ Cat-Back exhaust with Cerakote black trim (from £500, £544 here)
  • KW V1 Coil-overs (£894)
  • COBRA Nagaro Circuit seats with bespoke trim and branding (£1,556 (estimated))
  • JBS Stage 1 remap (£250)
  • OZ Racing ‘Rally Racing’ wheels (£999)
  • Nankang NS-2R tyres (£300)
  • Custom Milltek wrap from Blue Print, Nottingham

This car is a bit like Mountune’s M400 Focus RS we drove in 2017; primarily used as a demo car, and one that’s had the modifications book thrown at it. The Milltek GTI looks like a tiny touring car with its bespoke wrap, bucket seats and OZ wheels, with Milltek pointing out that it’s been used on track days before.

Let’s talk power first

It’s essentially just an ECU remap, but one that unlocks a healthy 32bhp and 25lb ft more from the already punchy turbocharged 3cyl. The update comes from VW Group specialists, JBS, and the map applied to the Milltek Up GTI is the lowest rung of three available ‘stages’.

Milltek Up GTI side pan

How does it feel? Like a rocket ship. The standard Up GTI’s engine isn’t exactly tame, with a huge amount of mid-range torque and a fizziness that excites as you push on. But a small criticism of the standard GTI’s engine is that it gets a little breathless at the very top end, so you end up taking more advantage of the engine up to about 5,000rpm, rather than up to the redline of around 6,500rpm.

The extra punch in the back from the power hike is welcome, injecting more smiles per prod of the accelerator than ever before. But the far more linear way in which that power is given to you is the far more appealing bit; with the JBS remap, you actively want to the pressure on right to the redline.

How about handling?

Milltek’s Up GTI runs on KW V1 coilovers with adjustable height settings and is fitted with Nankang NS-2R rubber, which the tyre brand claims is for 50% road/50% track use. Some serious kit, then.

Let’s get right to the point; the ride is firmer than a standard one, but it’s a different kind of firm. As long as the height is adjusted enough to allow no rubbing of wheels in arches or grinding of the front bumper guard, lumps and potholes in the road are dealt with better than the standard setup. Then you can lower your setup as much as possible when you’re about to hoon it on the track.

Milltek Up GTI front cornering

Body roll is so much better controlled, too; hard cornering around some serious bends near to the CAR office barely seemed to bother the Milltek Up. That, coupled with the absolutely gorgeous seats by COBRA (complete with GTI tartan trim) hugging you like an overbearing parent, make cornering a more serious but far more successful affair.

The Nankang tyres are a standout modification, too. If you’ve been keeping up to date with my Up GTI’s long-term test reports, you’ll know that former Up GTI owner, Andrew Chapple, told me that’s the first thing owners should change. The NS-2Rs completely transform traction, allowing you to put power down in almost all conditions, to the point that the traction control light only came on once; the standard, eco-friendly Goodyears on ‘my’ car wake up the unswitchoffable traction control system far more often than I’d like.

Let’s not forget the exhaust…

Of course not – it’s arguably the whole reason why the car exists. And, without a doubt, the exhaust is entirely worth getting if you’re already thinking about it.

The pops and bangs make you think you’re driving a much more serious hot hatch, like a Mercedes-AMG A35 or Golf R with the optional Akrapovič exhaust, and they’re mostly noticeable in first and second gear. Get the revs going and the bassy undertones from the sports exhaust make it sound like you’re driving a rather boxy 718 Cayman.

Milltek Up GTI exhaust

VW’s ‘Soundaktor’ noise booster for the Up GTI hasn’t been deleted in the case of Milltek’s demo car but it works so much better when paired with an actual performance exhaust. Naturally, the two are completely in tune, with Milltek’s system supplying some aural clarity outside to counteract the Soundaktor’s boominess inside. At motorway speeds, it’s naturally louder inside the cabin but not unbearable.

Interested? Check out Milltek’s website here.

Milltek Up GTI: verdict

As a whole package, Milltek’s Up GTi is a case study in how to modify a car you’re passionate about properly.

It corners flatter, punches harder and sounds fantastic, but doesn’t lose much in the way of accessibility; it’s louder and bumpier on rough roads, naturally, but you wouldn’t be interested in getting the upgrades if you weren’t already prepared for that. The Milltek exhaust and the Nankang tyres are standout modifications worth getting.

What Milltek has built is a baby GTI that can handle itself on a track day, excite even more than a normal one on the road and still doesn’t break the bank for real enthusiasts.

Check out our Volkswagen reviews

Specs

Price when new: £19,473
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 999cc 12v 3cyl turbo, 145bhp, 173lb ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.0sec (est) 0-62mph, 113mph, 58.9mpg, 129g/km
Weight / material: 1070kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3600/1641/1504mm

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  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?
  • VW Up GTI by Milltek (2019) review: harder, faster, stronger… better?

By Jake Groves

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

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