This is the huge Volkswagen Group’s smallest hot hatch, the VW Up GT. First unveiled as a concept car at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, CAR has just driven a prototype version of the 108bhp baby GTI.
Click here for more news and details of the regular Volkswagen Up.
How does a VW Up become a VW Up GT?
At the moment the most potent Volkswagen Up boasts a paltry 74bhp but the Up GT has a new turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine with 108bhp and 129lb ft. There’s no standard DSG gearbox as per the Polo GTI, rather that forced induction power is sent from the front-mounted engine to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox (that’s one cog more than the rest of the Up range).
Chassis changes are restrained, and currently limited to the fitment of the sports suspension kit available on any Up: it comprises a 15mm ride height drop, plus modified springs and dampers. The set-up could become more extreme, according to the Up’s technical project leader Torsten Oehmke, and the rear drum brakes fitted to both the concept and the prototype should be upgraded to discs for the production car. And Oehmke says there’s no reason why the Up GT couldn't be produced in both three- and five-door guises either.
What about the exterior upgrades to the GT?
Visual changes include a new bodykit, which does away with the smiling front bumper for a more aggressive nose, complete with 911 Turbo-alike daytime running lights. The large central intake has a Golf GTI-aping honeycomb look, but it’s not for show: this new turbocharged version of VW’s 999cc triple needs the extra cooling.
There are twin exhausts, which Oehmke admits are a production possibility (and don’t impinge upon boot space) but it’s down to the accountants and the price point at which VW wants to pitch the Up GT. Other GT-specific features include a faux rear diffuser, plus black wing mirror caps, while inside there’s a thin leather steering wheel with a ‘GT’ logo, supportive and comfortable tartan-trimmed sports seats, and a black roof lining.
Or at least that’s what the Up GT concept is like. Our Up GT prototype looks exactly like any other 3dr Up – only the gearknob with an extra number atop it gives anything away.
So is the VW Up GT a proper GTI?
Let’s start with what we can accurately assess. The turbocharged engine is a little cracker, majoring on low- and mid-range torque (the 129lb ft peak is available from 1500-3500rpm) but also happy to spin round to its red line. The off-beat three-cylinder thrum permeates the cabin and only encourages you to thrash it harder. And while the sound of the three-pot in an Aygo/C1/107 soon becomes tiresome, the Up GT is quieter and much more refined. Alas we hear the concept’s large central rev counter will probably be dropped for the standard Up’s dial layout with the speedo in the middle.
As for the chassis, although the concept car wore 195/40 ZR17 Hankook Ventus S1 Evos, our prototype test car was shod with Continental ContiWinterContact 185/55 R15s. Hardly the footwear of a serious hot hatch. With the sports suspension kit the ride is a little firmer than the standard Up, body roll a little more controlled, but it’s a supple set-up that could easily be turned up a few notches.
Still, as is it feels like it would be perfectly suited to bombing around a city or taking on a terrible British back road. The only obvious change needed is for the steering to gain a little more weight through the first few degrees of lock.
VW won’t commit to a production date for the UP GT, but VW r&d supremo Dr Ulrich Hackenberg is currently using our Up GT prototype as his daily driver, and everyone from PRs to the engineers speak like final sign-off for this exciting little project is a done deal. All Volkswagen needs to do is decide how extensively the Up GT differs from the rest of the Up range, as that’ll determine the all-important on-the-road price. Expect something on sale in 12-18 months time, to give the Up range a little pick-me-up (sorry) ahead of a mid-life facelift.
It’s not a mini Golf GTI, but it’s way more exciting than the Polo GTI. It’s simple, uncomplicated and great fun, all ensconced in the already very appealing Up package.