It is hard to escape the comparisons when you look at the vital statistics: the power (115hp) is within 5hp of that Golf, it's just 17mm wider and the 2,415mm wheelbase is only 15mm up on the GTI. An admirably low kerbweight of 990kg is 110kg more, but stronger torque sees it dash to 60mph a few tenths quicker. See, it's irresistible; you can't help but compare it. There are red accents and everything.
Which is all well and good for nostalgic VW fans - and the marketing operation - but not of much relevance now. Mk1 Golfs these days make for very valuable classics; the Up is a £14k city car that will probably have a nice PCP offer. What the 2018 GTI actually needs to achieve is a distillation of that effervescent 70s Golf spirit that's gradually ebbed away with 21st century maturity and - more tangibly - offer the best city car hot hatch experience around. After all, there's a new Swift Sport on the way, plus the Twingo, and you can still have an Abarth 500 - albeit a 145hp one - for £15k.
Turning the ignition key does alter the perception somewhat. Rather than four subdued cylinders humming back at you, there are three thrumming, fizzing, angry ones ready to tear off into the distance. There's probably some manipulation going on, and there's a hint of Beetle at idle - all things considered though the turbocharged EA211 is a great little engine, and remarkable for just 999cc.
Certainly it's responsive from just 1,500rpm, hurling itself up the road hard from 2,000rpm and revving out eagerly, if with the inevitable hint of tightness that comes with small size and forced induction. It feels quicker than you might expect it to, and all the time it's accompanied by the three-cylinder tune, with hints of Giulia Quadrifoglio, 911 - bet you didn't see that coming - and the old Toyota Aygo, which is really rather pleasing.
Fortunately you won't be giving those ratios much consideration when you're screaming between hairpins and wondering just how late those disc brakes - with drums still at the rear - can haul you up. (Very well is the answer, with plenty of power and an easy-to-modulate pedal; shame heel-and-toe is so difficult). Obvious though it may sound, there's a distinct pleasure in driving something that's actually light as fast as you can, rather than one that creates a mirage of litheness through four-wheel steer, active anti-roll and torque vectoring. This is just a simple, honest, fairly brisk little car; i.e. the antithesis to much of what's offered in the performance car realm today, and arguably the better for it. An Up GTI and a Golf GTI together still don't weigh as much as one Audi SQ7...
So on the road you get all the agility, tenacity and vigour you would hope for from something that's less than 1,000kg and above 100hp. The car dives for a bend and settles quickly, the lack of inertia immediate and very welcome. The wheelbase is short but the wheels are pushed out - so stability is good - and grip strong. Occasionally you might see a flicker of the traction control light with a particularly greedy throttle application, though mostly the front wheels seem to have everything under control. A ride height 15mm lower than a regular Up gives the GTI some toughness around town, offset by the additional precision and control at higher speed. It feels like a sensible everyday set up.
Sure, you can't make small, fast cars like a 106 GTI or a Twingo Renaultsport anymore. Not really. But it just would have been nice for the leash to have been loosened a bit more for the Up, to make it feel a little naughtier in terms of handling balance and demeanour. Of course the argument there is whether anybody (beyond the Internet) actually wants slightly raw, exciting, cheap hot hatches any more - the last Swift Sport was hardly a runaway success, the Panda 100HP was never replaced and the Toyota/Citroen/Peugeot city car triumvirate hasn't spawned anything sporty in over a decade.
So VW should be applauded for creating the Up GTI, for delivering a snazzy and semi-sharp city car that delivers everything you might expect from a downsized GTI. For those aspiring to a Golf this will be the perfect introduction. It deserves to sell well - not least thanks to a surprisingly competitive asking price. Without much competition the GTI is easily the best car in its class, too. However, it's hard not to wish for just a bit more excitement from the Up as an enthusiast, churlish though that may sound in an increasingly mature performance car market.
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN UP! GTI
Engine: 999cc, 3cyl, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 115@5,000 rpm
Torque (lb ft): 148@2,000 - 3,500rpm
Top speed: 122mph
MPG: 49.6 - 50.4 (combined)
CO2: 127 - 129g/km
Price: £13,750 (3 door) (£14,150 for 5-door)