VW Up GTI prototype: Driven

A GTI with 116hp? Powered by a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre engine? That kind of power might have been enough for 1976 when VW launched the original Golf GTI with a 110hp 1.6, but its modern equivalent has at least double that, some rivals three times more. Never mind the tech and gizmos to put it to the road. Saying that, the comparisons between this VW Up GTI prototype and the genre-defining Golf bear a moment of contemplation...

Crying out for a set of BBS
Crying out for a set of BBS
For the Up GTI is not far removed from that original Golf - 3,600mm of length versus 3,705mm, 1,627mm width to 1,610mm, 2,415mm wheelbase to 2,400mm and 1,020kg to 880kg. That last figure might make you question the comparison - it's an inevitable result of what they call progress, chiefly around safety and technology - but the power-to-weight ratio of the two cars is not so far removed.

Torque figures remain something of a secret - this is a prototype drive and the car won't go on sale for a year - but this manual Up GTI will do 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, compared to the Golf's 9.2. If it's offered with DSG - a big if - the Up GTI's would come down further, too.

Back in the day
And, of course, VW has dug deep into the GTI handbook to ensure an authentic experience. Black stripe down the bottom edge? Tick. Tartan seats? Naturlich. Red-stitching on the steering wheel? Present and correct. Six-speed gearbox with reverse up and off to the left? But of course. Chunky steering wheel to grip. Get comfortable, make yourself at home. Entry-level GTI or not, the styling department hasn't been messing with the heritage.

Nor have the team behind it, putting a modern twist on the Mk1 GTI's sense of extra curricular fettling by enthusiastic engineers. And the engine is by far the most impressive feat. Running 1.5bar of turbo pressure (the same as a 911 Turbo, and about half as much again as more everyday turbo engines) and a 10.5:1 compression ratio, there's also a water-cooled intercooler. The engineers believe they could have pushed closer to 125hp, but they've erred towards the best balance of power, torque and response.

Saves the kids putting smoked lights on it anyway
Saves the kids putting smoked lights on it anyway
The Up GTI also sits 15mm lower than standard and has a heavily reworked MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. Highlights include stiffened top mounts, new lower suspension arms and dampers tuned for improved control at lower compression speeds. There are also heavily modified parts from the Polo, ranging from the steering rack to the ventilated brake discs.

Boosted expectations
The result - even with 12 months to launch - is really rather engaging. You won't get a G-induced nosebleed, but that little motor is eager as anything, bar for a short period in second gear where economy concerns seem to have overridden performance ones. It'd be a shame if they didn't bite the bullet on that one. The manual 'box shift is slick and, even in sixth, it keeps on pulling up towards the 119mph top speed.

Now, of course you want to know how the Up GTI handles. And while I'll do my best to tell you, I should caveat it by saying that the test route roads were very straight, to the extent planners appear to have preferred going through hills rather than around them. The few opportunities there were to actually steer the car suggested it is set up with decent weight through the wheel and a balance that leans towards neutral, before dipping into safety first understeer. Boo, I hear you say. Welcome to the modern world, I reply.

Pushed on the subject, engineers concede you can make it oversteer if you really try but, you must suspect from the look on their faces, you'd have to be driving like a complete hoodlum to manage it. PH likes a challenge...

The signs are good; very good in fact
The signs are good; very good in fact
Ride comfort is impressive, soaking up low frequency ripples and damping down bigger bumps despite its sporty leanings. In fact, there's a grown-up side to this car that is a credit to the depths it's being developed to - even when it's wound right up, the engine and turbo are quiet to the point of being overly hushed.

But if you've finished choking at the idea of a three-cylinder GTI (and rumours abound that the next Fiesta ST may well be powered by a boosted triple too) then the reality is well worth considering. The price is expected to somewhere around £15,000, which is pretty sticky for the young market it's aimed at even before you factor in running costs and insurance. But, compared to the Twingo GT/SmartForFour Brabus or Abarth 595, it looks like a reasonable price for a car that fizzes with intent. The GTI family is having a new baby, and on this evidence it's going to fit in just fine.

: 999cc, 3cyl, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 116@N/A rpm
Torque (lb ft): TBC
0-62mph: 8.8sec
Top speed: 119mph
Weight: 1,020kg
Price: £15,000 (est)

[Jim Holder]


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Comments (131) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Mr Peel 16 Dec 2016

    Love it. You'd have more fun wringing the neck of this thing than trying to keep on the right side of the law in a Golf R.

  • Krikkit 16 Dec 2016

    Sounds like a very appealing little thing, I presume they're really making it?

  • Kawasicki 16 Dec 2016

    Mr Peel said:
    Love it. You'd have more fun wringing the neck of this thing than trying to keep on the right side of the law in a Golf R.
    I'm pretty sure wringing the neck of this thing will put you well into the wrong side of the law.

  • Roy m 16 Dec 2016

    Been waiting for this for years! Bet it's a fantastic car and,as said, all the fun without the licence loss issues

  • SevenR 16 Dec 2016

    I owned a Kia Picanto 1.0 3 cylinder and it was begging for more power and the bits to go with it. I would have bought a hot version (if they'd made one) without question. So much fun as it was, a faster one would be a hoot. But they didn't so got a Fiesta ST.
    Interesting top speed stats for the Up, as we had the Kia at 116mph indicated on satnav in Germany. Took a while to get there mind you lol I loved it to bits.

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