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Up, Up and away: PH Fleet

With time almost up for the fleet's smallest constituent, we pit our GTI against its standard sibling

By Dafydd Wood / Friday, January 18, 2019

So our time with the Up GTI is drawing to a close, but there's still one question we've yet to answer. It's come out on top of its nearest rivals in a group test and impressed us in ably fulfilling its spicy city car remit - despite perhaps falling short of being a true GTI - but how does it compare to its cheaper self? Is it really that much more capable than a standard Up?

To find out, we turned to the 90hp version of the 'High' Up. At £13,360 OTR it costs just £700 less than the GTI on paper - although that gap doubles when comparing the High Up's £14,605 price as tested to the with-options £16,005 final price of our longtermer. Crucially, its turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is almost identical to the GTI's save for a five-speed manual transmission and that lower power output.

This results in a 7mph improvement in top speed (115mph vs 122mph) in the hot hatch's favour, and a 1.1 second reduction in 0-62 time (9.9 vs 8.8). Beyond that the GTI gets 15mm lower suspension, larger wheels, tweaked steering, a new gearbox and uprated brakes. Unfortunately VW only had a five-door model available; nonetheless the High represents the standard Up at its best and presents a worthier adversary for the GTI than the feeble 60 or 75hp 'Take' and 'Move' alternatives.

The day begins in the cheaper car, heading out of London and south to Leith Hill, where a rendezvous with the GTI awaits. Its 160lb ft of torque may be 30 fewer than found in the GTI, but is delivered 500rpm sooner, meaning it feels just as zippy away from the lights. And over a second's difference to sixty-two may seem like a large gulf on paper, but it turns out that, unlike at the sharper end of the spectrum, the real world difference between 9.9- and 8.8-second cars is pretty hard to detect. So far, so familiar.

Once you're underway, though, a different story emerges. Performance quickly drops off, leaving the standard model rather out of its depth at higher speeds. It feels less planted on the motorway, too, thanks to the softer suspension settings, and the lack of a sixth gear becomes an all too apparent inconvenience for the tiny engine. The GTI may be much more city car than Autobahn cruiser but, unless you're happy sitting at 65, the High Up feels like something of a last resort for long motorway journeys.

Despite feeling less focused in the outside lane, it does has the edge on comfort and ride quality when things slow down a notch. There's no mistaking the advantages of 15-inch wheels - vs the GTI's 17-inch alloys - and its more accommodating spring travel when you hit a manhole cover. It's just not quite as nice a place to be, though. While the interiors are virtually identical, minus a leather wrapped wheel and a smattering of GTI badges, the lighter, brighter cabin this standard car is optioned with only serves to highlight the cheap materials and spartan design.

Back to the driving. Arriving at Leith Hill and swapping into the GTI, its deeper qualities are instantly apparent. The lower stance, sportier interior and rortier exhaust note make driving it seem much more of an event. And while the improved handling and more powerful engine may not rank it among the best GTI-badged cars out there, they leave it head and shoulders above the standard car. In previous updates I've said that the Up GTI is unlikely to compel its owner to get up early on a weekend to head for a drive, and that still holds true now. But should they find themselves in the right place at the right time, it's more than capable of delivering an entertaining experience.

Given how insignificant the price difference between the two models can be without too much box ticking, the GTI seems like a no-brainer - and even with a bigger gap it justifies the outlay. If you're looking for the absolute cheapest Up available, then naturally the range-topper is out of reach, but when it comes to the question of whether or not the GTI can vindicate its extra expense versus the next best thing, the answer is clear. Not only is it more satisfying to drive, it makes the alternative seem staid in comparison. The High Up may be slightly more comfortable, quieter and economical on an inner city commute, but the GTI, thanks to its focus and obvious fun factor, is by some distance the more complete car on our scorecard.

999cc, 3-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 115@5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 148@2,000-3,500rpm
0-62mph: 8.8sec
Top speed: 122mph
Weight: 1,002kg
MPG: 58.9
CO2: 110g/km
Price: £14,055 (As tested £16,005 comprising Deep Black paint (£520), Vodafone Protect and Connect 6 (£485), City Emergency Braking Pack (£380), Cruise and Park Pack (£300), Climate Control (£265))

999cc, 3-cyl turbo
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 90@5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 118@1,500-3,500rpm
0-62mph: 9.9sec
Top speed: 115mph
Weight: 1,002kg
MPG: 67.3
CO2: 96g/km
Price: £13,360 (As tested £14,605 comprising Costa Azule Metallic paint (£525), City Emergency Braking Pack (£380), Climate Control (£265) and Front Passenger's Seat Adjustment (£75))

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