How fun is this 113bhp baby hot hatch?

Baby hot hatch kicks out 113bhp and weighs less than a tonne, so it prom­ises plenty of fun On sale Now Price from £13,750

What Car? - - Contents - John How­ell­ell@hay­mar­

WHY IS WHAT Car? the best place to go for straight­for­ward buy­ing ad­vice? Well, here’s a per­fect il­lus­tra­tion: the new Volk­swa­gen Up GTI. If you read about it else­where, you’ll find in­dus­try bods crow­ing about the car be­ing the “spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to the Mk1 Golf GTI”. But (a) it isn’t, and (b) who cares?

For a start, the Up is a city car, whereas the Golf, of course, isn’t. This might sound like pedantry, but is an Up with a teeny tur­bocharged 1.0-litre three-cylin­der en­gine re­ally com­pa­ra­ble to a Golf with a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1.6-litre four-cylin­der one?

“Ah, but it’s light,” they’ll holler. Yes, at 997kg, the Up GTI is a feath­er­weight by modern stan­dards. And that is a note­wor­thy point, be­cause it bodes well for it be­ing a hoot to drive. But at 810kg, the orig­i­nal Golf GTI seems lighter than a he­lium bal­loon on the moon in com­par­i­son.

So, let’s for­get about val­i­dat­ing the Up GTI against a car from 1976 and in­stead ask this: is it a bet­ter pint-sized hot hatch than the Abarth 595 or Re­nault Twingo GT?

Let’s be­gin with its lit­tle beat­ing heart: that 113bhp en­gine. It’s un­usu­ally pokey from low revs, so you can pull away eas­ily from a stand­still in sec­ond gear or, once on the move, pop your foot down and be hauled up a hill from lit­tle more than 1000rpm in third.

Work it harder and the rev counter zings around to its red­line, in the process pro­duc­ing per­for­mance that would banish any goad­ing Twingo from your rear-view mir­ror. And all of this is ac­com­pa­nied by a cheeky (al­beit dig­i­tally en­hanced) three-cylin­der chirp.

Yet the car is never rowdy. Wind and road noise aren’t over­bear­ing at speed, while a slick six-speed man­ual gear­box, pos­i­tive clutch ac­tion and pro­gres­sive brakes make the Up GTI feel more re­fined than any city car has the right to be.

And while the ride is lumpier than the reg­u­lar Up’s over scruffy roads, it’s nowhere near as ex­as­per­at­ing as ri­vals’.

That ex­tra bus­tle comes from the Up GTI’S big­ger 17in al­loys and sports sus­pen­sion, which is stiffer and 15mm lower than the reg­u­lar Up’s, but these also ad­min­is­ter great grip and poise re­spec­tively – enough to make the Up GTI so much more en­ter­tain­ing than the wayward 595 and Twingo along twist­ing, chal­leng­ing roads.

But while the Up GTI is a laugh to bomb around in, its steer­ing and chas­sis lack the so­phis­ti­ca­tion and flu­id­ity of the great hot hatches, in­clud­ing, yes, that old Golf GTI. Still, for a car that’s less than half the price of the Honda Civic Type R, that’s no dis­grace.

In­side, the Up’s abil­ity to seat four adults in rel­a­tive com­fort and take a sensible amount of lug­gage (its boot is big­ger than the Twingo’s)

is undi­min­ished. The only real dif­fer­ence is that the no-frills in­te­rior has be­come slightly more frilly with Gti-spec ac­cou­trements, such as a red-stitched leather steer­ing wheel and tar­tan fabric for the sup­port­ive seats.

The Up GTI is avail­able as a three or five-door, both of which un­der­cut the 595 and Twingo. It comes with plenty of niceties, too, in­clud­ing air con­di­tion­ing, am­bi­ent in­te­rior light­ing, heated front seats and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing.

And the run­ning costs aren’t bank-break­ing, ei­ther, with av­er­age fuel econ­omy of 50.4mpg and a CO2 out­put of 127g/km. If those fig­ures ap­pear worse than ri­vals’, bear in mind that the Up GTI was tested under the new WLTP rules, which are more re­al­is­tic than the old NEDC test.

So, while it’s not re­ally the spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to the beloved Mk1 Golf GTI, the Up GTI is ab­so­lutely the most spir­ited and en­joy­able hot hatch at this price point.

Han­dling is much bet­ter re­solved than that of ri­vals A 5.0in in­fo­tain­ment screen is paired with a phone cra­dle GTI gets a larger spoiler to in­crease down­force at rear

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