Small and peppy, Volkswagen GTI Up keeps the spirit of driving alive

Front seats view of Volkswagen GTI Up
Volkswagen does away with the in-car display screen in the GTI Up, suggesting drivers use their mobile phones in its place
(Image credit: TBC)

There’s a compelling argument for automotive downsizing. Roads aren’t getting any bigger, vehicles are more numerous and bigger equates to more pollution and emissions, let alone the sheer amount space taken up by monstrous SUVs. VW doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean record when it comes to emissions but there are welcome signs that the company is working hard to usher in electrification, perhaps even to an accelerated timeline thanks to the fall-out from Dieselgate. In the meantime, the company continues to excel at building small cars (while still, of course, offering the full complement of massive vehicles for those that want them).

Front facing view of the Volkswagen GTI Up

(Image credit: TBC)

The GTI Up is a small and peppy embodiment of the purist driving experience

The little Up was conceived in the middle of the last decade, an exercise in compact design that delighted those who thought VW’s design ethos peaked with the Beetle. The concept made it to market without compromise and ever since the little car has been quietly garnering fans for its neat design, inside and out. VW’s GTI range is the gold standard of swift small cars, blending the fundamental rightness of their design with another level of driver engagement. With the original GTI, the Golf, getting ever closer to junior supercar territory, there was room for something a little more basic. So the idea of a performance Up was mooted last year and received a predictably welcome response.

This is it. Small, light, and peppy, the Up is a piece of near-perfect packaging made even better. VW’s engineers have eked 115 PS out of a 1 litre 3-cylinder engine, while a six speed gearbox, a scattering of special GTI trim items (including the iconic tartan seat fabric) and a few other niceties like a more powerful hi-fi and heated seats complete the package. The Up does away with a touchscreen, reasoning that you’d rather use your own (however, VW need to update their phone cradle so it takes the current generation of over-sized Smartphones).

Volkswagen exterior fixture

(Image credit: TBC)

115 PS is eked out of a 1 litre 3-cycle engine

Amazingly economical, the Up delivers a purist driving experience, although the short scale will throw you about a bit on rough-edged roads, but that’s all part of the fun. Small and perfectly formed, with a dinkily downscaled dashboard – even the heating and ventilation controls have a three-quarter scale to them – and the ability to dart around corners like it's glued to the road, the Up is the embodiment of old school fun.

Compared to the roaring super saloons and supercars that increasingly crowd our roads, the little Up’s vital statistics aren’t up to much, but it’s all about how this car feels and goes. If the future is to be believed, tomorrow’s cars will encourage their ‘drivers’ to become more and more disconnected from the road. In stark and refreshing contrast, the Up is a potent piece of engineering that keeps the spirit of driving alive.

Interior of the Volkswagen GTI Up

Inside, the Up is available in the iconic tartan seat fabric (pictured) and features other niceties like a more powerful hi-fi and heated seats

(Image credit: TBC)

Volkswagen Up GTI, from £13,750. For more information, visit the Volkswagen website

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.