Goodwood Test: 2021 Volkswagen Up! GTI Review

The smallest Volkswagen to wear a GTI badge, the dinky Up! GTI...
20th November 2020
Ben Miles



The Volkswagen Up! GTI is the new original Golf GTI. There, that’s the cliché out of the way early. Annoyingly, like most clichés, there is more than a grain of truth to it. The Up! GTI is Volkswagen’s smallest car, given a little bit more oomph under the bonnet, and splashed with some proper performance-looking bits on the outside.

We like

  • Thrummy engine that is convinced it belongs in a Lamborghini
  • A surprising amount of grip
  • A lot of car for the money

We don't like

  • Pedals a little too far apart
  • A tad more power wouldn't hurt
  • Only one USB port



The standard Up! is not a bad looking car, even when it’s transformed into an electric car in the e-Up! it still looks good. The GTI takes that cutesy look and adds what can only be described as beef. Big wheels – these are 17 inches on a car that’s not much bigger than that – are shoe-horned below slightly flared arches and the front grille is wider, featuring bigger protrusions around the fog lamps. At the back the GTI sprouts a little chrome exhaust tip and a rather fetching rear spoiler. It looks lower (it is), wider and more purposeful than the standard car, and even the decals don’t ruin the look by overdoing it. Overall it’s really pleasing, a little car that obviously wants to mean business, it looks fun and enticing rather than just ridiculously overdone (hello AMG A45).

Our test Up! GTI came in five-door guise, but it is also available with just three – a decision that goes against the grain for hot hatches, but one that we at GRR wholeheartedly endorse. The three-opening layout just suits a teeny hot hatch much better than trying to squeeze five in. You could get a five-door GTI, but we wouldn’t say that was the correct choice.

Performance and Handling


One hundred and fifteen horsepower does not sound like an awful lot – indeed in 2020 it isn’t – but the Up! weighs just under a tonne and isn’t about hitting incredible top speeds. The tiny little three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit that the standard Up! has always had has been breathed upon by a single turbocharger which means it can hit 62mph in 8.8 seconds and go on to 122mph, but if those stats are important to you it’s time to look elsewhere.

No, the Up! GTI is absolutely convinced that it’s actually a Lamborghini, but will never get you in trouble with the boys in blue. Peak power doesn’t come until 5,000rpm, which means it begs you to rev out to the redline to extract some power. Internally there is a resonator which amplifies the sound of this little three-pot. That takes it from thrummy little tiny hatch to a having a proper little growl, one that resonates (aptly) around the cabin in a pleasing rather than annoying way. There’s even the faintest hint of turbo whoosh when you lift off just to prove that this is a proper car, honest.

Power is sent to the front wheels only, and it’s rooted only through a six-speed manual gearbox – no DSG auto’ has made its way down to the smallest hatch in the Volkswagen range yet. The ‘box is a pleasure to use. It doesn’t have a particularly short throw, but it’s a pleasant one, although the pedal spacing does not encourage any fancy footwork.

The suspension is controlled under normal circumstances and there’s very little body roll, and the growl of the engine and the decently un-damped steering encourages you to push on. This isn’t a sophisticated Golf R though, so you and the car need to be in harmony to really extract proper fun. The steering has enough feel but is quite slow, but the mid-corner grip will surprise you. This means after a few drives you’ll feel more and more encouraged to throw it through the corners. You just need to be gathered up on the way in rather than really on the edge of it’s performance. At the end of the day this car does cost half of what the Golf R will set you back.



The interior of the GTI is littered with callbacks to the original Golf GTI. There’s tartan seats as you would expect, a golf ball topped gear lever and a lovely three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Our car also had red touches along the plastic inserts and it comes with GTI badges everywhere. The seats may look fancier and more “GTI” than the standard car, but under that fetching cloth they are just the same as the normal car, so do expect to brace yourself through corners.

Everything else is standard Up!/CitiGo/Mii interior, with a small screen in the middle of the dash and a holder so you can use your smartphone for navigation and entertainment. You’ll need to plug the phone in yourself through the holder and there are no other USB ports, so passengers will have to live with a 12v charger.

Technology and Features


For around £15k the Up! GTI is actually very well appointed inside. It comes with heated seats and wing mirrors, electrically adjustable mirrors. Unlike the old Up!, which had a small touchscreen that you could pop onto the dash, there is now only the phone holder. But rather than having to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto there is a home-made app to access data from the car – it’s rather uncryptically called Maps & More. You can use the app to control infotainment, see driving info, answer calls through the buttons on the wheel and use a mapping system. It’s actually slightly simpler to use than the competitors from Apple and Google. 



The Up! GTI isn’t perfect. Perhaps the chassis could be slightly better and it could have a little more power. But actually it’s a lot of fun for the money. The little GTI constantly feels like it has no other thought in its mind than being a supercar and encourages you to push on with its rev-happy and growling engine. The driving is fun without ever being totally serious performance, which I think is what you want in something small like this.

The Up! GTI is not the performance car for the modern hot hatch evangelist, it’s the perfect first warm performance car or a brilliantly fun second car for someone who wants a weekend thrasher that’s not licence killing. It looks great and it will make you smile and there’s not much a tiny hot hatch should do other than that. Is it the new original Golf GTI? No, that car was a revolution that changed the industry. Is it a simple, fun hot hatch that easily accessible to all? Yes, and that is what the original GTI was under it all. Damn, those clichés and their painful truth.



1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder


115PS (85kW) @ 5,000-5,500rpm


200Nm (148lb ft) @ 2,000-3,500rpm


Six-speed manual, front-wheel-drive

Kerb weight



8.8 seconds

Top speed


Fuel economy


CO2 emissions



£15,675 (£17,985 as tested)

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.

  • Evo
    4 out of 5
  • Autocar
    4 out of 5
  • TopGear
    3.5 out of 5