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.