Dan Trent: The Lupo might be the coolest GTI

17th April 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

As I write I’m swotting for a Volkswagen event where I’ll be driving the Up! GTI back to back with its Polo and Golf equivalents. I’ve been excited about the hot version of the Up since I first heard rumour of it, comparisons with the original Mk1 Golf GTI of 1976 absolutely fascinating to me. 


While the current Golf GTI has got heavier, faster, more powerful and more expensive the Up GTI appears faithful to the original blueprint. It’s a heartening sign, similar to Mazda’s achievement in making my mum’s brand-new MX-5 pretty much equal to my own 1993 Eunos in everything from size to power to weight ratio. In a world of ever increasing (but less relevant) power outputs, big tyres and increasing gimmickry it’s great to see certain mainstream manufacturers embracing a back to basics approach. 

Another reason to be cheerful is that the last time VW revived the size, spirit and performance of the original Mk1 Golf GTI it resulted in a pretty blinding car. And one I could buy now for less than half the price of a new Up GTI. 

That car is the Lupo GTI, one of those need-to-know hot hatches much appreciated by discerning fast car fans. Outwardly it doesn’t look much, having typically been sold in understated silvers or blacks and conspicuously lacking in the go-faster addenda of its rivals. OK, the chunky six-spoke alloys and paired centre exhausts give the game away a tad. But for someone sharing a year of birth with the original GTI, I wouldn’t feel too embarrassed to be seen it, this being a GTI for grown-ups.

Further evidence of this can be found inside, the Lupo dating from a time when VW was really pushing hard to assert premium values on the supermini sector. So the Lupo gets cool flourishes from the period like purple backlighting on the dials and red seatbelts. Whether it’s the quality of the materials, the fastidiousness of your typical Lupo GTI owner or a combination of the two the interiors of the cars I’ve been browsing all seem to scrub up brilliantly too.


And there’s engineering to back it up. The engine is a 125hp 1.6-litre petrol, which doesn’t sound all too exciting but VW went to the bother of fitting aluminium doors, bonnet and front wings to help bring the weight down to just 978kg. That compares well with the 110hp and 810kg of the original Golf GTI and is a useful 10hp more and 100kg less than even the diminutive Up GTI, meaning it’s a whole half a second faster 0-62mph.

So it looks great, is well-engineered, is small, light and chuckable in the original GTI mould and has a keen following among VW fanboys, meaning a well-kept example should hold its money well. A few of the early ones came with five-speed gearboxes but from mid-2001 they were upgraded to six-speeders and most of the ones on the market have this. What’s the catch? Not sure I can find one, there being a decent selection for between £5,000-£6,000. That’s a fair chunk for a hot hatch of this age. But you get what you pay for it seems. 

Leaving me to browse the ads and basically pick a colour. Silver is the classic look for the Lupo GTI but this red one stands out as something a bit different, shows just 60,000 miles and looks pretty tidy. £5,995 is top end of the budget but looks good for something a little bit faster, quite a bit lighter and just as in tune with the original Golf GTI’s spirit as a brand new Up!

  • Dan Trent

  • Volkswagen

  • Up!

  • Lupo

  • GTI

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