Volkswagen has revisited the small but fast hot hatch category it helped to create over 40 years ago, not with a version of the Golf, but instead with the Up! GTI.
Unveiled as part of the Woerthersee GTI festival in Austria, renowned for its outlandish concepts, the Up! GTI is not a flight-of-fancy concept, but a production preview set for launch in Europe in 2018.
Under the bonnet Volkswagen has installed it newest 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, and while 85kW may not sound immense, the standard Up! Peaks at 55kW, while the original Golf GTI could only muster 81kW.
Volkswagen has rivals like Abarth-tuned versions of the Fiat 500 and Opel Adam Unlimited in its sights with the Up! GTI forming part of a GTI expansion plan that Volkswagen executives have hinted will spread across more model lines.
Against those competitors the 85kW Up! GTI falls 22kW short of the Abarth 595’s turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, but matches the similarly configured turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine used by the Adam Unlimited.
As a joint project between Volkswagen's mainstream passenger car department and its high performance R division, the new model is described as evoking the spirit of the original GTi, with an upgraded engine, greater downforce at the rear and revised suspension claimed to make it both faster and more agile than the regular Up!.
Head-to-head with the original Golf GTI the 997kg Up! GTI tips the scales slightly heavier than the 810gl Golf resulting in a weight-to-power ratio of 11.7kg per kW compared to the more lithe 10kg per kW of the Mk1 Golf GTI.
Thanks to its turbocharger the Up! GTI out-grunts the original Golf in the torque stakes, with the 1.0-litre triple generating 200Nm of torque between 2000 and 3500rpm compared to the 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated and fuel injected Golf with only 140Nm in 1976.
Unlike economy-focussed version of the 1.0-litre engine as found in the latest generation Golf, Skoda Rapid, and other Volkswagen Group models, the Up! GTI is equipped with ‘sound actuator’ to synthetically generate a more spirited exhaust note.
Power is sent to the front wheels via a closely stacked six-speed manual gearbox. Volkswagen claims a 0-100km/h time of 8.8sec and a top speed of 197km/h. This compares to a respective 0-100km/h time and top speed for the original Golf GTi of 9.0sec and 182km/h.
Suspension work for the Up! GTI includes retuned MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension with tauter spring and damper rates, as well as a 15mm reduction in ride height over other Up! models.
To go with the added performance the Up! GTI scored a collection of visual upgrades including a new, deeper front bumper with additional cooling vents, round fog lamps with cornering light function an iconic GTI honeycomb grille insert with red pinstriping, Brands Hatch 17-inch alloy wheels, GTI badging for the grille and front guards, and black mirror caps, headlight internals, and bodyside decals.
At the rear, there's more black-out treatments, applied to the uniquely styled spoiler atop the tailgate, tail lights, and rear valance plus a redesigned bumper which houses a single round chromed tailpipe. The tailgate also features a red stripe and GTI badge.
Along with the three-door version pictured here, Volkswagen has confirmed the Up GTi will also be available in five-door guise from the start of European sales early next year.
On the Inside, Red Pixel trim adorns the dashboard, with traditional GTI red and black plaid check fabric covering the front seats, the multi-function flat bottom steering wheel picks up red stitching, a black headlining is fitted as is a GTI-branded leather gear knob, albeit without the classic golf ball finish of the Golf GTI.
Unfortunately for Australian hot hatch fans Volkswagen Australia’s decision to drop the standard Up! in 2014 ue to slow sales means there’s little change of the new GTi model heading Downunder any time soon to slot in beneath the Polo GTI.