Overall rating: 4/5
The first up! is still to land in Ireland, but already the firm is planning to boost its appeal with the new GT model. It's good enough to shake up the small car sector, offering a real slice of prestige fun that's not available elsewhere. But you need to convince Volkswagen Ireland to sell it here.
In the Metal:
Aggressive and in your face, the Volkswagen up! GT has more visual impact than any small car has a right to. Big 17-inch wheels fill the arches, while the bumpers have been boosted with deeper intakes and a neat twin-pipe exhaust system.
The cabin is the most pleasing part of the up! GT though, the Interlagos style tartan cloth a return to retro form for the company. A huge central rev-counter plays to its focused intentions, but the piano black trim, quality switchgear and the docking display underline its sophistication.
All this is said with the proviso that we've only been shown the concept version so far. The test car actually looked identical to a normal up!.
Initial impressions suggest it's not much different to the regular car, certainly not around the ruffled roads of VW's Wolfsburg base. Sure there's a little more weight to the steering, and it's clear the suspension is firmer but overall it feels very similar.
Out of the confines of the city though that attitude changes, where the dynamic package comes alive. There's an almost exotic ring to the tiny three-cylinder engine, and on lighter throttle openings the meaty warble is an aural joy. Demand more from it and the induction racket will have you lifting the bonnet to check which pipe has become dislodged - the rush of air suggesting the tiny turbo is venting direct to atmosphere.
VW's engineers reassure us this part of the system is not finalised though, and however bad it is it doesn't spoil the rest of the package. The six-speed manual gearbox feels like a familiar Volkswagen unit, which is to say easy changing with well-chosen ratios.
In the end the combination of the car's low weight (it's less than a tonne), sensible compromise between outright grip and balanced chassis and willing engine make this communicative hatch one of, if not the, most involving cars in the company's current portfolio.
What you get for your Money:
Official details of the up! GT's specifications haven't yet been released. However, it's likely to be based on the High up! model, which benefits from air conditioning, start-stop and the 'Maps and More' portable entertainment device. You can also expect bespoke instruments, seats and steering wheel to be added to that package.
Of course on the outside there should be 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, twin exhaust pipes and deeper bumpers with larger air intakes. Like the rest of the range, customers can personalise their GT with options including climate control, leather look seats and a panoramic sunroof.
Volkswagen still makes a Golf GTI (now in its sixth generation), but the up! GT is much more of a spiritual successor to the Mk1 version. Not only does its three-cylinder turbo have a similar output to that car's 1.6-litre naturally aspirated unit, but both share similar kerb weights. The result is that, despite the onset of extra technology making it safer and more efficient, the up! GT has a very similar character to the original.
The car we drove is 80 per cent there according to the engineers, and provided they keep the correct 80 per cent (i.e. not that induction noise) then Volkswagen could be onto a winner. In its home country the up! is already topping the charts, and any extra additions to the range could just see it dominate car buyers' affections. Lobby your local dealer now though, as Volkswagen Ireland may not offer it for sale if the price is deemed to be too high.