There’s an undeniable appeal to the UP! GTi. It doesn’t matter if you own a fire breathing RS6 or a 500+bhp EA888 VAG stable mate, the UP! makes people smile and it has an allure that’s oh-so- easy to pin-point. We can’t help thinking the seductive quality of the UP! GTi is all down to a built in, generational obsession with the Mk1 Golf GTi. Whether we like it or not, people of a certain age all have rose tinted spectacles when it comes to the first proper Hot Hatch that blessed our planet with both practicality and performance in equal measure. Look at the raw stats for the latest UP! GTi though and it’s not difficult to see why we’re drawn to it. 995kg, 113bhp, 1.0-litre turbocharged engine - it’s basically a Mk1 GTi for the modern age, albeit with some slightly more fuel efficient technology and a vastly superior exhaust note - particularly now, but we’ll come to that in just a moment - we’re getting ahead ourselves in all this tiny car, sensible go excitement.
The raw stats don’t really do this car justice. As factory the UP! GTi is ‘only’ capable of 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, but this car isn’t about effortless pace, three-figure terror or license loss the first time you take it out and drive it in anger. No, this car is a tactile, agile, nimble testament to the finer elements of extracting performance from a vehicle. It’s the sort of car you could probably drive at eight or nine tenths all of the time, stay well within the speed limit and still feel as if you’ve been for a ‘proper’ drive, with a beaming grin on your boat race every time you fire it around your local one way system or Maccy Ds drive through. Granted, the effortless, punishing acceleration of a turbo’d V8 isn’t there, but that’s equally part of the appeal. You really have to drive this like you’ve stolen it to get the very best from it – just like you did with the original GTi in fact.
So, you might well ask, can you really make this supermini any better with simple bolt-on mods? Ollie Wildsmith from Milltek Sport certainly thinks so. So much so that this little car has become a bit of star at Milltek HQ. It really is set to be a cult pocket-rocket, particularly if the reaction it received while we had it is anything to go by. Nestled amongst all of the GTis, Rs and RSs that inhabit chateau Milltek, the little UP! looks slightly out of place, but it’s probably the one car everyone wants to grab the keys to when they’re about to head home, “Usually we only keep our demo cars for a year or so, but this UP! is so much fun and draws so much attention we think we’re going to keep it for a lot longer than that. Everyone wants to drive it, look at it, sit in it and talk about it, it really is staggering how people are drawn to it,” he enthuses with a wry smile. Any car that creates that sort of reaction from someone who spends everyday surrounded by exotica has definitely made the £13,255 price tag seem an absolute bargain. “We got it in to develop our cat back exhaust system for it,” Ollie tells us, continuing, “The standard exhaust system is very restrictive, so we’ve gone for our non-resonated, cat back system with our burnt titanium tips on this car, we’re yet start development of the turbo back system, but the gains should be brilliant from that unit.” Indeed, if there’s one thing the UP! GTi needs to be considered a true hot-hatch (apart from a Golf ball gearknob, of course –ED), it’s a funky exhaust system to replace the standard looking pea shooter affair.
Crucially though, just replacing the cat back section netted a very impressive 11bhp gain after a few dyno runs, so there’s 124bhp on tap here now and lord only knows what might happen when the ECU has been cracked and companies start winding the boost pressure up and altering ignition tables to suit (we now know that the magic number is 145hp following a JBS AutoDesigns stage 1 remap) Now, the factory UP! GTi already sounds fantastic considering there’s such a simple engine onboard, but with the Milltek in place the aural fireworks are truly staggering. Check out the Milltek Sport Facebook page to hear it in action, but your ears simply won’t believe the noise that emanates from this thrumming, three-cylinder petrol engine. It’s really addictive as well, urging you to stretch the revs out to the redline whenever you have the chance. No, it doesn’t feel like a car from 1976, it feels like a modern interpretation with far superior build quality, modern day NVH standards and just a much plusher place to be, yet the grin factor remains almost identical!
To further enhance the go-kart like prowess of this little car, Ollie and the chaps called upon the services of none other than KW Automotive, naturally. With a set of it’s latest V1 height adjustable coilovers on test, the UP! is now flying at low altitude. Less altitude naturally leads to more attitude, but not at the expense of keeping the geometry and the natural arcs of the suspension componentry all in check, “We’ve absolutely hammered it at various trackdays so far, especially at VAG Tuner Live, and it goes really well for such a tiny car, plus it rides really nicely and doesn’t bottom our or run out of travel this low, so it’s the perfect balance of both style and performance.” Ollie tells us.
Perhaps most importantly though as we’re talking about this little car with Ollie, we’re actually bombing along in a development F56 Mini Cooper S that’s had a fair bit of tinkering beneath the bonnet, it sounds great, but Ollie is convinced the humble 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo engine of the UP! GTi sounds so deep and authoritative that it puts the 200+hp Mini to shame. “The exhaust note of the UP! Is really pleasing, it’s got a little sound generator speaker within the car, but to be honest with the Milltek system fitted you won’t need it because you can’t hear it anyway.” Later on we’re given a quick demo blast of the car and the noise it produces is staggering, it just sounds so deep, bassy and hairy chested it’s like someone has given a toddler a massive dose of testosterone and then told them to step into a boxing ring.
One thing’s for sure, this car is punching well above it’s weight immediately, with 'just' 145hp from a really simple exhaust upgrade, Forge Induction kit and dump valve, the turbo whistle is intoxicating, the performance is always accessible and you can easily jump in and feel like an instant hooligan without having to worry about the police or ANPR being your worst enemy. Best of all though, the raspy, off beat, booming, amazing noise that’s present when you’re mashing the loud pedal, is nowhere to be heard once you’re at motorway speed, or carrying a comfortable cruise along an A road. This complete lack of drone is typical of all Milltek exhausts, even the loudest, most hooligan spec, cat-back. non-resonated (louder) versions like this one with it’s classy looking burnt titanium tips, the finish that we’d choose in a heartbeat.
Whenever Ollie talks about the car he can’t help but chuckle. It’s just such a fun thing to be involved with - the 18-inch OZ rally wheels wheels remain in place, also pumped up and pushed out thanks to a set of ST suspension 20mm wheel spacers for that all-important arch filling girth. Everything about it just works. Even the attention grabbing vinyl wrap amplifies this tiny cars amazing attitude and ramps the appeal way up to eleven. “The tyres can sometimes rub slightly under full compression over massive bumps, but it’s so confidence inspiring you just want to drive it flat out all of the time,” says Ollie. It’s often said that having a lack of power makes you a better driver as you have to conserve momentum and drive more thoughtfully through the bends, and on a personal level I can vividly remember owning a Mk1 Golf 1.3 Driver on FK coilovers when I was 18 that I took everywhere flat out because there was way more grip than power, that same philosophy no doubt applies to the UP! GTi. Don’t forget either that the official MPG figure for this car is 59MPG, with a relatively low tax bracket to suit it’s tiny capacity. We’re really struggling to think of any compromises with this little car, unless a big boot is your thing, of course.
Yet it’s Ollie’s closing statement that really brings home how impressive this little three pot car is, “We’re all used to 500bhp+ stage 3 Golf Rs and RS Audis here in the office, but the UP! proves that power isn’t always the key to happiness. It makes whoever steps foot in it smile, provokes a fantastic reaction on the road and receives loads more attention than we’re used to with our demo cars.
As that tiny turbo whistles off into the distance, you can’t help wondering if this humble little hatchback might just be the big hit of the UP! range, despite excellent press across the board, the GTi stripes might finally have landed on something that makes us all hark back to our teenage obsession with early 80s hot hatches. Seems Ollie and the team Milltek will just have to grin and bear the next few months of driving about all over the place in this fantastically addictive little car. If you ever get the chance, have a listen to this three-cylinder wonder, it might just change your mind forever.
The Milltek Sport Up! GTi would draw loads of attention without the graphics, but step inside and you're instantly transported into 'hooligan' mode.
1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo; Milltek cat back, non-res exhaust system with burnt titanium tailpipe, Forge Motorsport Induction kit and to diverter valve; JBS AutoDesigns Stage 1 ECU remap
KW Automotive V1 height adjustable coilovers; 18-inch OZ rally wheels; ST suspension 20mm wheel spacers; Nankang NS-2 tyres