The sweetest GTI since the original model

In 1976, Volkswagen introduced the Golf GTI, the first hot hatch. An ordinary three-door with the balls of a sports car. He had 110 horsepower. Every dull middle class today is more muscular. But he weighed nothing, 810 kilos. So you had a hard time with it. And he looked civilized. A single dash, a GTI badge on the grille, that was it. The perfect understatement.

He didn’t stay that long. His arrival was countered by the competition with increasingly burly asphalt warriors who forced VW to go higher. Spoilers had to be fitted, larger engines had to be fitted, the exhausters were given a day job on the pipes. In this way he gradually distanced himself from the people who could initially still pay him. The most monstrous GTI of today, 245 hp, costs well over forty grand. Above that sits an R for 55,000 euros, the über-GTI with 310 hp.

VW built a smaller one for the more general public. That became the Polo GTI, which in the meantime also has 200 hp for at least 30,000 euros. They filled the budget gap with the Up!, the lovely urban cube that has been around for years and is still the best-designed car in its class. They put in a three-cylinder with a turbo, the 115 hp one-litre that you encounter in every VW, Skoda, Seat and small Audi. It got GTI logos all around and 17 inch rims. You get the retro window covering of the first GTI as standard. And then there was an Up! GTI. For sale for 20,000 euros, if you forgo a sliding roof or automatic climate control. In micro-measures, this is the sportsman who has been away from VW for too long.

One exhaust pipe

Hard cuts have been made for its affordability. A GTI with only one exhaust pipe and only a small corner of LEDs in the headlights, unheard of. The infotainment screen is tiny, but big enough for the rear view camera, your streaming data and the channel information. You tap the navigation via your phone, which you click into a removable holder on top of the dashboard. With the clamps my weak motor skills do not come to terms. In addition, an iPhone is required. I think that’s stupid, we Samsung people have rights too.

It can reach 196 km/h and 0-100 in just under nine seconds. Whether you find that GTI worthy depends on what you consider a sports car. He doesn’t stand a chance against the real hot hatches of today. On the other hand: you should not have that in the Netherlands. The country is too small for it. They go so fast that you are permanently on the brakes; you become the hostage of their vast powers. You remove that suffering by reducing the capacity. Slow down a car like that and you’ll feel faster, because you can pedal longer before you reach the speed at which the big boys have to anchor. You have more free space and therefore more fun.

970 kilos

It’s not real GTI fun, there’s the Up! too harmless for that. The steering is too light, the chassis is too sedate for rough corners, and from a standstill the car starts too easily. That is the fault of the turbo engine that was made to get larger corporate models moving smoothly, and that has next to nothing to do here. In all six gears, yes, the much lighter Up! (970 kilos) mainly rely on its enormous pulling power of 200 Newton meters. There is not much touring spectacle involved. You are fast anyway, and the enthusiast feels even more manly because of the hilarious electronic sound amplification that makes the engine sound like a six-cylinder. It’s okay with me.

unbelievable; the pretentious VW has built a little car that unites feeling and reason. It costs little, is just as practical as regular Ups, offers the safe power reserves of larger cars, especially in heavy traffic and is terribly economical; I just drove 1 in 20 with it. It is even for sale with four doors, which you have to give to rear passengers. In the two-door, the rear seat, where you sit quite reasonably, is inaccessible for adults despite the large front doors.

This is the sweetest GTI since the original model. If you want to enjoy yourself in this country, don’t take a Golf R, no BMW M5, no Porsche Boxster; one take this. It is enough, and more than that.