At a time when they’re needed most, warmed-up city cars aren’t much of a thing these days. Ever more bombastic and arguably pointless power outputs are appearing in the world’s performance cars, making me yearn for tiny pocket rockets more than ever.
The sad thing is there used to be so many: we had the Peugeot 106 GTI and related Citroen Saxo, the Fiat Panda 100HP, the Ford SportKa and the VW Lupo GTI, to name but a few. They’ve all long since died out and haven’t been replaced, except for one: the Lupo.
It’s at last getting the successor the world deserves in the form of the new Up GTI, but we’re going to have to be patient. The concept version has only just been revealed, and the production car won’t be going on sale until 2018. So in the meantime, we thought we’d prepare ourselves by spending time with the current range-topping Up.
It shares the same basic turbocharged, 1.0-litre inline-three with the incoming GTI, but with 89bhp and 118lb ft of torque rather than 113bhp and 147lb ft. Modest figures certainly, but with just 999kg to its name the Up will just scrape a 10 second 0-62mph time with a 9.9 second official figure.
To achieve that though, you need to thrash it. Hard. It has a meatier mid-range compared to the naturally-aspirated 74bhp version of this engine, but you still have to wind that adorably tiny rev counter around to top end in order to make the most of the little three pot.
Being a three-cylinder engine it’s not the most free-revving thing, but it does let out a lovely fizzy - if a little muted - exhaust note. Best of all, you can hack through the five speeds of the manual gearbox to your heart’s content, not worrying once about hitting anti-social speeds.
With that surprisingly punchy engine and fast, light steering, the Up is adept at quickly carving across town. It’s not quite so good out on country roads: the Up’s body roll is amusing around town but doesn’t exactly make for a back-road weapon, and those skinny little tyres don’t exactly have big grip reserves.
But that’s fine, as the lower, stiffer GTI will solve that. The 89bhp Up already offers up lashings of refreshing fun, so a slightly more powerful, slightly tauter version should be a riot. It’s so clear that it only needs a modest bump in power, so VW’s restraint in blessing the incoming GTI with a mere 113bhp is looking like a master stroke.
When you’re being a little more sensible, you can appreciate what a brilliantly packaged little thing the Up is. Because of its box-like design and low window lines, it feels bright, airy and roomy inside, and is stupidly easy to see out of when you’re parking. Which is extra easy since it’s so small.
As a bonus, our test car was the £11,490 ‘Beats’ version, which means you get a 300-watt Beats Audio sound system. It sadly doesn’t come pre-loaded with gangster rap, but - unlike every other Beats product I’ve tried - it actually sounds pretty damn good.
Most importantly, this is a car that makes you feel happy. There’s something innocent and joyful about it, from the way it drives to its cheerily inoffensive styling. A slightly more powerful version of this thing is going to be awesome.