Cars, we feel, should be judged on their own merits. At least that’s what we think. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t recommend you buy a Suzuki Jimny, but we have. What’s worse, though, is when cars are compared to their long since decommissioned elders. Car companies love a bit of that, giving it the “look at what we did in 1902″ like it’s going to make us buy the new car. It won’t, so stop it.
As with everything though, there are exceptions. And that is what the Lupo GTi is. Normally we find it crass to partake in any kind of automotive Generation Game, but in the case of the hot Lupo, it’s fine. Why? Because not only is the Lupo GTi worthy of the comparison, the car it’s being compared to is a legend in itself. Yes, we’re talking about the Mk1 Golf GTi.
The Golf GTi is, without question, the hot-hatch boss. It’s the car that motivated every other company into making their mum-spec cars go that little bit faster, while looking that little bit meaner. Every hot hatch was spawned by the Golf GTi. And that’s not hearsay, that’s a fact.
Sadly though, while the Golf GTi name has lived on, it’s got fatter. A lot fatter. The Mk1 weighed about as much as a gerbil’s burp. The current one? Well, only one is allowed into any of the Earth’s hemispheres at any one time, otherwise it will stop rotating. It’s that fat. As such, the Golf GTi isn’t quite as spritely as it once was. Yes, it’s still fast, but it’s not nimble, or light, or nearly as exciting as it once was. So imagine our sheer joy when, in 2000, Volkswagen told us we were getting the Lupo GTi.
The Lupo was a fairly unremarkable car. It was to the early 2000s what the Up! is to today. It was a small, cheap car for bimbling about in. It wasn’t a bad car – we had a 1.0SE at the time and loved it – but nor did it set the world alight. As such, while the notion of a GTi version piqued our interest, we couldn’t help but worry that it might be a letdown. Thankfully, it was not. Not by a long shot.
What we got was the same 1.6 16V twin-cam engine that VW had already shoehorned into the Polo GTi. And the Polo GTi was quick. We also got bespoke alloy wheels, better brakes, better suspension and a twin up-swept exhaust sticking up from the middle of its rump. It was a corker!
It also had flared arches, giving it a somewhat muscular look. And get this, some of the panels were made to be lighter. LIGHTER. On a Lupo! As such, the whole thing weighed 960kg. Add the fact the engine kicked out 125bhp and you’re left with a car that embodies the Golf GTi perfectly. Light, outrageously nimble, brilliantly chuckable and huge, huge amounts of fun. Yes, the Lupo GTi is more than deserving of the badge.
Inside the Lupo GTi was a damn fine place to be, while being justifiably sporty of course. You had red-stitched sports seats, chrome bezels on the clocks, the clocks themselves illuminated with a blue glow, you had a CD player, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and lots of electric things like windows and mirrors. For a small car, it was incredibly well-appointed.
Frankly though, it could look like Roy Chubby Brown’s left testicle and have an interior trimmed in custard and Daily Mail cuttings, it wouldn’t matter. Why? Because of just how well the damn thing drove, that’s why. The Lupo GTi was a true driver’s car, which might sound like a cliched phrase, but in this context trust us when we say it’s not.
The Lupo GTi just felt alive when you drove it. It was proper point-and-squirt motoring, with bags of power ready and willing to shunt it along at pace. The launch version was good, but in 2002 Volkswagen made it even better by bolting in a six-speed gearbox and sharpening up the already good throttle response. Add that to the tight yet forgiving chassis and the confidence that you get from wheel-at-each-corner motoring and you’re left with a car that is a thrill on the way to the shops, let alone a deliberate blast.
There are of course some negatives. The Lupo is a small car, and by that we mean very small. The back seats can accommodate people, but they won’t thank you for being in there for any length of time. The boot is also minuscule, in our 1.0SE we nearly filled it with a PC tower. This really isn’t the motor for your weekly ‘big shop’. Finally, while 40mpg is achievable, that’s hardly a figure to get excited about by modern standards. But then again, if you want a GTi anything yet still prioritise economy, you need to be slapped with a fish.
Then there’s the big negative. The Lupo GTi is not a common car, and over the years the boy racers have found them. As such, finding one that’s free of Chinese eBay coilovers and Monster stickers is becoming increasingly difficult. But they are out there. Don’t be tempted by a modified one though. The Lupo GTi is the kind of car you need to experience as VW intended, anything else will be rubbish. Trust us.
As for safety, you got ABS and traction control, plus a smattering of airbags, too. Professional car-compressors, EuroNCAP gave it four stars, which is a solid score for a city car designed in the late ’90s.
So there you have it, the Lupo GTi. There really are few cars that are this much fun, and not only that, this is one of those rare Not2Grand cars that, if you look after it, might actually go up in value. After all, it’s not like VW is making any more. Though having said that, there are plans afoot for the Up! GTi, which should be a riot.
Until that falls within budget, get yourself a Lupo GTi. It’s fun, it’s fast and it proudly embodies the spirit of the Mk1 Golf GTi. And that’s no bad thing at all.