VXR

The only way is Up – if you’re looking for a small hot hatch

The Up GTI is the smallest hot hatch Volkswagen makes

IT’S THE sort of late landing an Irish budget airline would be proud of. There’s arriving fashionably late – and then there’s the Volkswagen Up GTI.

Connoisseurs of pint-sized and spiced-up hatchbacks might have already read that as of this week the smallest of Wolfsburg GTI-badged wonders has just gone on sale across the UK. You might have also read in the motoring mags about how it copes tremendously with tight turns, and seen James May making excitable squawking noises while driving it on The Grand Tour. But the fact remains that Volkswagen first started promising us a spruced-up version of the teeny-tiny up way back in 2013, at a time when I was actually using a bog-standard Up as a company car.

I can only assume that Volkswagen was being considerate by teasing us with it in concept car form – albeit missing that elusive third letter and badged as just the GT then – so it could give press-on drivers like me the chance to save up for it. Which is a good thing, because even in the poverty spec guise I reckon the Up’s the best car VW currently makes (especially now that the Scirocco has been pensioned off).

But all those years of teasing car nuts with the idea of an Up with added oomph has given the rest of the motoring world time to catch up. For a few hundred pounds less, for instance, you can have the Renault Twingo GT, which follows roughly the same formula but sticks the engine behind the rear seats and spits all the power out through the rear wheels. So basically it’s a Porsche 911 that’s more practical and easier to park. There’s also the Smart ForFour Brabus, which uses the same engine as the Twingo in a much heavier package and slaps on a £20k price tag for the privilege. Erm, and that’s about it.

Sure, there’s a new Suzuki Swift Sport on the way too but it’s astonishing that there’s no Sport spinoff of Ford’s Ka+ and that Vauxhall’s VXR boffins haven’t got their hands on an Adam. There’s no GTI twist on Peugeot’s 108 or a VTS variant of its sister car, the Citroen C1. Even VW hasn’t extended the GTI fun factor to the Up’s extended cousins – why isn’t SEAT doing a Mii Cupra, or Skoda Citigo vRS?

Hot hatches inject a sparkle of excitement into the all-too-often anodyne world of front-wheel-drive supermarket companions, and the smaller and lighter they start off the more fun and immediate they end up being in GTI form.

Come on carmakers, let’s have some more! Until then the only way is Up, even if it is five years late. Or to a Twingo GT, if you’re being awkward.

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How Vauxhall helped me win my favourite car game

The VXR8 is hugely powerful - but in the real world there are better performance buysAS GAMES for car nuts go Real Life Top Trumps is definitely one of the better ones.

It’s one anyone can play, as long as you’ve got at least one similarly inclined mate willing to take you on. All you need do is pick an automotive superlative of your choice, go through all the cars you’ve collectively ever driven and whoever nails the biggest (or smallest) number in their bucket list wins. Whether it’s the fastest, the priciest, or the quickest to 60mph, whoever can blag or buy a car with the most impressive stat wins. It doesn’t even need to be the stuff of supercars either; it’d be equally fun trying to one-up one another with who can get the lowest MPG.

The on-off round of Real Life Top Trumps I’ve been playing with a pal over the last few years involves seeing who can get a go in the most powerful car. Regular readers will remember I smiled like a schoolboy given his whoopee cushion when someone was brave enough to let me have a go in the 542bhp Jaguar XKR-S. I was confident victory was mine – right up until about a fortnight, when said mate went on a track day and landed a few laps in a 550bhp Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s exactly the sort of experience you can buy someone as a birthday present, so don’t think quick thrills in really powerful cars are the preserve of Premier League footballers and the sort of drug dealers you’d find on Miami Vice.

But now I’ve managed to pull back into the Real Life Top Trumps lead, and it’s all thanks to the cheapest new car you can buy with upwards of 500bhp.

Bet you didn’t expect said car to be a Vauxhall. The VXR8 GTS mates a 6.2-litre V8 with a supercharger to rustle up 585bhp – making it more powerful and cheaper than either the BMW M5 or a Jaguar XJR. It’ll also, seeing as we’re talking stats to impress your mates down the pub with, get to 60mph in 4.2 seconds before growling loudly all the way to 155mph.

Mash your right foot to the floor and there’s a whine from the supercharger as this preposterously ample family saloon gets lugged towards the horizon so quickly it feels like it’s been tied to one end of an enormous elastic band. For a split second its sheer get-up-and-go is intoxicating – and then you have to rein it in instantly for fear of propelling yourself into the nearest village at three-figure speeds.

It’s got the same one-track charm as the old VXR8 – only everything happens so much more urgently. If you want a go-faster Vauxhall then the clever money’s really got to be on the Insignia VXR, which might not have anything like the power but thanks to its slicker tech, smaller size and four-wheel-drive is by far the better ground coverer.

The VXR8 is the one I’d take for winning Real Life Top Trumps – but it’s the Insignia VXR that really wins you over.