When VW revealed the Up GTI to the public, it made sure to establish its latest hot hatch as the direct successor of the Mk.1 Golf GTI.
Only problem was that VW forgot to mention that it had already released a spiritual successor to the original GTI some 18 years ago in the form of the Lupo GTI. Automakers tend to “forget” models that were either really bad, commercial flops, or both, and we feel like the Lupo GTI deserved better.
This isn’t just a more powerful version of the normal Lupo, but a properly engineered performance version that went the extra mile in order to offer pure GTI thrills in a small package.
For example, the bonnet, door skins and wider front fenders were made from aluminum instead of steel to save weight, helping the little wolf (that’s what Lupo stands for in Latin) tip the scales at a mere 960 kg (2,116 lbs). That was light even by the period’s standards, with the Polo GTI weighing almost 200 kg (440 lbs)more.
VW then took the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder out of the same period’s Polo GTI and fitted it directly under bonnet of the Lupo. No detuning, no excuses, just shoving the same 123 HP engine into the smallest model in the range. The 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) sprint took 8.2 seconds, 0.6 seconds faster than today’s Up GTI, while top speed was a rather impressive 127 mph (204 km/h).
The chassis was lowered by 20mm, with the suspension featuring upgraded dampers and springs, while bigger disc brakes were fitted all around. In late 2001 VW updated the Lupo GTI, replacing the five-speed manual gearbox with a six-speed one that had shorter ratios, and also improved the throttle response.
Looks are certainly subjective, but the Lupo GTI definitely looked the part, with its swollen fenders hugging the 15-inch five-spoke alloys and the twin exhaust pipes coming out of the middle of the clean-looking rear bumper. Compared to the modern fake air-vent madness, the Lupo GTI is a no-nonsense kind of car, even if it looks always surprised from the front.
On the road, VW’s baby hot hatch offered a surprisingly comfortable ride, which in turn allowed for plenty of roll in the corners. Keep pushing though and the Lupo GTI was happy to grip harder and carry lots of speed through the corners. French rivals of that era might have been sharper to drive, but the Lupo was friendlier during fast driving, especially on the wet.
Was it wrong for VW not to mention the hot Lupo at the Up GTI’s reveal? In a way no, as people would start comparing the two and realize that the older car was not only faster in the marketing-friendly 0-62 mph acceleration, but also a bit more special too, thanks to its lightweight body panels.
And you don’t want people to start thinking that the old car was faster and more special, do you? Even so, no matter what VW says, there’s no denying that the Lupo GTI was a rather special model.