Surely everyone has now revised their view of Skoda
as the producers of reliable, well-built and worthy motor cars? But, possibly there are a few of you out there who still think that the Czech manufacturer’s products are a bit staid and therefore appeal to, what shall we say, an older clientele?
If that is you, then read on.
Just as the new Skoda Fabia
projects more ‘attitude’ in its latest form, with its slightly more quirky looks (people kept commenting that, with its two-tone paintwork, it looked like a Mini), the Fabia vRS delivers real eyebrow-raising performance.
Not that you would really know it to look at the car. There is no gaudy colour scheme. There is little in the way of external clues to this car’s sporting style. Similarly the interior is quite conservative. Yes, the plastics don’t have quite the quality appearance of its close relatives in the Volkswagen range, but the build quality seems good.
For practicality it scores well with five doors and good space for a small hatchback, even in the back seats. The boot is also quite spacious, despite the full-size (but steel) wheel beneath its floor.
That all sounds like a fairly ordinary small hatchback. But this Fabia has a dual personality.
You can drive it as a comfortable and practical hatchback and it will eat up the miles effortlessly, whether you are driving on motorways, city streets or country by-ways. With a seven-speed DSG gearbox, you don’t even have to worry about changing gear.
But, switch the gearbox to ‘sport’ mode and plant your foot on the accelerator and the Skoda Fabia vRS shows the other side of its character. Experiencing the steady surge of acceleration that pushed them back into their seats, passengers went strangely silent as their eyebrows moved to a higher altitude on their foreheads.
A few years ago those selfsame eyebrows would have been raised merely by reading of the specification sheet. A sports hatchback with a 1390cc engine? Surely some mistake?
But, as manufacturers chase ever better fuel consumption and lower emissions, the Volkswagen Group have led the switch to smaller, efficient turbocharged engines. This one puts out a quite remarkable 180PS which translates into a 0-62 mph time of 7.3 seconds.
The economy figures are equally impressive – at least on paper. The combined fuel economy of the Fabia vRS is 45.6 mpg, which would prove difficult to attain in real life. Over five days of city and country driving – admittedly enjoying the performance to the full and driving much of the time in ‘sport’ – I averaged a still-creditable 29 mpg according to the trip computer. CO2 emissions are 148 g/km, putting it in Band F for UK road tax.
I have always liked the Volkswagen DSG gearbox, ever since my early experiences of it in Volkswagen models. I like their ability to change gear, in the blink of an eye, but also how they turn accepted norms on their head.
Whereas automatic gearboxes normally take the edge off performance and economy, DSG-equipped cars tend to be marginally faster and more economical than their manual counterparts. Not that we can tell on the Fabia vRS as there is no manual version!
It’s a long time since I have driven a car where the ‘normal’ and ‘sports’ gearbox settings are so different. In sport, the gearbox becomes downright frenetic, holding onto gears to keep the revs up in the power band – reaching close to 7,000 rpm before up-shifting.
I tried using the manual shift, but I came to the conclusion there is little (other than a sense of involvement) to be gained. This gearbox has an uncanny knack of choosing the right gears at the right time.
This performance is combined with a suspension set up up that offers a reasonably compliant ride for transporting more delicate passengers, but enough sporting firmness to provide sporty dynamics. Stopping power is provided – the man from Skoda Assistance assured me as he changed a pothole puncture – by the same disc brake callipers as the Audi S3.
The even better news about the Skoda vRS is the price. At £16,265 it seems quite remarkable for a car with such good performance and equipment. But the price seems even more keen when you realise that the DSG gearbox comes as standard.