Could the Skoda Fabia vRS be the perfect compromise between performance and running costs? Does the combination of 178bhp and 45mpg stack up in the real world or does the Skoda fall between the two stools of performance and economy?
It’s a sad fact of life that the cost of car ownership is rapidly increasing. Fuel prices continue to climb, road tax is getting increasingly painful to bear and the price of buying a new hot hatch is starting to reach ridiculous levels. Even a mid-range model such as the Golf GTI or Megane 250 is well over £20k, and the Audi RS3 Über-hatch has hit £40k!
So here comes the Skoda Fabia vRS, yours for a little over £16k with the promise of 178bhp to play with. Is it the antidote to to the rising costs of motoring? I spent a few days with Skoda’s junior hatchback to try and find out.
The Skoda Fabia vRS Arrives
When ‘my’ Skoda Fabia vRS arrived on the drive there was no mistaking it for a run-of-the-mill model. The Rallye Green metallic paint (£440 option) and contrasting white roof (£375) certainly give the vRS some road presence, as do the 17-inch ‘Gigaro’ alloys, red brake calipers, bodykit, LED spotlights and twin chromed exhausts. In terms of car park cred this is right up there with the best of them, and one thing I noticed is that pictures don’t do the green paintwork justice – it’s a beautiful rich colour that looks lovely in the sunshine.
The hot hatch credentials are boosted further by the engine. While the capacity of 1.4-litres might not sound like much the supercharger and turbocharger nestled up to it under the bonnet help to push power up to an energetic 178bhp and 184lb/ft of torque. More than enough for a hot hatch and easily enough to give the Skoda Fabia vRS a lively demeanor.
While I was eager to go for a blast the minute the chunky key fob landed in my palm, domestic duties meant I was left to potter around on various errands before I got my chance to try out the Fabia’s true potential. This gave me plenty of chance to familiarise myself with the seven-speed DSG gearbox, one of those clever dual-clutch systems that deliver seamless shifts.
The system is a doddle to use, behaving like a normal automatic. It’s surprising how quickly the gearbox changes up, with 5th gear selected at 30mph and 7th gear appearing just over 40mph. This helps the Fabia to achieve reasonable economy around town and while I never got near the official combined figure of 45mpg I did manage to get close to 40mpg. Not bad for a car capable of 0-62mph in just 7.3 seconds and 139mph!
The DSG on the Fabia comes complete with wheel-mounted paddles and these work even when the gearbox is in full automatic mode. Just flip a paddle (left goes down a gear, right up) and you are in control, able to dictate the pace as you see fit. If you don’t touch the paddles for a while it reverts back to automatic mode and if you forget to change down when you come to a stop it’ll do it for you, dropping back into first or second as you pull away. Clever stuff.
Alternatively you can go for full manual by pushing the gearstick to the left, allowing you to tap it forwards to go up a gear and backwards to go down. In this mode the computer won’t take over unless you do something really silly and you can use the paddles too – that’s a lot of options for changing gear.
The Practicality Test
Having completed my errands the next day involved taking the family out for a nice trip to the zoo. By definition every hot hatch must have a practical side and the five-door Fabia easily passed this test. The boot swallowed the pram, packed lunches and assorted paraphernalia required by two small children, while a pair of child seats fitted easily onto the rear bench. Admittedly the boot only just took the pram and there wasn’t a lot of legroom in the back, but then the Skoda Fabia vRS is based on a supermini and doesn’t claim to offer the space of a big family car. It’s also worth pointing out that not every family has a pram the size of ours. It would make a Tiger tank think twice about starting a fight.
One area where many hot hatches can fail as a family runabout is by having an excessively stiff ride. While stiffer suspension can mean better handling (when done properly) it can also mean misery for passengers, but with wife and children settled into the Fabia there were no complaints at all. In fact things must have been quite relaxing in the back as both children fell soundly asleep on the drive home.
A Dawn Raid In The Skoda Fabia vRS
Day three with the Fabia and at last, it’s playtime. Having set the alarm for early’o’clock I was out of bed and ready to go by 5am. Armed with a flask of strong coffee I hit the road before the sun had made an appearance. Being a weekday my plan was to reach my destination, the Yorkshire moors, before sleepy commuters started clogging up the roads. With the Fabia’s DSG set to ‘D’ I joined the A1 for a rapid run northwards before branching off towards Pickering.
With the optional touch-screen sat-nav (£525) guiding the way the miles just flew by. At a steady (ahem) cruise it quickly became apparent that the Fabia’s cabin is a very relaxed place to sit, with minimal road noise and a muted growl from the TSI engine.
It was at this point I discovered just how good the stereo is. Fed with tunes from my MP3 player via the Fabia’s auxiliary input, it provided very good quality sound. The aux input is a great feature that should be added to all new cars – other manufacturers please take note.
After the A1 came more dual carriageway in the shape of the A64, but eventually I turned off onto single lane carriageways and was in Pickering for 6.30. From there I headed out onto the Whitby road, a fantastic stretch of tarmac even when it’s busy, thanks to stunning views of the moors. At this hour of the morning it was quiet too, allowing me to open up the Fabia’s throttle and enjoy the fast sweeping curves and excellent visibility.
On these roads the vRS’s suspension is very well judged, soaking up the bumps and smaller potholes while keeping body-roll firmly in check. At low speeds the ride can seem a little firm but it starts to make more sense as the pace quickens. While it doesn’t offer the crisp handling of something like a Renaultsport Clio it does corner flat and securely, giving you the confidence to push on through the bends.
Any dawdling traffic was dispatched with ease using the manual mode on the DSG, rather than the (occasionally ponderous) automatic kickdown. Pre-selecting third or fourth before a squeeze of the throttle results in easy overtaking allowing you to make the most of any gaps in the oncoming traffic.
The twin-charged engine is an absolute gem. The supercharger provides plenty of pull at lower revs, the turbocharger kicks in at 2,400rpm and they work together up to 3,400rpm, leaving the turbocharger to power the vRS to the red line. It’s a wonderful, smooth engine and it is very difficult to tell the swap-over between the chargers. Add to that the seamless shifts from the DSG and its very easy to build up speed, and I frequently found myself travelling more quickly than I realised.
There’s also a great buzz from the exhaust, building to a loud growl as the revs rise. It’s not the most characterful of exhaust notes but it is sporty and adds to the thrill, while at low speeds its quiet enough so that it doesn’t become a nuisance.
After a while I turned off the main roads and headed out onto the network of minor roads that zig-zag through the moors. Over a cattle-grid and … SHEEP! Everywhere! The next couple of miles were treated with caution as the woolly onlookers meandered into the road, oblivious to the bright green hunk of metal heading towards them.
Eventually I crossed another cattle grid and – safely clear of suicidal sheep – I could increase the pace again. Now it was time to try ‘Sport’ mode on the DSG and wow, it’s fun! The gearbox stays in automatic but allows the engine to rev like crazy, hanging onto each gear longer and keeping the revs in the meatier part of the power band. In this mode the Fabia pulls itself out of sharp corners with real determination and lunges for the next bend, requiring you to push hard on the excellent brakes to get rid of excess speed.
On the twisty, bumpy stretches of road the engine was really testing the Fabia’s traction and the warning light from the XDS was a constant reminder that there was 178bhp being transmitted through those front wheels. The XDS system acts like an electronic differential, limiting wheel-spin and improving traction out of tighter bends. It does a good job and isn’t too intrusive, allowing you to get away with a bit of hooning before pulling the nose back into line.
One thing that became apparent is that there is a bit of torque-steer on full throttle. It’s to be expected and doesn’t ruin the party, but you have to learn to counter the slight wriggling of the steering wheel. Talking of the steering, it doesn’t provide the best in terms of feedback – both Ford and Renault could teach Skoda a thing or two here.
After a couple of hours of fun the roads were starting to get too busy and so, after a stop for photos at a suitably picturesque layby, it was time to head back home. Having just entertained me with its high-rev antics the Fabia vRS slipped back into relaxed cruise mode for the drive home. This really is a car that is able to change character at will and match your mood.
It Can’t All Be Good, Can It?
While the Skoda Fabia vRS is a great car it isn’t perfect, so here are my gripes. First and foremost is that DSG gearbox. I really do admire the technical excellence and for everyday driving it’s a wonderful thing to have … but when I’m in the mood for a fun drive I’d rather be in control, thank you very much.
There’s also the question of cost – on models equipped with the 1.2 TSI engine the DSG is a £715 option and rather than make it standard fit in the vRS I think Skoda should be knocking that money off the list price and using a six-speed manual. That would push the Fabia below £16k and make it a much more attractive proposition.
While the outside is sporty the interior is a bit bland and is very black – black roof, black seats (albeit with red trim), black dash, black carpets. I half expected to find Gollum lurking in the darkness of the rear footwells, looking for his ‘preciousssss’. On the upside the white-on-black dials are clear to read and the trip computer is packed full of useful information.
The interior of the Fabia also features a lot of black plastic, devoid of the soft-touch materials that its stablemates from Volkswagen and Audi enjoy. But then the Fabia is cheaper than its brethren, despite sharing the same mechanicals, and if missing out on damped grab handles means I can have the same oily bits for less money then I’m more than happy to accept that.
While there may be a lot of plastic in the cabin, don’t let that make you think it’s flimsy. Everything feels really well screwed together and built to last, with neither an unwanted squeak nor a misplaced rattle to be heard.
The Final Reckoning
Despite having spent only three days with the Skoda Fabia vRS I still managed to cover various driving conditions and it was with some regret that I saw it drive away.
It was the Fabia’s all-round abilities that impressed me the most. It’s smooth and civilised when you want it to be, fast and fun when the mood takes you. OK, it’s not quite sharp enough to be your first choice for a track day weapon but when it comes to everyday driving it has all the bases covered.
While Skoda are hardly giving the car away at £16,150 it is good value when compared with the competition, particularly the other cars from the Volkswagen group with which it shares so much. The Fabia vRS will also be gentle to your wallet with the promise of low running costs.
There’s also Skoda’s reputation to consider, something that should give you even more confidence in the car. Skoda are regularly at or near the top in customer satisfaction surveys and they are currently fifth in Warranty Direct’s reliability survey, while the last year has seen their sales figures increase dramatically.
Skoda have come up with a winning formula with the Fabia vRS. If you’re in the market for a small hot hatch you really should give it a try. Believe me when I say you’ll be impressed.
Skoda Fabia vRS Specifications
|Engine:||1.4-litre 4-cylinder supercharged & turbocharged|
|Top Speed:||139 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||148 g/km (Band F)|
|Price (as tested):||£17,725*|
Skoda Fabia vRS Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Brilliant twincharged engine delivers the goods||8|
|HANDLING||Good steering, corners well, ride just on right side of firm||8|
|AFFORDABILITY||Competitively priced to undercut rivals, great value||9|
|DESIRABILITY||vRS looks the part but can’t match GTI appeal||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Fun side slightly restrained by that DSG gearbox||7|
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157627344949409″]
*Prices taken from Skoda Fabia vRS homepage, Aug 2011.