As the cost of motorings grows, here's how to cut your cars' bills
What - Skoda Fabia vRS
Where - Prague, Czech Republic
Price - £15,700 - £16,495
Available - 29 July 2010
Key rivals - Alfa Romeo MiTo Cloverleaf, Citroen DS3, Mini Cooper S, Renault Clio 200 Renaultsport, SEAT Ibiza Cupra/Bocanegra, Volkswagen Polo GTI
The Skoda Fabia vRS supermini hot hatch returns with 180hp twin-charger petrol power and a seven-speed DSG transmission, offering great fun in a practical package. You can even have it as an estate...
We like - punchy engine, beautifully judged ride/handling balance, subtle styling enhancements, value, practicality of estate
We don't like - quite a bit of wind noise, interior rather dull (if solid), why can't we have a manual gearbox, too?
Gallery: Skoda Fabia vRS
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a contender: the Skoda Fabia vRS is a supermini hot hatch well worth spending your money on. And you don't even need very much of it.
£15,700 buys you a 180hp five-door hatchback with seven-speed DSG transmission, paddleshifters, XDS electronics for greater cornering performance, and combined fuel economy of over 45mpg (according to official figures).
Alternatively, £16,495 buys you the same thing as an estate - giving the Fabia vRS something of a unique selling point in this sector (unless you count the considerably less practical Mini Clubman Cooper S).
We like the way both versions look - 17-inch alloys and a subtle bodykit tweaking the toughness just so - but even better, Skoda has done an excellent job of enhancing the way they drive.
Like the lack-lustre SEAT Ibiza Cupra and forthcoming Volkswagen Polo GTI, the Skoda Fabia vRS is powered by a 1.4-litre TSI twin-charger petrol engine, serving up 180hp via both supercharger and turbocharger.
The supercharger takes care of low-rev performance, providing instant pick-up and torque, then hands over to the turbo at 3,500rpm to help you race to the redline. It suits the Skoda very well. Despite the hatch weighing some 146kg more than the Ibiza Cupra, the Fabia vRS gives away just 0.1 seconds during its 7.3 second dash to 62mph, and feels urgent everywhere.
No doubt it helps that the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission has come on leaps and bounds since we tried it in the SEAT: the Skoda offering much snappier shifts and far keener response to your requests.
The purist in us would still prefer a manual 'box - to increase involvement and control while also lowering the list price - but the DSG feels much less of a compromise than it did.
But compromise has crept in with the refinement; the distinctly rorty engine and exhaust noises - the whine of the supercharger, the throaty 'zorst - we have no complaints about.
But even the stereo struggles to mask the wind noise at motorway speeds, and this risks becoming tiring over time. Still, if that's the worst performance criticism we can think of, Skoda has clearly done a decent job.
Flip down a couple of gears, stand on the throttle and the little Fabia's muscular reaction will have you smiling all day.
Ride and handling
What really sets the Skoda apart from its SEAT cousin, however, is the chassis. The ride/handling balance is extremely finely judged - and for once we aren't worried about how this will transfer to the UK.
That's because some of the roads in the Czech Republic have to be seen to be believed. We're talking the closest to British B-roads we've ever experienced in continental Europe - from challenging twisties to scarred and broken surfaces.
The Fabia vRS is not as precise or incisive as a Renaultsport Clio, nor overflowing with the same ebullient enthusiasm as a Mini Cooper S - but it is grippy, infectious, engaging and friendly.
The limits are high, and the Fabia won't immediately punish you if you attempt to breach them; you can carry an enormous amount of speed through the corners.
This is thanks in part to the XDS, an ESP-based electronic limited slip differential that acts almost imperceptibly to kill understeer by transferring torque to the outer front wheel.
But your confidence also comes from the steering and the body control. The Skoda never lurches, never crashes over bumps, never deviates from the chosen line - but the way the wheel twitches in your hands keeps you feeling involved.
Everything flows. The suspension is stiffer in all dimensions - shocks, springs, torsional rigidity - except the front stabiliser; it feels properly set-up, properly controlled.
Proof of which comes with the ride quality - firmly damped, but never harsh - the longer wheelbase of the estate eases this still further, but at no seriously apparent dynamic expense.
This isn't so surprising when you discover the estate is actually 5kg lighter than the hatch; Skoda has added 25kg in ballast to the five-door as part of the fettling process.
Taken altogether, chose either version and you'll find yourself with a car that's a great giggle cross-country, yet perfectly at ease - and, crucially, comfortable - taking a lengthy motorway schlep.
Like parent company Volkswagen, Skoda excels at creating interiors that are deeply solid but overwhelmingly dark - acting work as a low budget sci-fi metaphorical stand-in for a blackhole most certainly beckons.
So, in spite of the comfy and encompassing sports seats, the stainless steel pedals, the leather-trimmed steering wheel, handbrake and gearknob, we can't help finding the inside rather dull.
It's roomy enough, though, and you get air con as standard, alongside tinted glass. Shame the paddleshifters aren't more tactile - but then you get the same ones on the £30k VW Golf R, so why complain here?
Bootspace in the hatch is 300-1,163 litres, while the estate crams in 480-1,460 litres. The Skoda remains, above all else, a highly practical choice. It is simple also a rather fast one.
Economy and Safety
Supercharging and turbocharging an engine gives you a great amount of flexible power. But - together with that seven-speed DSG - it also serves to make it more efficient.
Both versions of the Fabia vRS return an official 45.6mpg combined, while emitting a low 148g/km CO2. The estate is more aerodynamic, giving it a marginally higher top speed (140mph vs 139mph).
Comprehensive stability control is standard - try 'ESP (inc ABS, MSR and ASR)+HHC+TPM+XDS' comprehensive - you get six airbags and a four-star Euro NCAP rating.
MSN Cars Verdict
Taken as a total package the Skoda Fabia vRS is an awesomely appealing little car. It looks good, goes well, drives brilliantly and shouldn't cost you a fortune to run.
Plus there's the build quality, the pricing, the added practicality offered by the estate...
Undemanding to live with day-to-day but still a blast when you want one, it's an all-rounder like no other in this sector - making the Fabia vRS an extremely easy supermini hot hatch to recommend.
|Need to know|
|Engines - petrol||1.4 TSI|
|Engines - diesel||n/a|
|Torque (lb ft)||184@2,000 - 4,000rpm|
|Top speed (mph)||139-140|
|CO2 (g/km)/Tax (%)||148/17|
|Rating (specific model)||Skoda Fabia vRS Estate|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
Engineers are using robots to test Ford vehicles through some of the most strenuous obstacles in the industry.
Date 13 hrs ago, Duration 2:20, Views 162