Fabia vRS – a very rapid Skoda
It's fast, it's furious – it's the hottest production Skoda Fabia ever. Andy Russell drives the new vRS.
There's no stigma driving a Skoda any more – the days of cheap-and-cheerful models have been replaced by Volkswagen-inspired offerings that hold their own with more illustrious brands.
The Czech car-maker's image has gone from strength to strength with a highly-acclaimed award-winning range which scores highly on value and customer satisfaction.
But while Skoda is best known for 'bread-and-butter' models, the icing on the cake is its sporty vRS variants – they don't come much tastier than the new Fabia vRS, now available as both hatchback and estate.
The Fabia vRS is a serious performance model and, while the Czech marque does not have the charisma of Alfa Romeo, MINI and Citroen, this hot Skoda is pitched against the likes of their respective Mito 1.4 Turbo Cloverleaf, Cooper S 1.6 turbo and DS3 1.6 turbo.
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Skoda has given the new vRS a tasteful body-building exercise, taking styling cues from the Fabia S2000 rally car – a rear spoiler and deep front skirt complete with LED running lights, 17in alloy wheels, tinted windows, red brake callipers and a diffuser set off by twin exhausts under the back bumper. If you want to go the whole hog, a white or black roof is optional along with white, silver, dark chrome and black finishes for the alloys.
The styling makes its point but is subtle enough that you don't need to be a 'boy-racer' to drive the vRS.
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Nor is it a sheep in wolf's clothing – and that's down to the vRS packing the most powerful engine ever in a production Fabia.
The new 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine is a first for Skoda in that it has both a turbocharger and a supercharger to deliver maximum performance across a wide rev range. The top-end power figure of 180bhp speaks volumes for this engine's remarkable output but that does not do it full justice for this is not an engine that you have to wring its neck to get the best out of it.
With the supercharger doing its job low down the rev range it develops 80pc of its torque between 1,250 and 6,000rpm. Once into the mid-range the turbocharger takes over and unleashes the engine's full potential. The result is a seamless surge of power, picking up cleanly and eagerly from little more than tickover which makes it all the more understandable why the vRS is available only with a seven-speed automatic transmission which flies through gears with barely noticeably shifts even if you opt to change manually via the gearlever or paddles behind the steering wheel.
But it hasn't been performance at the expense of economy – drive it sensibly and you can nudge 40mpg running around and 45mpg on a run, not quite as much as Skoda quotes but it's so hard not to enjoy that searing acceleration.
You don't buy a hot-hatchback for ride comfort and stiffer dampers and firmer rear springs combined with a 20mm lower ride height and big alloy wheels with low-profile tyres mean you feel every little bump and lump travelling slowly but it improves with speed, although there is always noticeable tyre noise. On the plus side, the vRS boasts fantastic handling, hugging the road and flowing flatly through corners, answering crisply to small inputs on the steering.
The Fabia has always been one of the more spacious superminis and, even with shapely, body-hugging front sports seats, large adults won't feel the squeeze in the back while the well-shaped 300-litre boot will take decent loads with careful packing. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat but only after the seat cushions have been tilted upright and you have to remove the rear head restraints first.
What lets the vRS down is the interior. It's well finished, controls and switches are intuitive and easy to get to grips and the dials simple but it's all a bit dull with lots of black plastic. Let's not forget that the vRS starts at �15,700 and for that money I would expect some alloy highlights on the fascia or doors to give the cabin a lift. It's a real shame, given the exterior 'bling', for it is the cabin that drivers and passengers are going to live with. It may be considered acceptable on the bottom-end Fabias but unfortunately on the vRS it's functional rather than fancy.
When it comes to equipment the vRS could stand for 'very reasonable specification' – it's loaded with electronic driver aids and airbags, air-conditioning, trip computer and a decent audio system with connection for MP3 players but you have to wind down the rear windows manually and creature comforts like cruise control, Bluetooth phone connection and climate control are all options, albeit reasonably priced.
The Fabia vRS shows what Skoda is capable of when it comes to performance and technology and with all that power it's just as well you'll want to keep your eyes on the road rather than on the interior.
Skoda Fabia vRS
Engine: 1,390cc, 180bhp, four-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged petrol
Performance: 0-62mph 7.3 seconds; top speed 139mph
MPG: Urban 36.7; extra urban 54.3; combined 45.6
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 18pc
Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles
Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,000mm; width (including door mirrors) 1,886mm; height 1,498mm