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Review

Keeping It In The Family (Skoda Fabia vRS Estate Long Term Test Month Two) car review

12/07/12

KERMIT, as he is now affectionately called, has been a busy, er, bee recently. From pounding the nation’s motorways to being on a speeding train under the Channel, ‘my’ Fabia vRS has rarely had the opportunity to stand still.

To say that the time spent recently with Skoda’s green machine has been fast paced is something of an understatement. With its modest 178bhp the Fabia vRS might no longer be regarded as a genuine hot hatch – that bar has been raised to dizzying heights of late – but there’s nothing slow about this car.

That much I know from the many brisk weekend cross-country drives I’ve undertaken in the Fabia. In the dry it’s deceptively quick – the drivers of cars I’ve overtaken will no doubt confirm that. Crucially, though, you can do it safely and swiftly.

The ample power reserves and the engine’s clever super and turbocharging technology are key to getting the job done with the minimum of fuss. There’s no time-zapping lag to worry about, just press (hard) and go.

Praise must also be heaped on the Fabia’s direct shift gearbox (DSG), which is standard fit on the vRS. DSG transmissions are now a familiar sight, and their superior efficiency can do wonders for fuel economy. Or, in the Fabia’s case, they can deliver rapid shifts without the hesitation and jerkiness of a conventional slushbox or the ham-fisted efforts of a human.

That said, after a few thousand miles the ‘box does have its quirks. For genuinely quick driving it’s still better to take the DIY approach, and with the handily placed paddles behind the steering wheel you can do just that. Changes are still fast, but it pays dividends to change down before a corner as the car’s brain will often do it afterwards and leave you in a higher gear than desired as you make the turn.

And for all the Fabia’s speediness, it pays to be patient around town. The common rolling start from slow speeds at junctions and roundabouts can fool the gearbox into changing down to first when, in reality, second gear would do. I’ve learnt to pause for a fraction of a second before hitting the accelerator as the alternative is an occasional clunk from the gearbox as it hurriedly downshifts and a decidedly un-Skoda-like jerky departure. Still, for someone who used to be anti-auto I’m becoming a convert. Around town at least, two pedals are definitely better than three.

So, in spite of the car’s foibles, is the Fabia vRS hot or not? In real terms very much so. And that was a point proved by a whistle-stop trip to Belgium to watch some top-class rallying.

Skoda’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge campaign has been a cornerstone of its activities for some time now, and with the UK arm having won the title in 2011 it was only fair that Kermit should feel like one of the family.

A sprint to the Channel Tunnel and then another one to Ypres in Belgium proved entertaining and reasonably frugal. Being a bloke I tend to pack light, but with the threat of rain and the prospect of standing in numerous famers’ fields for two days the Fabia’s boot was stuffed with coats, boots and the usual safety kit to keep me legal when on the road.

It’s at times like this when I can feel smug about choosing the estate over the hatchback. Size-wise the Fabia is no Superb, but its boot swallows an awful lot of stuff. The folding divider that doubles as the false boot floor is a clever idea as it stops your cargo from rolling around. Plus, the little rubber handle on the tailgate makes closing it a breeze – and keeps your hands clean.

In the end Skoda UK’s man didn’t win but another Fabia did so it was still trebles all round for the Czech firm at the end of two fun days spectating. The experience also confirmed that there’s a lot of love for the brand in the rallying community. Sure, they’re dominating at the moment, but having spotted numerous Fabias – it helped that a few were green like mine – lining the roads it’s clear that support is strong.

And so far I count myself as one of those impressed by the brand and its cars. The Fabia vRS is always going to be a left-field choice and is hardly representative of the many more sensible Skodas chosen every day. However, despite now being very much a mainstream car maker, the vRS sub-brand illustrates that Skoda’s mischievous personality is alive and well and not just reserved for its television and print adverts.

Sadly for me, all this running about has meant that Kermit is in desperate need of a good clean. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. The road grime is evidence of plenty of action, but it’ll be good to have the car sparkling again so it can stand out from the crowd. That’s why you choose a bright green car, isn’t it?

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Skoda Fabia vRS Estate, from £17,840 on the road.

Engine: 1.4-litre petrol unit developing 178bhp.

Transmission: 7-speed DSG semi-auto transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 140mph, 0-62mph 7.3 seconds.

Economy: 45.6mpg.

CO2 Rating: 148g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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