Skoda’s hot hatch goes diesel

The modest-looking Skoda Fabia vRS betrays little sign of the performance that lies beneath its bonnet. It resembles Granny’s shopping car, but a well-engineered chassis with VW’s 130bhp turbodiesel engine makes this a Slavonic Jack the Giantkiller, capable of out-accelerating a Lotus or BMW 3.3.

The German owner, who made a serious motor out of a lowly, though reliable Czech import, has taken the brand further by producing the first diesel hot-hatch supermini — a tough and speedy package that is good fun to drive. You won’t outrun a Ferrari in the Fabia — its low-end turbosurge eats into performance times where it counts — but you might catch it napping and power past it at the lights.

On the road you soon get used to a diesel power surge between 1,500 and 2,700 rpm — and grab the next gear up, rather than rev pointlessly towards the red line. This powerband means that at 70–80mph you stay in sixth gear to overtake rapidly and smoothly. It can cruise comfortably at 100mph and is equally well mannered at town speeds.

The interior looks durable and well designed with simple controls and legible dials. A nice touch is the chilled drinks holder and several discreet storage lockers. The ride is firm but not boneshaking, though forceful cornering under power induced some thumps and bumps. Handling is safe and grippy, and anti-slip ASR cuts in to reduce wheelspin and torque steer — with this much torque I’d opt for the optional electronic stabilisation programme.

Standard specification is good —  air conditioning, electric front windows, CD player, alarm, remote central locking and dual airbags. The bodyshell provides good headroom for rear passengers, and, while legroom is less impressive, you can fit five into the car.

My niggle is that its inconspicuous profile means posher cars don’t realise they need to stay out of your way. Believe me, they do. Roomy and manoeuvrable for the school run, I would buy a vRS as a second car, but it might well get used more than the first.

Dr Stefan Cembrowicz is a GP in Bristol 

Skoda Fabia 1.9TDi 130vRS
Price: £12,375
Engine size: 1,896cc, four-cylinder
Acceleration: 0–60mph 9.6 seconds
Top speed: 126mph
Insurance group: 9
MPG: urban 42.2/ ex-urban 67.3 / combined 55.4
What Car? rating: 3 stars
Real cost: (three years/36,000 ownership costbased on fuel, depreciation, insurance, services): £11,903

What Car? verdict:  
130bhp 1.9-litre Turbodiesel, with six-speed gearbox. An unusual approach but it works thanks to good mid-rev acceleration. Shame it is not quicker off the mark or more refined.  Outside it sports 16-in alloy wheels, rear spoiler and green brake callipers

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