Wednesday 13 November 2019

A sprinter with a punch

RATING 83/100

What follows is, perhaps, a little unfair -- and maybe a bit of a tease as well. You'll see why in a minute, I hope.

It was quite a week and the car I had on test got me around it fairly quickly. After all, this was the fastest production car Skoda has produced to date. Yet the Fabia RS could either toddle along or go like the clappers. I put a lot of that down to its seven-speed automatic DSG transmission, which was utterly seamless. I had a bit of fun taking over the gear selection by using the F1-like paddles on the steering wheel or using the alternative 'channel' on the main gearshift.

Which meant I could decide when I wanted ordinary driving or when I wanted a bit of zip -- depending on the road, the conditions and the speed limits, of course.

This really is something of a little wonder as it is propelled by a relatively small engine -- just a 1.4-litre petrol. It manages to punch so far above its weight (180bhp is phenomenal) thanks to serious turbo boosting.

This is a solid sprinter with a suspension that has loads of ability to take the low blows that more and more of our deteriorating roads can now land on tyres, wheels and shock absorbers. When I got a glimpse of a clear horizon over smooth tarmac, my goodness this spurted into action.

But -- and it is a huge BUT -- it costs the guts of €23,000.

Alright, it is up against iconic giants of the hot-hatch market such as the MINI Cooper and the like. But (there it is again) it's a lot of money for a small car these days. No, I'm not going to say 'especially a Skoda' -- that is brutally unfair to the marque. This is a brilliant piece of work in its own right and in different times I would probably be saying that pound-for-mechanical-pound it represented reasonable value.

Now? Well, it is a matter of how badly you want it. By 'it' I mean the power and the punch.

Quite a few really, really liked it as a car. I'll be honest: I wouldn't think they'd ever even knock on the door of the sort of performance this can pump out.

Indeed, one of my criticisms of it was that if I lashed too much power to the wheels starting off, they spun like a windmill in a gale.

The point I'm making is that this is an appealing car in its own right, especially the one I had with its blue body and white roof.

And there was a lot, lot more room in it than I remember. The four doors certainly helped accessibility and with a fair bit of luggage, etc, on board my passengers still had decent room. It is packed out with lots of equipment; there was plenty of flexibility with the seating and I must say I found the driving position particularly helpful.

It was such an easy car to just drive. And it was such a fun piece of work to really drive. I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly and never had a moment's unease -- except the times the wheels spun when I was trying too hard to take off.

So why is all this unfair and a tease?

Well, because I am holding something up to the public mirror that is beyond what most people want but is sufficiently potent to make you think about it as a serious alternative.

Not only that. I have been holding back something just to accentuate the element of intrigue.

Because, you see, there is another Fabia version that admittedly will not give you the fireworks but will cost you an awful lot less. It just so happens they have also recently unveiled a Fabia Sport line.

They insist this has many of the, shall we call them 'sporty attributes' of the RS. However, there is a wider choice of engines -- among them a 1.2-litre 70bhp petrol that comes in at €15,270 ex-works. I think that might be a right good place to start. There is not much to beat it at that level in terms of the overall package you get.

But for those of you still intent on driving yourselves mad in pursuit of getting something with real gee-whiz about it, then you have to look at this versus the MINI. I like the MINI a lot, not to mention its expanding number of variants, and recognise its ability to mop up most opposition across quite a broad spectrum of the market. I still do not like its Big Ben of a central speedo and I seriously doubt it can match the Fabia for rear-set room -- not to mention the latter's four doors.

As well as that, the RS is substantially more powerful than a MINI Cooper SD (180bhp v 143bhp), is faster to 100kmh -- not to mention being €3,000 or so less expensive. That might surprise some people.

But will the snob value of the MINI override the rallying call of the RS?

It is a bit of a teaser, alright. Yes, life is unfair sometimes, but isn't it well for some to be thinking along such lines? Most of us will look at the Fabia Sport line and consider it a far more practical option.

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