Back to the future – Skoda Fabia RS
- 15 July 2011
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I blame it all on Audi. When the Ingolstadt manufacturer finally relented and gave the original S3 the full fat 225bhp engine from the TT it served as the opening salvo in a power war that has given us cars like the Focus RS, RenaultSport Megane, Golf R, Leon Cupra R, Alfa 147 GTA et al. These so called ‘hyperhatches’ have seemingly defied physics in their pursuit of even more and more headline grabbing power. It seems bizarre that these tarted up family hatchbacks that offer practicality and tarmac terrorist capabilities; produce more power than the original Porsche 911 Turbo!
Audi recently upped the stakes again with the 335bhp RS3 but this march towards what would once have been considered supercar power has left a vacuum in its wake. With the cars in this rarefied field carrying pricetags far removed from the original ethos of a hot hatch a new class has been created for hot super mini’s. These cars are actually closer in size to the cars that defined the original hot hatch era and come with prices more accessible to the everyday driver.
One of these breed, the Skoda Fabia RS, is actually into its second generation. When Skoda brought out the first Fabia RS it was the first hot hatch to be offered exclusively with a diesel engine. That engine was the standard 130bhp unit used throughout the VW Group but in the supermini it gave the car enough power to show the supercharged MINI Cooper S a clean pair of heals around the track. Unfortunately for Skoda the car was ahead of its time as the world was not yet completely caught up in environmental concerns and rising fuel prices. So when the time came to release a second generation of the car you would think the Czech manufacturer would stick with the formula and utilise the VW Groups latest 170bhp 2.0 TDI.
Instead, with petrol prices through the roof and cars being sold strictly on what tax band they fall into they instead elected to use a petrol engine and not just any petrol engine – one that is fitted with both a supercharger and turbocharger! Skoda have not gone completely bonkers though. The 1.4 TSI engine, originally seen in the Golf GT, produces a blistering 180bhp yet only emits 148g/km meaning it drops squarely into tax band C. The blurb from Skoda says that the Fabia RS is the quickest production car the company has produced and I can well believe it. Equipped with a standard seven speed twin clutch DSG gearbox the benchmark 0-100kmh spring is dispatched in 7.3 seconds while the car has a quoted top speed of 225km/h
It is not just about speed though as specification in the RS is high with ‘Climatic’ air conditioning, cruise control, tyre pressure monitors, parking sensors front and rear and Bluetooth integration that can pick up media files saved on your phone and replay them through the cars CD player fitted as standard. Externally the car benefits from sporty body styling, 17’ alloy wheels and sports suspension. All the kit is great and I had great fun playing around with the toys when I picked up the car from Skoda headquarters but the cars first downfall came when I went off to pick up my brood for the trip home. Thankfully we had left our eldest son at home when I came to collect the car. (Playing with his cousins and under the stewardship of my sister in law – not in a Macauley Culkin kids of left at home kind of way). I say thankfully as to fit in the buggy belonging to my youngest I had to collapse the back seat to fit it into the RS. Praise be Allah that it comes with split folding seats cause the decision whether to leave the buggy, baby or wife behind would have been a hard one! Things didn’t get much better the next day when we ventured out as a complete family.
Now I’m not the tallest bloke in the world, a shade under six foot tall, but I spent the entire day with my eldest sons feet buried into my kidneys. And despite me shouting at him constantly to move his feet he never relented. A quick look over my shoulder revealed the answer. At all of three years old his legs took up all of the rear legroom and he simply had no other place to put his ickle piggies. Worse was to come when he wound down the rear window and expertly aimed his favourite toy car through the open window. I know we are blighted with manual windows in the back of cars due to VRT concerns but surely electrics cannot add that much to the price. It is not just a comfort or convenience thing. Electric windows can be locked, manuals cannot. If that had have been the raggedy comforter that my son carries everywhere with him that was launched out the window I would still be hearing about it on my death bed.
Ok maybe I am being unfair – superminis are not really aimed at families with 2.4 children who live in the commuter belt. So bereft of wife and kids I headed for the urban jungle, an environment that the RS felt much more comfortable in. The large glasshouse means visibility all round is great and with parking sensors front and rear parking is a doddle. The DSG gearbox really comes into its own around town as you do not find yourself with a cramping left leg from working a clutch. Its not all good news though – the stiff suspension is unsettled by the smallest ripples in the road meaning every lump and bump is transmitted straight into the cabin. And forget about making a quick get away from junctions – the traction control simply cannot contend with the 250Nm of torque the engine produces meaning that if you give it too much beans you will spin the wheels, redline the engine and be met with looks of disdain from all pedestrians within earshot. The Fabia RS, which is confusingly called the vRS in the UK, was just not living up to what I had expected which was a real disappointment as I had been looking forward to driving this car for a long time.
Then I hit some of the glorious stretches of twisty tarmac in my corner of Kildare…….
And the RS began to make sense!
Away from the hustle and bustle of town and without kids to distract, the little Skoda just began to sing. The whine from the supercharger had me dropping the window to satisfy my aural pleasures, the suspension that had so irked around town now gave the little Fabia limpet like grip with a delightfully playful rear end when you really pushed it hard, and the DSG gearbox…….As well as the standard selector the Fabia also features F1 style paddle shifters so its just a case of wrapping your hands tightly around the leather clad steering wheel and finger flicking your way through the seven speed gearbox. It’s like playing Gran Turismo with a Logitech pedal/wheel combo only in this case it comes with a 180bhp engine. The RS covers ground at a rate that truly belies its diminutive stature – a car this small has no right to so much power. Hold on to the gears for as long as possible and you will be breaking every speed limit in this land before you move to pull fourth. Overtaking is an absolute doddle and when you downshift in anticipation for the fast approaching corner you are rewarded with a delightful pop and bang from the exhaust. Soon I began to forget about the small boot, the manual rear windows and the fact that aside from some branded seats and steering wheel the interior is the same as that from the entry level Fabia and began to see the RS for what it is – a modern interpretation of the classic hot hatch I grew up admiring. Looked at through rose tinted glasses the MkI Golf Gti, Peugeot 205 Gti and their ilk were perfect – ideal for travelling to and from work, transporting the family and hooning around in but even reading back through reviews from when these cars were new they were compromised.
The Skoda Fabia RS is not perfect but with prices starting from €22,890 (or €23,790 for the Combi variant) represents amazing value for the money and brings back some of the joys offered by the cars that populated those halcyon days at a time when the accepted hot hatches are out of reach of most buyers. I’ll take mine in Rallye Green with the optional black roof please!