However, the development of diesel over the last 15 years has transformed what many people had perceived as slothful and polluting vehicles into some of the cleanest on the roads today with stronger ‘real world’ performance than most petrol cars.
While the engineers have used the latest technology to continuously improve fuel economy, refinement and performance, the benefits of such potent motors have slowly trickled down to smaller cars.
The first high-performance model to be launched in the Skoda Fabia range has a diesel engine.
The Fabia vRS is the most powerful diesel small car yet (an honour shared with the SEAT Ibiza FR 1.9 TDI and soon with the forthcoming Volkswagen Polo GT TDI) with 130bhp and 229 lb-ft of torque, and it threatens to shame many high-performance petrol cars in mid-range performance.
Skoda already has a strong heritage in motorsport, with an array of class wins in rallying scored over decades of participation, and its first vRS, the Octavia, won much approval for its 180bhp turbo-charged punch at a bargain price.
So the Fabia seems to offer with diesel what the petrol engine already offers further up the Skoda range. It certainly looks the part, with 16-inch alloy wheels with green brake calipers visible through the spokes. There is a roof spoiler at the rear and a deeper front spoiler than other Fabias.
The mild facelift due for the Fabia later this year is said to take many of its cues from the current vRS.
Inside, there is the same roomy Fabia interior – four can sit comfortably, five less so, but can get by if necessary – embellished with sporty two-tone seat coverings as well as vRS detailing.
Standard equipment includes a CD/radio, trip computer, four electric windows and air conditioning. Power is transmitted to the road through a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s no doubt it’s a diesel when you turn the key. It rattles into life and the underlying engine thrum is always present.
The ride is firm, but more forgiving than many rivals, ensuring that while most bumps in the road are noticed, it is mainly through the steering wheel, not the whole cabin.
There is plenty of grip up at the front end, although the weight of a large-capacity (for this type of car) diesel engine sometimes encourages the nose to drift wide when carrying excess speed into a bend. Gently easing off the throttle with a little extra tweak of the wrists on the steering ensures the Fabia is brought back on course in a fraction of a second.
Put your foot down in third, fourth or fifth gear and as long as the turbo is at full chat, the Fabia will surge forward dramatically with excellent body control, although the engine is raucous – which matches the performance.
All these factors kept me going back for more, taking fuel consumption to the wrong side of 45mpg. The payoff is a thoroughly entertaining drive. It is surprisingly easy to pull away with a modest squeal of the front tyres – an entertaining feature though likely to raise costs through increased wear. Just don’t do it too often.
Skoda Fabia vRS
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £11,837
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 55.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £3,700/31%
Depreciation (12.60 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,560
Maintenance (2.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,500
Fuel (7.42 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,452
Wholelife cost (22.52 pence per mile x 60,000): £13,512
Typical contract hire rate: £259 per month
Three rivals to consider
IF Skoda’s pricing strategy was to offer more power than its rivals for less money, then it has succeeded. However, the number of rivals is growing as more manufacturers realise a compact GTi needn’t be petrol powered. Vauxhall’s diesel Corsa SRi offers 100bhp, while Peugeot’s diesel 206 GTi manages 110bhp. The MG ZR has a 113bhp version of the ageing 2.0 turbo-diesel in the range, but none can match the Fabia’s 130bhp for under £12,000.
YOU won’t expect small cars to cost that much to maintain, but here costs might be higher than the usual small car thanks to wider, lower profile tyres. The Vauxhall Corsa has an estimated maintenance bill of £1,320 over 60,000 miles. The MG ZR nips ahead of the other two on £1,446, while the Peugeot and Skoda are tied on £1,500. With a difference of £180 between the highest and lowest costs, there probably isn’t too much to argue about here.
THE difference in cost here could reflect two things: either engine size or the modernity of the power plant. The 1.6-litre Peugeot would cost about £4,188 over 60,000 miles, while the 1.7-litre Corsa is £180 more expensive. The Fabia would cost £4,452 while the bill for the MG would be £4,788. The difference between the MG ZR and the Peugeot 206 works out at £1 every 100 miles.
The Skoda comes out on top for depreciation, although the positions here reflect P11d price. The cars, at about £12,000 to £13,500, do not really cost enough for percentage point variations in retained value to make much difference. The Skoda would lose £7,560 over three years/60,000 miles according to CAP Monitor, compared with £7,632 for the MG, £8,268 for the Vauxhall and £8,508 for the Peugeot.
ALL the cars are closely matched when all the costs are added up, with the Skoda scoring a £354 advantage over the MG ZR. The difference between the Fabia and the Corsa is £600, while the Peugeot claws back some of what it loses through its higher P11d price through its excellent fuel consumption, but still works out £684 more expensive than the Skoda.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
GOLD stars for Peugeot and Vauxhall – both their engines comply with Euro IV emissions rules and therefore duck the 3% emissions supplement for diesels. Despite their higher P11d prices, they offer lower BIK liability with monthly bills of £36 for a 22% taxpayer in the Corsa and £37 for the 206. Driving the Skoda would set you back £39 a month while the bill for the MG ZR would be £47 a month.
IT wins the running costs battle but could the Fabia tempt someone away from another GTi with one of those new-fangled turbodiesel engines? The answer has to be an absolute and unequivocal yes. It is great fun to drive – more than those listed in the comparison – has better performance and is easier to live with. We would favour the more efficient Peugeot 206 over the Corsa, as long as you don’t need rear doors.
WINNER: Skoda Fabia vRS