Fast-forward to today and diesel-engined performance cars are ten-a-penny. But while other marques offer a petrol model to supplement the diesel version, Skoda’s hot hatch offering is only available as a TDI.
It’s also very well priced. At just under £12,400 it undercuts its Volkswagen Group rivals the SEAT Ibiza FR TDI by £1,400 and the Volkswagen Polo 1.9 TDI Sport by around £2,000.
All three share cars share the same engine, the familiar 1.9-litre TDI unit which produces 130bhp and 229lb-ft of torque – the latter figure being key to how this Fabia drives.
Being a diesel the vRS doesn’t rev very highly, instead relying on the torque to supply waves of power in the mid-range.
This it does staggeringly well, and in a race on twisty roads against a petrol hot hatch it would be a very close-run thing.
And the other obvious benefit of having a diesel hot hatch is fuel economy. Skoda claims the Fabia vRS will return an average of 52.4mpg – around 15mpg more than a petrol equivalent.
So far I’m only managing 44mpg, but even so this still means a real world range of 450 miles on a tank of diesel.
But just because it’s frugal doesn’t mean it’s not fun. The six-speed manual gearbox has a short-throw action and feels good to use, while the ride is firm thanks to the lowered suspension fitted to the vRS. This means neat handling, with plenty of grip through the 16-inch wheels and very direct steering.
The vRS also looks good, with plenty of special features to mark it out from its lesser-powered siblings.
Standard equipment includes a stainless steel exhaust pipe, 16-inch alloy wheels with green brake callipers on show, a rear spoiler and sports seats.
The deep air grille at the front gives the vRS a tough appearance while the spoiler over the tailgate adds to its sporty appeal.
Our version also has leather seats as a £1,300 optional extra.
There are also electric front windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, driver and front passenger airbags, ABS brakes and ASR (anti-skid control).
Alongside the leather seats our long-termer has metallic paint (£300) and a six-CD autochanger (£275) as extras.
Inside the contoured sport seats are really comfortable but when the seat is right forward (at 5ft tall I have to so I can reach the pedals) I find it difficult to change gear as the side bolster obstructs my left arm.
It would be no problem for someone taller with the seat pushed back as they’d be able to use an outstretched arm to change gear.
There is plenty of room inside the cabin and although the boot isn’t the largest in the sector, there’s enough room for the weekly shopping.
The Fabia vRS has been a success for Skoda in the fleet arena, with a third of all models sold last year going to company car drivers. And it’s not hard to see why. The front-end price is competitive, running costs and fuel bills will be low and company car tax won’t break the bank – a 22% taxpayer will have to find £43 a month to run it.
Equipment and options
Total options: £1,875
Price (OTR): £12,375
Price as tested: £14,250
The manufacturer’s view
‘THE Fabia vRS is a very important part of Skoda’s product range. In 2005 we sold around 3,000 Fabia vRS models in the UK, with nearly 1,000 of those to fleet buyers. Year-to-date sales in 2006 for the model stand at 1,200. We expect sales to continue to grow, along with those of the larger Octavia vRS. The popularity of the diesel Fabia vRS has led our engineers to extend Skoda’s sporty diesel performance, with the Octavia vRS TDI coming to the UK in September.’
Martin Burke, head of business sales, Skoda Auto UK