One of the latest additions to our long- term test fleet is an MG ZT-T. Nothing too extra-ordinary in that, other than the fact that it is loaded to the gunwales with optional extras.
In fact, MG Rover has specced-up our sporty estate with more than £7,000-worth of extra kit. The only reason I mention this is because for the price of these extras, I could have bought the car on test here and still had £130 change to spare.
The new entry-level Skoda Fabia 1.2 costs just £7,000 on-the-road or, in MG Rover terms, the cost of TV and satellite navigation, upgraded alloy wheels, xenon headlights, chromactive paintwork (the type that changes colour as light refracts off it), roof rails, leather/alcantara seats, headlamp wash and sunroof.
All these options certainly spark up our MG, but then you think the cost of this extra kit will buy an economical, stylish hatchback car and it suddenly makes you question that extra equipment.
The fact that Skoda offers such a budget car comes as no surprise. For years it spent its life selling cheap cars before coming under the umbrella of the Volkswagen Group and taking itself a bit more upmarket (witness the arrival of the Superb range).
Nowadays, the Fabia is recognised as a serious contender in the supermini segment, offering one of the most stylish-looking designs allied to a range of Volkswagen-sourced engines.
On the inside the Volkswagen theme is easily recognisable, with switchgear and column stalks which could have come straight out of a Polo or Passat. In fact the cabin in general is pretty much up to Volkswagen standards, although some of the plastics used on the interior feel brittle. But then again, we are talking about a £7,000 car so this is somewhat nit-picking.
Apart from its price, the other thing that sticks out with the Fabia is its engine – a three-cylinder 1.2-litre unit. It may only turn out 54bhp but it does so with plenty of enthusiasm allied to an engine note which is part V6, part Porsche flat-six.
Even though pace is somewhat stunted by the limited power output, the novelty value of the engine note makes it great fun to drive.
Allied to a five-speed manual gearbox which offers positive shifts (unlike most Volkswagen Group cars), the Skoda Fabia becomes great fun to drive. However, at motorway speeds it isn't so happy, so my advice is to stick to B-roads and have a bit of fun.
What's more, because there isn't much power on offer, you can have a great deal of driving fun without risking an accident.
This Fabia is never going to be a high mileage fleet choice, but as the office pool car or for drivers who cover short distances in mainly urban areas, it is a great choice. The fact that it is so cheap to buy and run only broadens its appeal. In a way, Skoda has returned to its roots by offering a low cost car, but in terms of packaging, quality and image, this budget Skoda is miles apart from its unloved brethren of old.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £6,870
CO2 emissions (g/km): 144
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £105
Insurance group: 2
Combined mpg: 47.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £2,175/32%
Depreciation (7.28 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,368
Maintenance (1.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,098
Fuel (8.10 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,860
Wholelife cost (17.21 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,326
Typical contract hire rate: £199 per month
Three rivals to consider
AS David Dickinson, the host of television's Bargain Hunt, would say: 'it's cheap as chips'. We are talking about some of the least expensive cars on offer in the UK at the moment and for about £7,000 all four models offer a lot of car for the money. The list of standard equipment may not be too lengthy, but you really can't complain for this money. In the case of the Skoda you get VW Group solidity as well as ABS brakes and driver and passenger airbags for just £7,000 on-the-road.
A STRONG showing from Nissan in the servicing, maintenance and repair costs sector, with the Micra recording the lowest costs over three years/60,000 miles of 1.70pence per mile. In second place is the Hyundai Getz on 1.79ppm, helped by the fact that it is backed by a five year/ unlimited mileage warranty. The Skoda is close behind on 1.83ppm but there is quite a gap to the soon-to-be-replaced Fiat Punto on 2.66ppm.
THE Fiat Punto tops this section thanks to having the most economical engine of our test quartet. It returns 49.6mpg on the combined cycle, resulting in a fuel cost of 7.69ppm. Close behind is the Hyundai, which returns 48.7mpg for a figure of 7.84ppm. The Micra mirrors the performance of the Hyundai with exactly the same economy and fuel cost figures. The Skoda finishes fourth on 8.10ppm by virtue of having the lowest economy (47.1mpg) of the four cars.
IN depreciation terms, the Skoda is the winner, costing 7.29ppm over three years/ 60,000 miles. CAP estimates the Fabia Classic 1.2 will retain 32% of its cost new over that fleet benchmark period. The Fiat Punto is in second place on 8.04ppm, with CAP estimating it will retain 31%, the same figure for the Hyundai Getz in fourth place on 8.12ppm. The new Micra finishes third in this section on 8.07ppm. CAP estimates it will retain 35% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, the highest RV prediction of our quartet.
WHEN it comes to cost-effective transportation, all four cars featured here fit the bill, offering low running costs and small tax bills for company car drivers. However, the majority of fleets taking on this type of vehicle will be doing so to use as a pool car rather than offering it to staff as a company car. Either way, the Skoda is still the car to choose. It is the most attractive car of the quartet, is the cheapest to run over three years/60,000 miles and benefits from its VW Group parentage.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
SMALL, economical engines and light bodies mean low fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, all four cars fall into the lowest band for company car tax for 2003/04. Even though the Fiat has the cleanest engine here, emitting 8 grammes of CO2 less than the Nissan per kilometre, it is still taxed at the same rate as the Micra. For the 22% tax-paying driver of the Skoda, the monthly tax bill is just £19 – cheap as chips again. For VED rates, all will cost £105.
GOOD looking, well-built, cost-effective and good to drive – the Skoda Fabia has this contest sewn up. The fact that it is also the cheapest car to buy of our quartet only serves to strengthen its proposition. Second spot goes to the Hyundai Getz which is only fractionally behind the Skoda in running cost terms. Third goes to the Nissan Micra purely because its styling splits opinion so drastically. The Fiat Punto in its current incarnation is now on run-out and finishes fourth.