ALL car makers like to think they’re specialists when it comes to developing performance variants of more pedestrian models.
In truth there are many who do it rather well but surely Skoda are out in front when it comes to offering a tantalising blend of performance and quality at a very affordable price.
The Octavia vRS has long been my number one choice as the best value performance saloon and estate and its little brother the Fabia vRS looks set to follow in its footsteps.
The latest Fabia has a certain cool chic quality that will lend itself well to the vRS branding.
While it may not have the retro cachet of a MINI or a Fiat 500 it offers similar scope for personalisation with a range of funky eye-catching colours and the option to have a different coloured roof.
This sort of mix and match facility will go down particularly well with Fabia vRS customers, who Skoda reckon will be mostly men aged 25-35 or 45-54.
Interestingly despite the obliviously hot hatch character of the vRS they don’t seem to see it appealing to the boy racer brigade.
For its price of £15,700 the vRS offers a level of performance that really does take some beating.
The last version saw Skoda bravely go it alone with a diesel engine but this time they have opted to go down the petrol route.
The latest breed of efficient petrol engines manage to deliver impressive performance without sacrificing economy and the innovative unit in the vRS is a case in pint.
It’s a four-cylinder in-line TSI engine that combines supercharging and turbo-charging to great effect. Before you say the words ‘fuel bills’ and ‘ouch’ in the same sentence it returns 45.6mpg on average.
On paper its 1,390cc capacity might sound meagre but the performance figures speak for themselves - it delivers 180bhp, manages a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and has a top speed of 139mph.
Performance is delivered sweetly and smoothly, the supercharger doing the work at low revs and the turbo-charger kicking in higher up the range. From the off you can’t help but be impressed.
I got the chance to put it through its paces at the Prodrive proving ground in the Midlands where it excelled.
A DSG automatic gearbox comes as standard but in this sort of environment the car’s capabilities are best experienced using the paddles on the steering wheel to shift gear.
Moving between second, third and fourth gears of the seven-speed DSG the vRS offers a truly authentic and satisfying track experience.
It is surprisingly swift and suitably agile when cornering at speed and boasts great acceleration, particularly when the turbo-charger is engaged.
Its handling is certainly enhanced by its excellent XDS system, an electronically controlled slip differential.
The most noticeable manifestation is steering that feels far more grown-up than one might expect from a car in this class. Understeer is significantly reduced and less work is required when driving at speed.
One of the vRS’s real strengths is that it combines this all out aggression with a laid back easy driving feel when the occasion demands.
The DSG box has standard and sport modes and used as an automatic it is perfectly happy pootling round town at far more sedate speeds too.
The ride is firm-ish due to quite a few suspension modifications such as more rigid springs and the fact it sits considerably lower than the standard model, yet it strikes a good balance between comfort and a proper sporty feel.
On the inside the Fabia has a feel of quality throughout, with good quality switchgear and first class fit and finish. Some suitable touches such as sports seats and vRS branding also help set it apart from standard models.
As far as Skoda’s target market goes, I fall into one of the brackets (the latter if you must know) and can offer no higher praise than to say that after spending several hours behind the wheel I would seriously consider taking the plunge.