‘Dat the new vRS?’, yaps the intricately bearded man waiting at the lights in a lowered 318Ci, ‘I been waiting to see one of dem man’. Fake Armani shades now lifted, his pupils pour over the Kermit paint job and, quite surprisingly, he doesn’t piss himself laughing. ‘Yeah looks sweet, nice rims. Open it up man’. So I do. Leave him for dead and leave me totally bewildered.
With a goopy face, under wheeled profile and self-conscious black roof, I expected the Fabia vRS to hit the streets with a handicap – but sitting at the lights outside a fried chicken shop in Birmingham, it’s the hottest piece of metal around. P Diddy could drive an R8 Spyder straight past unnoticed.
There’s more heckling at a petrol station in Kent, this time from an Accord Type S owner with even finer facial topiary than 318Ci man. ‘Nice car mate… petrol innit, what does it do?’. Being a massive geek, my answer is accurate; ‘7.3 seconds to 60, 139mph top end’. He replies in a tone of disgust, like I’d just told him my favourite hobby was rubbing crude oil into the eyes of rare sea birds ‘yeah, but what about to the gallon mate?’. Right. ‘They say 45mpg combined, but I’m getting mid 30s’ I reply in my politest voice. ‘Nah, I’d rather have the old diesel version then’.
He’s got a point. The first Fabia vRS, this car’s famously diesel predecessor, could be coaxed into hitting 60mpg. Standing in the shadow of a sign that puts petrol at £1.23 a litre, it’s hard to see the sense in replacing it with a car that does half that. That’s not the end of it though – there’s one more spontaneous talking head. Haven’t had this much attention since driving a Bentley Continental GT Speed to ASDA.
‘You see mate, you’ve made a mistake there’ said a Geordie over my shoulder, clearly thinking I’d bought it with my own money. Turning round to put face to voice, he’s wearing a Subaru cap – this man REALLY knows about cars. ‘Same as a Polo GTI that is… and yeah it’s two k cheaper on paper like… but what’s that monthly? Bet it’s nothing man. I’d pay the extra fiver or whatever and have the Dub fella’. Turns out Skoda badge snobbery isn’t completely dead after all… at least not amongst rude Geordies.
Being three potential customers who actually hand over money for their new cars, they are of course all absolutely right. The new vRS is good looking and quick, but has two big problems – it’s not a diesel and it’s not cheap enough.
First, the diesel thing. The Fabia’s 178bhp twincharger petrol engine is a brilliant thing, especially when synced up with the equally brilliant DSG gearbox – but it doesn’t feel as happy in the vRS as it does in the Ibiza Cupra, which to man-on-street is only a fiver a month more to buy. On occasions where you’d slip the SEAT into manual mode and parp about using the paddles, you leave the slightly taller, softer and calmer feeling Skoda in auto, where it upchanges early. The more laidback chassis wants a laidback, and frugal, diesel engine.
Which brings us onto problem two – it’s not cheap enough. At £15,700 it is £1300 less than the Cupra and a couple of grand less than a Polo GTI (both of which, as Subaru hat man pointed out, share a powertrain and a great deal of chassis bolts)… but, to man-on-street with a monthly payment plan, that’s not a big enough incentive to turn down a posher badge – especially when the fuel consumption, tax and insurance will be the same. What he wants is a hot hatch that’s not only cheaper to buy, but cheaper to run. He wants a diesel engine too.
Just imagine Skoda put VAG’s 140bhp 2.0TDI engine into a Fabia and then slapped a vRS badge on that. It’d hit 60 in the mid 8s, do 50mpg and be even cheaper to buy in the first place. It’d be a genuine, economical but still reasonably quick alternative to the Polo GTI and Ibiza Cupra, instead of a cheaper, less desirable version of the same thing.
So, thanks for the help 318Ci man, Accord Type S man and Subaru hat man. You’ve forced us to awkwardly conclude that despite being cheaper than two almost identical cars, and despite being fitted with an engine that’s just been awarded International Engine of the Year 2010, the Skoda Fabia vRS should cost less and have a different engine. Hilarious.