The Skoda Fabia RS has the same problem as Danni Minogue; it's over-shadowed by a stunning sibling.
Skoda Australia's launch for the sporty version of its city car included presentation slides featuring the hot-hatch's competitors. These included the Suzuki Swift Sport and the Mini Cooper S. But Skoda made no mention of the small but significant elephant in the room – the Volkswagen Polo GTI.
The sporty Polo and the Skoda Fabia RS are twins - not identical twins thanks to some different sheet metal and interior - but they do share the same engines, transmissions, platform and suspension architecture.
VW offers the Polo GTI as three-door and five-door hatches, while Skoda sells a five-door hatch and four-door wagon. So, the different models could attract different people, but ultimately the five-door hatches will go head to head.
The Fabia RS is a fun little car to get about it in, with plenty of performance and agile handling and it should help Skoda raise its profile. Its problem is that it doesn’t have a Volkswagen badge and doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the new Polo GTI.
People say style is subjective but finding someone, not employed by Skoda, who thinks the Fabia RS looks better than the Polo GTI is likely to be quite a challenge. The photos Skoda released are actually flattering and it looks more awkward in the metal, especially the elongated wagon.
But surely the RS is cheaper than the GTI? Well, yes, a bit. A five-door Skoda Fabia RS is $27,990, which is a reasonable asking price given it has five doors and a dual-clutch DSG automatic as standard. The five-door Polo GTI, which also comes standard with the DSG gearbox, is just $1000 more.
CarAdvice would take the GTI (it is quite clearly the Kylie in this example) every time, even if we had to hock a kidney to get the extra grand. But that’s our opinion and some people will prefer the Fabia and could possibly be lured by the ability to create a quasi-custom car with a different-coloured roof and alternative wheels. Yes, Skoda is doing a Mini, offering customers the ability to make a statement with their cars, and more choice is always welcome even though some people consider white wheels a crime against humanity.
Then there is the wagon version of the Skoda Fabia RS, which costs $29,990 and is very practical, if goofy looking. It is so sensible that a switched-on driving enthusiast should be able to convince his or her partner that this is an entirely appropriate family-friendly vehicle. This task should be made easier thank to the considerable 480 litres of boot space.
It doesn’t matter which of the Polo GTI/Fabia RS family you pick, you are going to have a good time.
The key elements are the small body and the perky engine, which happens to have a both a supercharger and turbocharger. The Skoda Fabia RS weighs in at a reasonably lean 1253kg, while the 1.4-litre ‘Twincharger’ four-pot under the bonnet manages a healthy 132kW and a peak torque number of 250Nm, which is delivered all the way from 2000rpm to 4500rpm.
The result is a 7.3-second 0-100km/h sprint time, which is admittedly unlikely to scare any of your buddies who own sports cars. However, the Fabia RS can go quick enough to make things very interesting.
CarAdvice tested the Fabia RS models at the Holden Performance Driving Centre near Queensland’s Norwell on a twisting track with a mixture of tight bends and a fourth gear (140km/h plus) right-hander and also took it out for a road loop. The track time revealed this little machine is capable of getting around corners in a hurry and is able to get up to speed rapidly.
The RS’s engine pulls hard from very low down and doesn’t let up until it nudges past 6200rpm. The supercharger passes the baton to the turbocharger half way through the rev range, so there are no peaks or troughs in the powerband. There is enough power to make putting the power down something to think about.
Jab the accelerator and the electronic nanny will likely kick in, along with an electronic differential system that is supposed to help (there is no mechanical limited slip differential). The best option, when you are feeling sporty, is to turn off the stability control and feed on the power carefully. This engine has enough torque that selecting a gear higher than you might think works better and means the inside front wheel is less likely to spin up.
There is very little torque steer on the track, and although you do notice it a bit more on uneven road surfaces it’s not much of an issue.
The engine has a slightly sporty note; you certainly get the idea this is not the base model powerplant, but it is nothing to get excited about either. There is no crackling or popping or sound tubes to make the most of the induction and that’s a pity.
The Skoda Fabia RS’s engine was developed with efficiency in mind and it uses just 6.2L/100km (148g/km), which is impressive for a hot-hatch.
Something that could infuriate some customers is the automatic’s tendency to change up by itself when in manual mode. While it might be safe to assume that manual mode means manual, the Skoda’s transmission decides to change up when it gets close to the redline.
This can be immensely frustrating when a driver approaches a corner and watches in horror as the DSG decides to change up even through the driver is half a second away from applying the brakes and diving into a corner.
The seven-speed DSG is a good transmission even though it can get befuddled in stop-start conditions, but a car like this cries out for a nice crisp manual gearbox. It doesn’t make sense not to offer one (you can’t get one for the Polo GTI, either).
As you might imagine, the Fabia RS handles well. The suspension, which runs firmer springs and dampers than the standard models, ensures good body control and very little body roll. Even hooking through fast bends holding the accelerator flat on extremely worn tyres doesn’t do anything to unsettle this hot hatch.
The ride doesn’t suffer a lot and the Fabia RS is comfortable enough over the rougher surfaces. Its steering is well weighted and provides enough assistance so anyone can drive but still feels substantial.
Interestingly, the RS comes with either Continental Sport or Dunlops depending on what turned up to the factory that day (the Dunlops lasted longer at the track). They sit on 17-inch alloy wheels, which do the trick but still look too small for the Fabia’s body.
A body kit with front spoiler and rear wing help make this Fabia look more muscular than the standard model and there are also some nice little touches such as red-painted brake calipers, chrome-tipped dual exhaust, chrome grille elements and shiny black B-pillars and wing mirrors as well as halogen lights with LED daytime running lights.
Customers can stick with the regular body-coloured roof and normal alloy wheels or choose to have the roof painted white, silver or black, or opt for white, black or black and silver alternate wheels. A white car with black roof and black wheels is probably the CarAdvice favourite.
Inside, there are wrap-around sports cloth seats that do a good job of supporting the driver and passenger, even around a race track, as well as alloy-look pedals, chrome elements around the gear lever and vent controls and RS badging on seats and door sills. Still, it looks and feels like a fairly plain compact car interior that is built to a budget.
There is all the standard gear you need, including cruise control, climate control air-conditioning and Bluetooth phone connectivity as well as six airbags and Electronic Stability Control. Whether you pick the hatch or the wagon, which handle so similarly that it really comes down to what suits you best, there will be ample interior space.
There was a degree of wind noise on the road loop, although not terrible, and the tyre noise was intrusive on coarse chip surfaces. Even so, the Fabia RS is an easy car to live with if you don’t mind the design. It’s sensible and fun and the wagon version is unique in this class.
There’s no doubt the hatch is a great drive and is relatively good value if you are after a practical car with decent performance, but make sure you check out its more stylish sibling over at VW before signing on the dotted line.