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Have a couple of drinks and squint, and you may confuse this 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo hatchback with an Audi RS6 Avant…
Don’t see it?
Okay, it’s a pretty far-fetched notion, but the colour of our Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo – Steel Grey – shares plenty with the battleship-inspired hue, Nardo Grey, seen on its sister brand’s performance flagship family car. Take a look and tell me it doesn’t!
The similarities don’t end there. Again, the link is tenuous, but this is a five-door, practicality-focused model that is aimed as much as being an eye-catcher as anything else.
That last bit is particularly true of the Monte Carlo, which is essentially a highly stylised version of the regular Fabia. It gets a black grille, black lower body kit including side skirts, front spoiler and rear diffuser, black mirror caps, Monte Carlo badges and 17-inch alloy wheels. It’s not a new premise: the previous-generation Fabia Monte Carlo accounted for 40 per cent of sales.
Whether you like the colour or not – opinions are mixed in the CarAdvice offices – the Monte Carlo looks pretty sharp for a city car.
And inside it gets a few changes, including a panoramic glass roof that makes the cabin feel suitably airy, while the playful seat trim – compared by some in the office to a bad 1990s Fubu tracksuit, or perhaps an Eastern Bloc Olympics trackie pack from the 1980s – divides opinions.
Hey, the car is designed to stand out from the crowd, and the red, grey and black finishes certainly do that. At least the flat-bottomed steering wheel with its leather covering and red contrast stitching, which is also seen on the gear selector boot, looks the part.
The media screen adds some cool to the cockpit, with the 6.5-inch touchscreen media system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as acting as the display for the newly added rear-view camera (fitted to all Fabias).
The menus are simple to learn and easy to navigate, and the screen itself is nice – though its angled position may be conducive to glare in some circumstances, particularly with the blinds open on the glass roof. On that, the roof doesn’t open, and the blinds are manually operated, meaning if you want to close the rear one on the move, it requires a bit of a stretch.
You can either plug in or connect using Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and we had no issues with the system whatsoever. But the six-speaker Arkamys system falls short of the best in this class for sound: there’s not enough meatiness to the bass, even with the Virtual Subwoofer enabled.
The unique carbon-fibre-look swathe that runs across the dashboard is a bit of fun, too, but if you scratch past the surface the Fabia’s interior remains a pretty cheapish place to be.
The hard plastics on the dash and doors don’t scream primo, and while there are soft elbow touch points for those up front, people in the back seat miss out on soft materials on the doors. Further, those in the back don’t get a flip-down centre armrest, and that means there are no cup holders back there.
In the back there are decent door pockets with bottle holsters, and a pair of fabric map pockets, too: not to mention the small mesh storage sleeves on the sides of the front seats.
And as for occupant space, it’s pretty tight. There’s not a lot of leg room – my knees were hard up against the seatback when it was set to my own driving position – and being at the taller end of normal, the headroom on offer is a little shy: that’s because of the massive glass roof and the channels that run along either side for the shutters.
Up front there are small cup holders, a nice little storage box where the USB/auxiliary points are (below the media screen, in front of the shifter), and only a small storage box in the centre console. But the driver has a compartment hidden under their seat, the glovebox is decent, and there are those nifty little rubbish bins fitted to the door pockets. Dare we say it: simply clever.
Our Monte Carlo was fitted with the new Tech Pack, an $1800 option that includes adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, DAB+ digital radio and fatigue monitor. It’s a good pack, worth adding.
Safety is accounted for, too, with six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), forward collision alert with city emergency braking, that new rear-view camera, tyre pressure monitoring, and ISOFIX child-seat anchor points along with top-tether restraints.
But does it feel its price, just based on the interior? Not really: at $23,490 plus on-road costs, we’re not far away from Volkswagen Polo GTI territory: and with the tech pack it’s a $25,290 car, where the Polo GTI starts at $27,690 – and while that car may not be as funky inside (or out), it has a lot more grunt.
That’s because the Fabia Monte Carlo persists with the same 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine seen in the regular Fabia range when equipped with the 81TSI engine. That means outputs of 81kW of power at 4600-5600rpm and 175Nm from 1400-4000rpm.
Those numbers aren't bad for a light car that tips the scales at only 1087 kilograms, and while the car gets a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission, it lacks paddle-shifters, and Skoda claims its 0-100km/h sprint time is a leisurely 9.4 seconds. Straight-line speed isn’t what you buy a hatchback for, though.
The engine is fine – it’s definitely not a firecracker but nor is it a fizzer, either. It builds pace decently despite the fact the DSG wants to upshift a little too soon in regular driving.
From a standstill the gearbox can offer some slight hesitation, but not as bad some other dual-clutch models we’ve sampled, but our biggest gripe was the lack of paddle-shifters. They would add even more involvement to the driving experience.
In urban driving the Fabia’s stop-start was pretty smooth in its operation and relatively unobtrusive, though the drivetrain can be a little lurchy when you reapply throttle after braking in traffic.
In terms of driving manners, the Fabia Monte Carlo features a tauter sports suspension tune that is designed to improve the handling of the car, and it certainly does.
There’s good control and compliance through corners, with very little body roll as you punt it through corners. And it can be punted: this is an impressive little car when it comes to cornering confidence, partly because of its sticky Bridgestone Potenza rubber (215/40/17), and also due to its steering.
The steering is accurate and true, with good response and weighting and decent feel through the wheel. It’s not darty or overly rapid to respond on-centre, but it is excellent when it comes to mid corner adjustments.
The firmer suspension setup can bottom out over big speed bumps and the like – you can't coast over them at speed as you might in the regular Fabia, due to the sportier setup, so you'll need to slow down where you might not usually have to.
Indeed the suspension can crash over potholes, but that’s the downside to a car that outhandles most other cars in the class. It isn’t as dynamically impressive as, say, a Fiesta ST or Polo GTI, but nor does it ride as firmly as either of those cars (but the Polo now has adaptive dampers, so that firmness can be turned on or off).
The fuel use claim from Skoda is 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres, which is impressive. And we saw not a lot higher than that over a few hundred kilometres of mixed driving, including hard cornering, grinding traffic, and cruisy highway miles: 6.2L/100km.
That aspect of the ownership costs shouldn't be too bad, then. Maintenance isn’t cheap, though: the Fabia has a six-year/90,000km capped-price service campaign, and the average cost per year is $409. You can pre-pay your servicing for three years/45,000km ($1149) or five years/75,000km ($2250), which might be handy if you bundle it with your finance deal. There’s three years of roadside assist and a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and you can extend that to five years (both warranty and roadside) for $2899.
All told, the 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo is a likeable little hatchback, one that is perhaps more at home in twisties than it is in traffic. And it probably isn’t cheap enough, despite being comparatively packed with equipment.
That said, there are already deals being done on the 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, from $24,990 driveaway. If you could get one with the Tech Pack for that, the value equation would swing quite a ways…
Click the Photos tab above for more images from Sam Venn.