Skoda Fabia vRS 2011 Review

Why is Skoda’s Fabia vRS hot hatch so angry? Is it because the ‘v’ in its name is lower case, or perhaps because it’s overheard too many Skoda jokes. Who really knows, but one thing’s for sure – it’s a little car with a big temper. At least that’s what Skoda’s ‘Made of meaner stuff’ ad campaign would have us believe. Advertising aside, the vRS has the honour of being the fastest Fabia built so far and it certainly meets expectations. The vRS thrives off a clever twin-charged drivetrain that when combined with the Fabia’s relatively low weight (1313 kg) delivers a seductively cheap thrill. Car and SUV spent a week strapped into a rally green, black roofed vRS to bring you the results.

Exterior Design

The Fabia body shape doesn’t allow itself to be turned into a hot hatch easily; it’s tall and quite narrow. That said, the vRS bas been dropped 15mm and Skoda has worked the front styling nicely with a bespoke front bumper with recessed fog lamps and a large low air dam that creates a gaping mouth. 17-inch black alloys look purposeful and fill up the guards with red painted brake callipers chomping away underneath. With the A-pillars also in black the vRS has a sporty floating roofline that is lengthened at the rear by a high mounted hatch spoiler. Down below, twin exhaust tips poke out from under a tough plastic rear diffuser.

There are also plenty of options to personalise your vRS, the roof and side mirrors can be painted in silver, black or white with the alloy wheels colour matched. Optional equipment includes LED driving lights, electric sunroof and tinted glass to keep low-key.

Overall, the design is very distinctive, very European and while it’s not overdone the vRS will still stand out on NZ roads. Skoda has done well to pick exactly the right areas on the Fabia body to show that the vRS is more than just a small hatch runabout.

In the Cabin

The vRS cabin can’t fully step away from its budget model underpinnings but makes up for it with some class touches and a sense of fun. The Fabia dash isn’t the most stylish in the segment but is logically laid out and easy to operate. There are ample small storage options including a centre armrest/storage bin that can be tilted upwards when not required.

Sporting touches are injected through a paddle-equipped leather sports steering wheel, alloy-faced pedals and vRS branded floor mats. The racing-styled front seats are a delight, while quite small they are deeply bolstered, height adjustable and finished in a thick stitched soft cloth. The seat’s spotted design is unique and breaks up the grey nature of the vRS cabin. The tight feel of the seats also serve as a constant reminder that the vRS is a performance-focused machine.

Interior quality is mixed, the dashboard is solid, tactile and well screwed together but some smaller parts like the interior door handles can feel just a touch flimsy. However, during daily use there will be very few moments when the vRS feels like a budget ride.

Like any supermini the vRS isn’t endowed with lots of space but being only built in a four door, entry and exit for backseat passengers isn’t difficult. Slide the front seats forward a few clicks and four adults will be comfortable on all but the longest journeys. Space in the hatch is a usable 300-litres that will expand to an impressive 1,163-litres with the rear seat folded flat.

Equipment

For its $37k price tag the vRS has a lot of equipment packed in, highlights include halogen headlights, rear parking sensors, CD stereo with auxiliary input, Bluetooth phone preparation, cruise control, chilled glovebox, trip computer, climate air-con and keyless entry.

Drivetrain

Under the bonnet the vRS packs in the VW Group’s highly successful 1.4-litre petrol TSI engine. This little ripper has won the International Engine of the Year award twice on the trot and with good reason. Being twin-charged with both a turbo and supercharger allows it to offer genuine driver enjoyment and also excellent fuel economy.

In the vRS the TSI engine outputs 132kW of power and 250Nm of torque which aren’t bad figures but it’s how the power is delivered that makes it a special unit. The supercharger works at low rpm ensuring that the vRS gets off the mark promptly, at around 2400rpm the turbo joins in and by 3500rpm it’s all turbo and pulling hard. The 0-100kph sprint is covered in 7.3 seconds and the vRS tops out at 224kph.

The vRS isn’t available with a manual gearbox so the engine is exclusively mated to a 7-speed DSG unit. It’s a good match for the motor and provides seamless shifts in its drive or sport modes and through paddle shifts. The seven ratios are well sorted for extracting all available power from the hard-revving engine.

Fuel economy is a strength of this powertrain and being rated at 6.2l/100km combined, means you can have some fun in the vRS without paying a fortune at the pump.

On the road

The vRS is a great all rounder on the tarmac, it has a sensible dose of speed, its power is delivered smoothly and it’s just a fun ride. It’s also a quiet little beast with the engine only sounding strained when pushed very hard. The TSI engine feels lively at any speed but with the gearbox in sports mode it has a tendency to keep itself at high rpm which can become tiring. It’s better to keep the gearbox in drive and use the paddles to shift the gears when a sporty drive is required. Around town the vRS is very relaxed and the DSG box will up shift early to help achieve its impressive fuel consumption figures. Get on the open road though, and the vRS becomes a different car. It’s certainly an engaging drive and when treated right it will move like a rabid terrier.

Dynamically, the vRS is competent. Power is put solely to the front wheels and while a very heavy foot can still create some torque steer the XDS electronically controlled front diff keeps it well in check. Grip is very good and while the Fabia’s tall shape creates a little body roll the vRS has high limits that ultimately give way to predictable understeer.

The speed-sensitive steering doesn’t offer too much in terms of feedback to the driver, but it’s quick acting and well weighted.

The ride may be too firm for grannies out doing the shopping but for hardened hot hatch fans the vRS will prove very comfortable. It’s nicely compliant around town and admirably absorbs bumps and dips even on rougher road surfaces.

Safety First

To cover its safety bases the vRS has ABS brakes, traction and stability control programs, three-point seatbelts for all passengers and a six airbag package. To deter thieves an alarm and immobiliser are also fitted.

The Low Down

In typical Skoda fashion the vRS does very well in the bang for buck equation. The powertrain is all class; it’s strong, high-tech and returns enviable fuel economy figures. The vRS isn’t the fastest hot hatch in the market but it’s an involving drive and has a distinctive character all its own. The styling won’t suit all tastes but it has a ‘stand out’ appeal, the interior is nicely finished and mostly high quality. The vRS makes for an interesting proposition and is a car that you’ll either bond with or you won’t. If you’re in the market for a cheap hot hatch give it a test drive, you might just find your match.

Price: $37,000

Things we like:

  • Modern and economical powertrain
  • Keenly priced
  • Plenty of equipment
  • Engaging and fun drive

Things we don’t like:

  • Styling won’t appeal to all
  • Steering is a touch vague
  • No manual transmission

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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