The fastest ever Skoda Fabia is a great all-rounder that's easy to live with, says motoring editor Peter Carroll
Striking a balance between driveability and liveability can be a tricky job for a hot hatch manufacturer.
The best performers are not always the easiest cars to live with and owners often have to put up with bone-hard suspension or a lack of comfort features like air conditioning.
Skoda took a good look at the market before releasing its new Fabia vRS and has pitched it right in the middle of the market. The vRS is a quick, fine-handling car but practical and comfortable too.
Skoda claims it 'forms the perfect compromise between work and play' and I don't think the Czechs are too far off the mark here.
Of course, a diesel vRS might have been even more appealing to many drivers — but there's no oil burner in the range, unfortunately. This is a shame, as the previous Fabia diesel vRS turned out to be a cult machine for those in the know and is still highly sought after on the used market.
The new vRS has been some time coming (the latest Fabia was launched three years ago) but looks to have been worth the wait.
It costs £15,700 to put on the road and the kit count is high, with standard goodies including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daylight running lights, privacy glass and iPod connectivity.
The Skoda is around £300 cheaper than the SEAT Ibiza Cupra and a full £2,000 less than the Polo GTI, each of which has similar running gear to the vRS.
The Fabia possesses discreetly low-key looks for a hot hatch. It hints at, rather than screams about its sporting ability.
Skoda designers have livened up the front end and lowered the suspension by 20mm to reduce the centre of gravity. At the back there's a subtle spoiler, rear diffuser and a pair of tailpipes.
It's not exactly an S2000 to look at but at least you can get it in the same striking shade of Rallye Green for a touch of that Intercontinental Rally Challenge car look. This colour, incidentally, also looks great with either a black or white roof.
The cabin is a touch underwhelming. It's dark and not especially sporty but the build quality is good, the seats are comfortable and the controls are logically set out.
The driving position is a little high but it's easy to get comfortable.
The car comes with a 180hp version of the Volkswagen Audi Group's 1.4 litre TSI petrol engine. This power plant first debuted in the Golf but I always thought it had the potential to be a little screamer in a smaller car and so it proves in the Fabia.
The engine has a supercharger to ensure it's quick off the mark. Then, at around 3,500rpm, the turbocharger takes over, ensuring a continuous surge of power.
The Skoda can hit 60mph in a touch over seven seconds and continues remorselessly and smoothly towards licence-threatening speeds. Torque steer and turbo lag are noticeable by their absence.
The Fabia is an assured handler too, thanks to its XDS system which electronically mimics the action of a limited slip diffential, making the car more manouevrable and stable when cornering at speed.
The speed-sensitive power steering may not be the most involving system but it is quick, light and accurate. Body roll is well contained and ride quality is excellent.
Some potential buyers may be put off by the fact that the car comes only with automatic DSG transmission, but I found it easy to use.
Shifts through the seven speeds are seamless and you can always take control using the paddle shifters located under the steering wheel.
Dab the throttle while in 7th and the system changes to 4th immediately with no hint of 'hunting' for the right gear.
There's a Sport setting too but it's only really needed for track work or overtaking.
The transmission also has the benefit of selecting the most economical gear when you are pootling along or commuting, which is why I was able to return 38mpg on a mixed cross-country drive: excellent for this type of car.
Outstanding though DSG is, I still think it's a mistake not to offer a manual alternative (and much the same could be said for the Skoda's Polo and Ibiza rivals too).
Ditto the lack of a diesel. I can't be the only person who was eagerly awaiting a diesel vRS. Having said that, it would have had to have been a belter to beat the petrol.
Cards on the table: the Renaultsport Clio 200 has it, if razor-sharp handling is what you're after. But the Clio is a hardcore car and I'm struggling to think of a hot hatch that is going to prove easier to live with than the Fabia vRS. . .