To cut a long story short, we unexpectedly ended up with a Skoda Fabia for a week. But the details aren’t so important as the surprise realisation that this is actually quite a lot of real-world fun.
What we’ve ended up with is a fairly lowly Fabia SE with the least powerful of the turbocharged 1.2 TSI engines - engines that are about to be replaced by a 1.0-litre turbo. Just 89 horses wheeze their way to the front wheels from its four cylinders, so you’re probably wondering what the hell it’s doing on Civic works.
Well, as it turns out, this car is rather more fun than we expected. It doesn’t look like much on its fiddly little 15-inch alloys and Kumho eco-rubber, but boy does it have charm. You hop into the firm, Germanic driver’s seat and fire up the quattro, which is to say the four-pot under the bonnet, pulling away to a suspiciously – and brilliantly cheeky – offbeat thrum coming through the dashboard.
It sounds nothing like your average shopping car, despite the clever little features like the ice scraper inside the fuel filler cover . As the clutch bites hard and it scrabbles away, the unexpectedly vocal 1.2 throbs away with real heart for such a small motor.
That eager little burble lasts all the way through the midrange, giving you a pretty sweet soundtrack for a small car. It sounds like it means business, even if the insurance grouping doesn’t. It’s a charming, plucky noise that encourages you to enjoy it.
And enjoy it you shall. At low speeds the engine is a peach, throwing down 118lb ft that hustles this Fabia’s 1034kg along pretty nicely through first and second gears. In town it’s a blast, shooting between junctions and roundabouts like a floppy-eared terrier chasing a rabbit. The fat midrange far outstrips the feeble top end so you find yourself surfing the torque and warbling your way along at full pelt like the world’s slowest getaway driver.
But slow is good. This is a perfect first car: your parents know it’s safe, they also know you’re not going to be hitting 100mph on the way home from work (seriously, it takes planning) and everyone knows that if you get caught speeding badly on a main road in this thing, you really don’t have any excuse because you must have been trying hard.
Money matters, though, and you don’t want to leave yourself poorer than a beggar’s dog, do you? Relax your right foot a little and you can get way over 50mpg on a free-flowing drive to work. If you find yourself a big Tarmac oval and sit on it at 35mph all day, you might even top 65mpg. Drive it hard and it’ll drop to about 40mpg, but still - that’s hardly bad.
It’s not just about the engine. The steering rack is faster than you’d think and there’s less weight out front than there is on Taylor Swift, so it changes direction like a rogue firework. As the steering weights up and the outside front spring compresses, the steering wheel gives a genuine, if distant, impression of what the car is up to, which in turn gives you the confidence to really tip it into bends like you mean it.
If you prefer to chill, SE spec has DAB radio, Bluetooth, electric front windows and a USB port. According to the spec sheet there’s even a standard-fit speed limiter that you can tell your elders you’ve been using religiously. I mean, I assume it’s there. No one would know if it wasn’t, because who’s really going to look for it?
There’s also some clever practical thinking at work. With this car you don’t need to use your debit card as an ice scraper, because there’s a proper one inside the fuel filler cover. We also like the net pockets on the sides of the front seats, which are perfect for jamming your phone into so it’s out of the way for the drive. Is the boot big enough? Yes, yes it is. A handsome 330 litres makes it bigger than the one at the back of the Ford Focus.
Apart from a decent ride on the diddy wheels, it’s out of its depth on faster roads. You have to be patient with it, because after 50mph it’s not fast at all, but the genius of this car is how fizzy and fun it is around town. From uni halls to the campus, or from your house to your mates’, this little thing is dynamite.
Through 20, 30 and 40mph it’s a hoot. It’ll turn into roundabouts at speed like it’s nothing, put a smile on your face on the way out again, and it’s even cheap to run. The 108bhp version is better still, but it’s a few insurance groups up. The new three-cylinder 1.0-litre version should be brilliant, with either 94bhp or 108bhp. The higher-powered of the two will have 18lb ft more than the current 108bhp four, which should put a smile on your face.
Don’t look at this car and assume boring. We were surprised how much fun we had in the city, and if it’s small, affordable transport you need, not much out there betters the Fabia.