August 13, 2012
Article from 7Days
I was genuinely intrigued to get behind the wheel of the Skoda Fabia RS hot hatchback.
The segment is jammed full of models internationally, however, given the UAE's love of all things big, we don't see that many arrive on our shores.
So, when I picked it up from Ali & Sons in Dubai, I quickly set about giving it a thorough test drive – round town, Abu Dhabi and back and even the daily commute from Arabian Ranches to 7DAYS' offices in Al Garhoud.
However, nothing could be farther from the truth as I was extremely impressed with the RS.
There were a few niggles, for example I found the red-and-black interior a little bland and the ride to Abu Dhabi and back in sports seats was a rough on the posterior.
However, this is not a grand tourer and, therefore, should not be compared as such in terms of luxury and comfort.
Instead, the Fabia RS is a hot hatch through and through. It looks good, has buckets of zip and is light and agile.
It is powered by a 178bhp turbo and supercharged 1.4 TSI engine, which, combined with the seven-speed automatic dual-clutch DSG gearbox, offers up serious acceleration.
Sadly, my test drive was not equipped with paddle shifts so I couldn't put the engine truly to the test, however I was assured they would be available to buyers.
The sportiness continues on the exterior, which features a stylised radiator grille, black-set headlights and 17ins alloy wheels with red brake calipers. Meanwhile, poking out the back are twin exhausts.
Interestingly for a hot hatch, you also get five doors, which makes it much more practical than some of its competitors. Indeed, you might just be able to convince yourself that you are buying a family car. Just, mind you.
Other bells and whistles include parking sensors and Bluetooth.
For an extra 3,000AED you can get the Dynamic package, which includes LED daytime driving lights, multi-function three-spoke sports steering wheel with the paddle shifts and an AMUNDSEN touch-screen with CD player and SD card reader.
Overall the Skoda Fabia RS is well-put together, well-priced hatchback that, with it's five doors, offers an interesting alternative to those looking for a saloon but not wanting to compromise on performance.
June 6, 2012
Article from Top Gear Middle East, January 2012 edition
You might not consider a Skoda in the Middle East, but you’d be making a mistake to pass up on the new Yeti. We look at an Abominable Snowman in the middle of the desert
We love it when a nameplate is all you need to succinctly express every little nuance of a car’s character.
Obviously this can only happen when the marketing department bothers to name a car using an actual word, which immediately rules out the Germans. Mercedes prefers the alphabet going from A to V and using up pretty much every letter in between;BMW goes with numerals to set its 1 Series apart from its 7er, and Audi mixes a bit of both, for nameplates that are incoherent, meaningless, and completely impassive to the casual car buyer.
The Americans, in their loveable and ostentatious way, have always been king at naming cars. The obvious are the Mustang, Cobra, Viper, Challenger and Charger, but car guys will know there are even better nameplates further down the list. Stuff like the Gremlin, Roadrunner, Imperial, Toronado, Swinger (one of our favourites), Rebel, Hornet… (deep breath)… Super Bee, Firebird, Tempest, Barracuda, Road King, Starfire, Champ, Sky Hawk, and of course, the Dictator.
Some of the Yank stuff has missed the point, granted. The PontiakAztek immediately comes to mind, named after a people and a culture that is - and this is the key characteristic here - extinct.
After the Americans, the Italians come a close second ahead of the British with their icons such as the Defender, Scimitar, and most of all the Interceptor (possibly one of the single coolest car names of all time). TVR itself was responsible for some of British cars’ best nametags, such as Griffith and Chimaera, which is a mythical creature but rather sounds like a diseases you catch if you drink standing water in Uganda. But the Italians did, after all, name a Lamborghini after a regional dialect exclamation that roughly translates to something unprintable in Top Gear Middle East when they dubbed a car Countach. Then they replaced that with the single most sinister car name ever, Diablo.
The Japanese, with their Cedrics and Glorias and Mysterious Utility Wizards, don’t stand a chance…
And if we conveniently skip all the other car making countries and come straight to the Czezh Republic, we can easily understand why they don’t at all rate highly on the list of cool car naming places. Actually, the Czechs are not bad at all, just not very imaginative, or even ambitious. The Skoda Favorit, for example. Favourite of who, exactly? Oppressed communist farmers? The Popular? Popular where? In the eastern Slovakian town of Kosice? Wow.
Admittedly these Skodas have long since been discontinued, and the brand, under the lovingly protective Volkswagen Group umbrella, has been thriving. Now it sells cars like the Fabia, which is actually fabulous (Why wouldn’t it be? It’s a Volkswagen Polo), the Superb, which is genuinely superb, and the Roomster, which is quite roomy. All mightily boring names, but perfectly adequate. The company’s current marketing department isn’t being misleading at all, such as that time when it once called a car the Rapid (in fact they just announced a resurrection of this nametag, for a compact saloon).
And that brings us neatly to the Yeti, a vehicle just launched in the Middle East. Now that’s more like it. Skoda proves it has a thriving imagination and names a car after a fearsome, ape-like Abominable Snowman type thing mythically inhabiting the Himalayan regions of Nepal and Tibet. Cool, but therein lies the problem. An Abominable Snowman, in the Middle East? Really?
Nissan, Toyota and the rest of that gang always change car names to reflect regional cultures and take into account a myriad marketing factors (the infamous MitubishiPajero missed out badly in Spanish speaking markets because its name is an insult, literally). So, why can’t Skoda? Instead of Yeti, what’s wrong with Jamal? That of course means camel in Arabic, and a camel is versatile, you can ride it, race it, eat it, or just let it carry your things. It’s durable, it can outlive the desert, it’s extremely frugal, and it’s embedded in Middle Eastern culture. Perfect.
Sadly, this is not a review of the new Skoda Jamal, as awesome as that would be, but rather a first Top Gear Middle East drive of the new Skoda Yeti. So be it…
And anyway, Yeti is a good name too, even if it’s grossly out of place in our region. Yetis are strong, and, um, big, cuddly (possibly, if tamed), and clever, probably. This Skoda is all those things too. With its characterful design it’s a loveable little car, but also quite aggressive as the crisp headlights show. The radiator grille is a typical Skoda design also flanked by two oversize foglights. The rear end is purely functional and dominated by a huge tailgate, while 17-inch Dolomite design wheels give the car a bit of a sporty touch.
But really, the name of the game for the Yeti is its versatility. The car is not much bigger than your average hatchback, but offers the kind of practicality and livability normally reserved for estates or crossovers. Its wheelbase, as well as front and rear track dimensions, are identical to the Volkswagen Golf, and that’s because it’s built on the same platform. But the Yeti is slightly longer, a smidgen wider, and a whole lot taller. Resultantly it weighs a good 200kg more than a typical Golf, and the bulging proportions have somewhat ruined its drag coefficient to a figure of Cd 0.37. No matter though, because the Yeti comes with a powerful and eager Volkswagen 1.8-litre engine turbocharged to deliver 160 horsepower.
Back to the versatility though. The interior of the new Yeti offers a huge amount of space for its passengers and a variety of seating positions and cargo arrangements. The seats are all mounted higher on the floor to give the drivers and passengers that ‘command’ feeling of an SUV on the road. The seating position also improves visibility no end, while the thin A- and B-pillars don’t obstruct any of the views out. Skoda includes something called the VarioFlex system of three separate rear seats in this Yeti, which gives you numerous options for playing with the cargo compartment so you can safely transport whatever you need to. Included in this Middle East spec model are also a radio with CD player and a music interface device for your MP3 player. Bluetooth is standard and the multifunctional leather steering wheel puts you in touch with all this tech. In the rear, your passengers get additional window tinting, crucial in our market, and the added convenience of foldable tables fitted in the centre armrest and front seat backs.
The rest of the cabin and dash is built VW-tough, meaning it will last for eons, while the design is clearly function over form.
Another surprise, apart from the functionality of the interior, is how well this little SUV drives. And SUV is the rightful tag for the Yeti, because it actually comes with four-wheel drive incorporating a proper off-road system that adapts the settings of the electronics to rougher terrain. In fact the car’s ESP system includes more acronyms than should strictly be necessary, all in the name of safety: ABS, EBV, MST, ASR, EDS, HBA and DSR. Whew… Twin front airbags add to the car’s safety credentials, and there are even two side airbags thrown in as well.
The four-cylinder turbo 1.8-litre engine develops 160bhp from 4,500rpm while maximum torque of 184ft lb is available from just 1,500rpm. With direct petrol injection the engine sees great economy (despite the weight increase) and you can easily average 30mpg. Zero to 100kph takes a commendable 8.4 seconds with our DSG six-speed transmission and top speed is 200kph.
On these 17-inch wheels the Yeti is sublime in the corners; almost as assured as a Golf. Its higher centre of gravity calls on a bit more body roll, but the car’s directional changes are nevertheless composed and instant. The meaty steering feel puts further confidence in the driver, thanks in addition to its precise control and the steering wheel’s compact size. The all-wheel drive system culls any understeer at typical driving speeds, but if you push too hard the car will dial in a safety net of understeer to remind you to lift off. At this point the car immediately tucks back into the safety of the proper line. Not exactly hair-raising, but perfectly laudable.
The real Yeti might be a myth, but Skoda’s Yeti proves it’s a creature you can easily learn to love. Especially since it costs $27,000.
March 5, 2012
Road test, Superb 2.0T FSI Combi – Autodata Middle East
Could I live with one? YES
February 5, 2012
Article from Car Middle East
FABIA-L OUS RS
SKODA'S SUPERMINI IS SUPERBLY IMPRESSIVE
When it came time for me to test the new Skoda Fabia RS, not only was I surprised at how it measured up within its category, I was surprised with its performance in general. It's fast, nimble, steady, and refreshing in looks.
The RS label on this Fabia whets the appetite, but it is the drive that offers real satisfaction. Putting your foot down in the RS is a pleasure and it delivers a surprising amount of power and speed. It is so surprisingly fast that if you don't pay attention, it will get away from you.
This new car is equipped with a dual fuel injection 1.4 TSI turbocharged engine of four cylinders delivering 180 hp and 250 Nm of torque at 2,000 revs, more than enough to make this light weight but steady specimen reach 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds! The Fabia RS comes with a seven-speed, dual-clutch, DSG automatic transmission that makes the drive even more of a delight.
The gear changes are smooth and you'll be thrilled with the meaty engine noise during acceleration, letting you experience the abundant sporty character of this supermini which is a reminder of Skoda's impressive rally car lineage.
This great performance is even more pronounced when using the S mode where the response is much higher but without compromising stability, though at times you can notice some roll – mainly from a standing start, but that in itself is part of the car's charm.
The Fabia RS is finished with interesting sporty touches throughout alongside a refreshing colour palette, such as the red on black version that got to drive. The intense red shade certainly packed a punch in the bright sunshine – it simply popped.Relative to its size, the wide front grille in black is an eye catcher and carries the RS badge, giving the car a very special character dimension with a gentle nod to the neat powertrain that lies beneath the bonnet. The sporty profile is defined from a distance through the 17-inch Gigaro wheels in black and brake calipers in red. The black touches extend to the headlights, along with the honeycombed-cover of the bumper-integrated air intake and the clear lines on the bonnet confirming the sporty character of the car. It all adds up to a more powerful look while enhancing the aerodynamics.
The rear's fifth door's spoiler, double exhausts tailpipe, and black diffuser complete the athletic notes. But when getting closer, the IRC champion emblem above the front wheel curve stresses the capabilities of this impressive performer.
Among its many features are Climatronic air conditioning with electronic regulation, an MDI (music interface device), and electronic vehicle immobilisation.
Safety is also taken care of – highly needed in a car of this size, weight and speed. Braking is really good and you can easily notice its efficiency at different driving modes, thanks to the antilock braking system. Other advanced technologies, which enhance the safety levels of the Skoda, include the park distance control system and active features such as the electronic stability programme (ESP) and anti slip regulation (ASR). The driver and passenger are protected by the front and side airbags and three-point safety belts. Sitting in the new Fabia RS makes you feel in full control, especially as the driver and front passenger seats are styled with racing in mind, mainly through the use of black upholstery with red trim with sportily designed seating positions. RS badges are again seen stitched on the backrests.
The small, yet comfortable, cabin is simple and clean, allowing easy reach to all the easily accessible control keys. The three-spoke steering wheel is leather clad and again carries the ubiquitous RS badge. Paddle shift controls are available as an optional extra, (but were not a feature on my test car) along with different key designs. The high-line instrument panel is neat and almost elegant, cleanly displaying what the driver wants to see most – the speed and engine rpm of this little rocket. The multifunctional display between the two circular gauges shows other important car data.
This car is packed with special touches that stress the car's active character, including the stainless steel brake and accelerator pedals, the decorative doorsill strips with the RS insignia fond throughout, and the gearshift handle with DSG engraving. All these make the drive more engaging making even the most mundane roundabout a joy to drive around.
The RS is rich in its class, offering a lot of excellent features for a comparatively low price. It perhaps lacks a few of the elegant interior touches that its competitors have, however it is not really missing anything – all the necessary elements are present and are executed to a high standard. Many things can make the drive exhilarating, but at the end it's the adrenalin rush that has the most impact, and the RS gave it to me in spades.
January 3rd, 2012
Article from Top Gear Middle East, January 2012 edition
Is the latest hot-hatch in the market too sensible? Maybe, but it still has a dirty secret.
But now there’s another option thanks to Skoda, that Czech car manufacturer of all things hot, hatchback-ey and exciting. All right, at least we got one of those right…
Well, Skoda, being sensible and all (we’re not sarcastic any more) has taken care of that problem too. You make a very linear decision to buy a rational vehicle, but all along the process your heart’s asking for at least a bit of an increased beat rate. So you get a Skoda – very sensible of you – but you make it a Fabia RS – how cheeky of you. You are then free to tell your wife that you spent nothing on your new car, that it has four doors and they even threw in a fifth one at the back if a third child comes along. After she finds your “put the newborn in the boot” joke quite tasteless, you make up for it by mentioning the RS’s excellent fuel economy, low insurance rates, logical interior, and then you forget to say anything about the bristling performance. That can stay your little secret.
And that is the Fabia RS’s secret too; it’s a naughty little devil in a completely sensible appearance. It’s a bit possessed, basically.
The RS chassis – or should we say Polo GTI - is rigid and the wheels are pushed far out into the corners, so the wide tyres’ prodigious grip has a lot to fall back on. With the 1.4-litre TSI engine serving up a seven-speed DSG transmission, the power is always there at your command, since a kick-down of the throttle instantaneously calls up the right ratio and 184lb ft of torque. As a daily driver, the power band is flexible enough to lock the DSG in fourth and just trod along through traffic. When you and your secret want to play, however, the peakiness just isn’t there as it should be in a hot hatch. The car really doesn’t even need a playful manual gearbox because the TSI motor prefers to sit about 750rpm off the red line, leaving it all to the DSG to decide. It’s not the kind of engine that you can stretch out seemingly into oblivion, such as a Honda, or old Ford and Peugeot lumps. With twin charging (the RS employs both turbo and supercharging) the benefits of a constant supply of torque do outweigh the negatives though, which are pretty much limited to revving something into detonation. See, the Skoda is sometimes sensible, sometimes not… Like for example just how well balanced it is in the turns. Dialled-in understeer comes in smoothly and slowly, giving the driver plenty of time to simply add more steering angle and let the tyres call up more grip – there’s plenty in store; they pretty much never squeal except at launch.
Combined with powerful brakes, the chassis inspires confidence and a lead foot. With the RS’s short wheelbase if you lift off the throttle in a fast bend, you simply allow a split second for the trajectory to change and then drop your foot down again, without ever getting into a bother. Since it’s so short, it’s quite darty at turn-in but it doesn’t do bumpy or undulating surfaces too happily. The ride then because somewhat choppy, although the suspension rebounding is taut and completely thud-free.
December 31, 2011
Road Test: The anonymous hot hatch tearing up UAE motorways
Most of us consider value for money to be a top priority when choosing a new car, but I think I've just found the best there is. And yes, it's a Skoda. But don't let the name, the badge or the rather odd looks deceive you, for this is one seriously clever little car that comes rammed to the hilt with technical and engineering goodness. And, for once, it all combines to make the driving experience a markedly improved one.
It's unfortunate for Skoda that the latest Fabia (it's new to the UAE but has been around in other markets for a year now) has taken a retrograde step in the exterior design department. The previous generation was quite a pretty little thing but not this one. It's a bit slab sided, it's too narrow, too tall and the wheels look a bit lost in its profile. But there are still nice touches, such as the aggressive front valance and blacked-out trim. The upside, though, of its odd looks is that inside there's no shortage of space - it feels light and airy, despite the prevalent blackness of the trim.
For starters, you get five doors, which makes this a practical car. You get body-hugging sports seats; parking sensors; daytime LED lights; a multi-function computer display screen; Bluetooth; a multi-function steering wheel; electronic stability control; an electronic limited-slip differential; and, last but not least, a seven-speed DSG transmission. For Dh84,450, that's an impressive array of technology.
You're also getting the benefits of Skoda being part of the Volkswagen Group. This translates into extremely high levels of build quality and control - in fact, it's probably best viewed as a VW in disguise, albeit a far less expensive one.
Getting behind the wheel, it's immediately obvious that it's a VW. It's a little bit bland, the interior, but the gauges, the instrument binnacle, the infotainment system and the gear shifter are all standard Volkswagen, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. But don't expect to find soft-touch plastics because everything's a bit hard on the fingers. It still feels well constructed, it's just that it's also a bit low-rent - understandable, given its sticker price.
With a twist of the key, the rorty 1.4L motor jumps into life. The exhaust note is a bit muted but it still manages to sound like a hot hatch. Engage drive, floor throttle and whooooaaah! This thing can't half shift. And this is where its engine's twin-charger set-up makes a case for itself, because the supercharger (being mechanically driven) provides boost from the outset, between tickover and 2,400rpm, after which the turbocharger takes over, boosting power to the red line of each gear.
The transition from super to turbocharger is seamless.
Getting to a long, straight stretch of the E11, the Fabia RS manages to make mincemeat of everything else. What other drivers cannot fathom, it would seem, is what this little red car actually is. But while they don't recognise it, the one thing nobody can deny is that its pace is quite extraordinary. When I compare it to my daily driver, a Scirocco 2.0TSI, there's very little discernible difference in its power delivery.
Around town it can be a bit of a handful, though, because that power is there, ready to be unleashed, at all times. You need to be light with your right foot if you're to remain composed, especially as the supercharger appears to react to throttle inputs quicker than the transmission. The seven-speed DSG, especially when used with the paddle shifters, is superb, but it has a tendency to come across as a bit slushy at times. I think the six-speed unit would be more sporty but that would be at the expense of fuel economy.
Speaking of which, this tearaway has a combined thirst of just 6.2L/100km, will do 225kph flat out and reach 100 from rest in just over seven seconds. And it can keep you entertained in the corners, too. The electronic driver aids do just that: they apportion power to the wheels in a way that brings a smile to the face, allowing the driver to throw it into a bend, pile on the power and keep it there with the bare minimum of dreaded understeer.
All in all, this is a brilliant little car. It's packed with tech, it's fun to drive, cheap to run and is built to VW's exacting standards. If you're looking for an inexpensive, reliable, fun mode of transport then nothing can touch this for the money.
August 19, 2011
2011 Skoda Superb lives up to its name
Forget the name, forget the badge and enjoy it for what it really is: a brilliant car." Those were the closing words of my review of Skoda's Octavia vRS a couple of months ago and I'm tempted to leave it at that for this road test, too. Because the Superb is, ahem, really very good indeed.
Know what you're thinking, though. You're thinking that it may very well be a brilliant car that's excellent value for money. But it's a Skoda. So you won't buy one, will you? You'll also be thinking (and I'll concur with this point) that there's something slightly iffy about the way it looks, particularly in its awkward side profile. It's a long car; 4.8m long, and it has more rear legroom than a standard Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which is a lot. But that's still not enough to convince you of this car's worth, is it? Because it's a Skoda.
It's not exciting, granted, but it's beautifully constructed, luxuriously appointed and, particularly in 3.6L version, has the solid feel of a big Mercedes. Put a Merc badge on the steering wheel and you'd be none the wiser.
The Superb has been around in this guise since late 2008 and it's so much more than a big VW in disguise. It's said that 80 per cent of the car is Skoda's own design and execution, with the rest from parent company VW and, where the previous Superb did nothing to hide its humble Passat origins, this is a much better, more distinctive car. And as for the name, what I previously assumed was a bit of an in-joke is actually tied in with the company's long and rich heritage, first being used back in 1934.
The cabin is quite lovely. It's simple, elegant and well laid-out, with a premium feel not far short of the best Audis. The quality of materials is way above what you'd expect to find in cars of this price bracket and UAE models come with a healthy array of kit as standard equipment. And, like I said, there's seemingly acres of space inside.
While the styling could be said to be a bit bland and awkward in places, there's one very clever design touch that goes unnoticed by casual observers. The rear opening is, at the touch of a button, either a normal boot or a full hatchback, which makes it a genuinely practical car for families and sales executives alike.
The 3.6L comes with four-wheel drive, which is pretty irrelevant here in the UAE, but its 260hp V6 is as smooth as they come. Top speed is limited to 250kph and 100 is reached from rest in just 6.5 seconds, so it's no slouch. There's 350Nm of twist to play with, too, giving the Superb impressive mid-range punch. The six-speed DSG transmission is straight from VW and it's one of the world's best. So far, so good.
On the move it's all very composed and refined. Wind noise is practically non-existent and there's a pleasing, discreet rumble from the engine when you pile on the power. Everything feels tight, with no squeaks or rattles anywhere and I quickly find myself forgetting that I'm not piloting a big German autobahn basher. It's a Skoda. And you know what? It's brilliant. But you still won't buy one, will you? But you really should. If practicality, space, luxury and quality are up there on your list of attributes when pondering your next purchase, then the Superb delivers on all fronts. A fully loaded 3.6 (known as the Elegance model) costs just Dh143,800 and I can't think of anything else out there that offers so much for the same price.
But then there's the 1.8T. With a turbocharged four-cylinder up front, I was expecting it to be half the performer the 3.6 is. I was wrong. Because this car is lighter, having both a smaller engine and being front-wheel drive, it feels just as rapid as the 3.6. Up to a point, that is. At speeds over 120kph, the 1.8 feels asthmatic compared to its big brother but, in real world driving, there's little in it. And, at Dh99,500 with an unlimited mileage warranty, it makes a solid case for itself. Superb? I'd stick with excellent for now, but the next one probably will be. Forget the name, forget the badge and enjoy it for what it really is: a brilliant car.
May 26, 2011
Road Test: Skoda Octavia is good enough for the police
If you want to know what makes a decent car, you could do worse than take a look at what certain police forces use in their fleets. In the UK, where I hail from, cop cars range from the Ford Focus (usually for the urban jungle) to 3 and 5 Series BMWs, Audis and the occasional Subaru Imprezza for high-speed pursuits. Volvo V70 T5 estates feature heavily, too, because they're tough, very quick and there's plenty of room in the cavernous boot for all manner of highway law enforcement essentials.
The various UK police forces have an unlikely stealth weapon in their arsenals, however: the Skoda Octavia RS. Unmarked, they're subtle enough to go unnoticed by other road users, thousands of whom have been caught unawares while travelling at illegal speeds. A journalist I know in the UK was driving a 911 GT3 a few years ago, doing about 240kph on a deserted stretch of motorway. His illicit fun was brought to an abrupt end when suddenly he noticed a Skoda looming in his rear-view mirror with its blue lights flashing behind the radiator grille. I can't repeat the words he uttered, but suffice to say he was gobsmacked that an Octavia could drive so fast. No wonder the police love them.
But sheer speed is not enough for a car to make it onto the fleets of the boys in blue. Their cars take an absolute hammering, so they need to be extremely well built and reliable. So the Octavia RS must be quite a car, and recently it was time for me to find out, right here in the UAE, whether it's as good as I've been led to believe.
You have to feel for Skoda (pronounced Shkoda). It's been building cars for a hundred years, but for decades the company has fought a gruelling war against prejudice and misinformation. What's in a name? Evidently quite a lot, because it wasn't until VW completely took over in 2001 that the cars became a viable purchase for motorists with a total aversion to anything built in the Czech Republic. The butt of jokes and derision from the school playground to the boardroom, Skoda had its work cut out, but persistence eventually paid off, and now the company is selling 650,000 cars a year and is directly responsible for a colossal 25 per cent of VW Group's annual profits.
The Octavia was the first model engineered under VW's direct influence. Based on the Mk5 Golf platform, it's a mid-size saloon (or estate) and, although its technology is lagging behind the current Golf, a styling refresh in 2009 has kept it looking smart. In the three days I had the car it certainly drew plenty of admiring glances from pedestrians and curious onlookers, who probably didn't know what it was they were looking at. The Skoda badge is unfamiliar, but ignore that and you could be looking at a beefy Passat. LED daytime running lights and a shapely bonnet cut a modern dash, but the rest of the Octavia is identikit Germania - not that there's anything wrong with that.
Inside it's the same story. High-quality trim and a dash that's much more attractive than the current Passat make it a pleasing environment. There's still the occasional piece of scratchy plastic, but in general there's nothing to complain about. And it has an old-fashioned hand-brake. And a key for the ignition - remember those? It's nice to know there's an actual mechanical interaction going on sometimes.
And it's the mechanical interaction between the RS's engine and its front wheels that makes this such a bargain of a car (it comes packed to the gunnels with kit for Dh89,500). Twist the key (you don't even need a foot on the brake pedal) and the engine quickly settles down to a purposeful, meaty thrum. It's a turbocharged two-litre straight four, mated to VW's much-lauded six-speed DSG transmission. Incidentally, the engine is straight out of a Mk5 GTI. So far, so good
It's this dual nature that's at the very heart of the Octavia RS's appeal. It doesn't shout its presence, it simply goes like a hot hatch that's been well screwed together. Viewing it as a cut-price VW makes a lot of sense. After all, the days of judging a car by the country it's assembled in have long since vanished (did you know that Audi builds the TT in Hungary?), so Skoda's communist past is irrelevant. In the UAE, the Octavia RS is, however, very relevant. Forget the name, forget the badge and enjoy it for what it really is: a brilliant car that's good enough for the police.
May 15, 2011
A Czech laughing stock turned serious player
Of all the smart moves that Volkswagen has made over the years - and there have been a few - a cross-border raid into the former Czechoslovakia to scoop up Skoda Auto shortly after the Iron Curtain fell two decades ago did not appear to be one of them. Skoda was, at the beginning of the 1990s and together with FSO, Trabant, Lada and Yugo - those other pillars of Communist-era car making - the laughing stock of the motoring world.
All five producers were guilty of churning out underpowered and underwhelming products that may have played out well in their home countries - where customers had little choice but to buy these domestic offerings - but were about as welcome on the export market as engine failure on a desert road. Oddly, of this manufacturing quintet of underachievement, Skoda attracted the most ire among western Europe's car buyers, in part because they so aggressively pursued sales in foreign fields.
Trabant alone would earn some kind of postmodern cool courtesy of Paul Hewson (aka Bono) and Achtung Baby-era U2 after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, while Yugo, Lada and FSO were largely written off as simply rebadging and remaking old and generally bad Fiats. Skoda, on the other hand, dared to be different by eschewing the retreading of Italian cast-offs - and paid the price for it. The Czech car maker introduced the Estelle at the end of the Seventies. A small family car, it was also badged in some markets as the 105, 120 and 125 - the numbers denoting the car's small and imperfectly formed engine sizes (1.0L, 1.2L and the top-of-the-range 1.25L).
The Estelle was a rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive car. Sadly, this set-up had little to do with performance and balance but was, instead, a Kafkaesque solution to Skoda's inability to find the financial clout to fund the development of a more conventional small family car. Stuck with old technology and starved of resources, the company did its best to make do and mend. It was, in truth, a deeply primitive piece. What interior trim the Estelle did possess had a tendency to fall off every time a hapless owner cornered at anything close to a moderate speed. Although, given that the Estelle's handling was a little lively even at pedestrian pace, most owners were less likely to be worried about ashtray malfunction than the vanishing road the Skoda was about to run off. Knowing the car was not for thrill-seekers, at least not in the conventional sense, Skoda had the good sense to knock the Estelle out at a knock-down price.
Fancifully, a few years after the Estelle's original release, Skoda would also later spin a three-door fastback off the same platform. With a top speed of 150kph and a requirement of 15 seconds to carry the car from a standing start to 100kph, the Rapid, as it was badged, was more a name and less a way of life. Sometime in the mid-Eighties, the Estelle and the Skoda brand became the butt of a thousand jokes: What do you call a Skoda with a sunroof? A skip. How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill it with petrol. Why does a Skoda have a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm while you're pushing it. Regrettably, space on these pages does not permit a more extended repertoire of the jokes that haunted the brand in this period.
The Estelle stayed in production until VW purchased Skoda - significantly, it was the first of the company's products to be axed by the new owners. Now 20 years later, Skoda has been reinvented as a modern and respected marque producing good-looking cars with startling names like Yeti and Roomster. The jokes stopped a long time ago.
April 10, 2010
Skoda's £25,000 estate is simply superb
If you buy a new Audi A6 estate then you are madder than 'Hatter Johnny Depp in the new Alice in Wonderland film. And that is very mad indeed. There is nothing wrong with the A6 estate, or Avant, as Audi calls it. But there is this other car, called the Skoda Superb estate, and it's just as good as the Audi but costs several thousand less.
I've been waiting for the Superb wagon to arrive on my drive with an excitement that I haven't experienced since unwrapping my toy Evel Knievel bike and doll on my ninth birthday. Well, not quite that excited but I've been looking forward to driving the wagon ever since I drove the Superb saloon in 2008.
One of the best cars I've ever owned was a Volvo 940 estate that I bought for two grand about five years ago. I love big estates and would have one over a people carrier any day.And the Superb estate is very big indeed. With the seats down there's 1,865 litres of luggage space, easily beating the Ford Mondeo's 1,763 litres. Even with the seats up there's 633 litres of space and generous rear leg-room. In fact, the only other VW Group car with this much rear legroom is the long wheelbase version of Audi's A8 luxo-saloon.
In case you're worried about nodding off during a "it's better than sex" road test of the Superb estate, I'll get the bad bit out of the way first it's the wheels. This Elegance model has 18in wheels with 225/40 tyres.That 40 figure is the aspect ratio and 40 is a pretty low-profile tyre that you'd expect to see on a Porsche, say, not on a family car. But a tyre is part of the suspension system and, ideally, you want a nice deep tyre wall to help absorb the bumps and cracks on our Third World roads.The Skoda's ride isn't shocking but it would be a lot better if the car were fitted with the basic S model's 16in wheels and 205/55 tyres.As usual, this will be the marketing department's fault, because they insist upon cars having sporty-looking wheels and tyres.
The model Skoda sent over is the 2.0 TDI Elegance 170 with optional DSG gearbox, costing £24,790, plus another £1,280 for the gearbox. The Audi A6 Avant, with the same engine but far less kit is already a couple of grand more. Just how badly do you want the badge?And it's not as if you are getting less quality for your money because the Superb estate is, er, superbly made.
Apart from the jittery ride, which could easily be fixed, the Superb estate is a wonderfully relaxing drive. If you are careful you can get 40mpg (the official figure is 47.9mpg), especially if the automatic DSG gearbox deals with gear changes.
You may remember me getting excited about the Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate a month or so ago: I called it the best car in the world.I'll revise that statement. The Merc is the best car in the world over £30k - and I've just found the best car in the world available for less.