► New Monte Carlo is the sportiest-looking Fabia
► Engine and chassis identical to standard model
► Rallying rip-off or fun, practical hatchback?
Don’t get your hopes up: this isn’t a replacement for the Skoda Fabia vRS. Despite being a popular model among enthusiasts, it simply didn’t sell well enough for Skoda to justify bringing it back.
This latest Monte Carlo edition, however, aims to inject a little more interest into Skoda’s current compact hatchback line–up. Like the recently unveiled Fiesta ST–Line, it’s a sporty-looking version that aims to deliver hot hatchback looks in conjunction with pocket-friendly running costs.
Consequently, it features a host of sporty styling touches but is offered with a range of engines that tops out with the frugal 109bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol, already offered in the Fabia range.
Rivals, then, include the aforementioned Ford Fiesta and the likes of the VW Polo GT.
So why the Monte Carlo name?
The Monte Carlo trim, originally offered in the previous Fabia, was designed to celebrate 100 and 110 years of the Monte Carlo Rally and Skoda’s motorsport commitment respectively.
Snobs of the brand may scoff, but a recent lockdown of the top four positions at the German round of the World Rally Championship suggest Skoda’s motorsport credentials are in excellent health.
What makes the Monte Carlo different from a standard Fabia then?
This limited-edition Fabia, which is based on the mid-range SE trim, comes with 16-inch Italia black alloy wheels, a black radiator grille and door mirrors, a panoramic sunroof and B-pillars festooned with Monte Carlo badges. Snazzy.
Other additions include front fog lights, a body coloured rear spoiler, sports leather multi-function steering wheel, front sports seats and Monte Carlo pedals. It’s hardly going to make you feel like you’re scything down a mountain pass in the French Riviera, but it just makes the Fabia a little more interesting.
So it looks the part, but what’s it like to drive?
Unsurprisingly, it’s like a regular Skoda Fabia on 16-inch wheels – it’s predictable, composed and rather entertaining when the mood takes you. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, and the chassis tackles corners competently. Push the Skoda further and predictable understeer is the name of the game here, ESC on or off.
Unlike a lot of cars however, the understeer seldom kills the fun. Cutting down some West Sussex back roads we found the Fabia Monte Carlo to be an enjoyable hatch, its grip and low output allowing for full-throttle blasts through bends without any risk of licence endangerment or into-hedge-cross-field excursions.
Overstep the Fabia Monte Carlo’s admirable levels of grip and the ensuing slide is gradual and well communicated, allowing ample time for corrections to be made before the ESC gently reins things in. Easily judged and responsive brakes add to the fun factor, and the one-tonne hatch bleeds off speed with reassuring haste.
What about the engine?
The version we drove packed the 88bhp variant of the 1.2-litre TSI. It suits the car but those expecting a pocket rocket will be sorely disappointed, the Fabia Monte Carlo taking a full 10.9 seconds to get to 62mph from rest. Crank open the throttle above this speed and things get a touch laboured, as the diminutive engine runs out of puff at motorway speeds. The Skoda will top out at 113mph, but we doubt many customers would be able to find enough room to make it there.
So, it’s not fast. But lower your expectations, buy into the Fabia’s chuckability and the engine starts to make more sense. Run it to its redline, make the most of every gear and – although the engine will sound a little strained – you’ll make adequate progress without seemingly denting the fuel economy, making the Fabia Monte Carlo an enjoyable and economical option.
The Fabia vRS is dead, and nothing can change that. However, the Monte Carlo does an able job of taking up the ‘hot’ Fabia mantra, albeit in a different way. Power and pace may be lacking, but the latest generation Fabia Monte Carlo makes up for it with an acute balance of fun and usability.
Remember, save for the well-judged styling touches, this is a standard Fabia underneath with identical engines and the same everyday usability. It will return 50mpg if you’re careful – and 40+ if you’re not – plus road tax is a piddling £20 per year. If you’re not fussed by the cosmetics, though, just buy the regular Fabia and save yourself some money.
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