The Skoda Citigo has only been around a few months, but already its trophy cabinet is filling up. Not only did it score a convincing victory over its VW up! and SEAT Mii cousins, but it also carried off the coveted Car of the Year gong in our 2012 New Car Awards.
Now, the car’s appeal is increased further, with a versatile new five-door version. The good news is that Skoda’s designers have done a great job of incorporating the rear doors. In fact, apart from the extra pair of colour-coded handles, you’d struggle to spot the changes.
While the Skoda can’t quite match the chic Fiat Panda for head-turning style, it’s still a handsome and well proportioned car. Top-spec Elegance versions – as tested here – get extra chrome trim around the grille, along with 15-inch alloys, while its optional £460 Brilliant Silver metallic paint finish adds an extra dose of upmarket appeal.
It’s a similar story inside, where quality materials and robust build combine to create a classy ambience that the Fiat can’t match. All the plastics look and feel a cut above those in the Panda, while the switchgear’s operation is crisp and precise. On top of that, the simple dash design is a model of clarity and logic.
Better still, this uncluttered layout hides a surprising amount of standard kit. Desirable optional additions include a touchscreen sat-nav, Bluetooth connection, air-con and heated seats. The only clues that you’re in a city car that’s built to a budget are the Toyota Aygo-style pop-out rear windows.
Getting comfortable behind the wheel takes no time at all – you can sit much lower than in the Panda, while the wheel has a wider range of reach and height adjustment. Rear-seat occupants get slightly more legroom, while the new, wide-opening doors make getting in and out a doddle. Sadly, as with the three-door version, the Citigo is a strict four-seater, whereas an extra £50 will buy you a third rear belt for the Panda.
This is the only blemish in the Skoda’s copybook in terms of practicality, however. The cabin is packed with useful storage, including front and rear door bins, a deep centre console cubby and a vast glovebox. There’s plenty of space for luggage, with the well shaped boot featuring neat shopping bag hooks and a generous 251-litre capacity.
Fold the standard split-fold rear bench flat and the available space increases to 959 litres, which is eight litres more than the three-door car and an 89-litre advantage over the Panda. Yet while the Citigo has the upper hand for space, it is soundly beaten for pace. Despite the Skoda’s larger 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine, it can’t match the punchy acceleration of its turbocharged rival. In the 0-60mph sprint it trailed the Panda by a second, with a time of 12.4 seconds, against the Fiat’s 11.4 seconds. The Citigo fell even further behind during our in-gear tests.
But out on the road, the Skoda doesn’t feel that much slower than the Fiat, thanks to the engine’s smooth and willing power delivery and the slick five-speed gearbox’s perfectly chosen ratios.
And what the Citigo lacks in outright performance, it makes up for with outstanding refinement. On the motorway it’s as quiet as some compact family hatches, while you’ll only notice the three-cylinder’s distinctive offbeat soundtrack at high revs.
No other car in the class is as comfortable and composed on a long journey. On tighter and twistier roads, the Skoda’s accurate steering, great body control and strong grip result in nimble handling, while the light controls and excellent visibility allow it to cope effortlessly with busy city streets.
It’s when you come to do the sums that the Skoda really shines, however. At £10,390 it undercuts the much more poorly equipped Fiat by £880, while solid residual values of 43.6 per cent over three years mean it will be worth more than the Panda when it’s time to sell.
The excellent 49.8mpg fuel economy we achieved on test and lower insurance costs are further financial incentives. It’s clear that the Panda will need to be on top form if it’s to knock the Skoda off its number one spot.