Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo

Special aims to deliver strong performance at a lower price

It’s getting on a bit, but the Skoda Fabia is still a practical supermini that delivers decent performance and low running costs. The Monte Carlo model adds an extra dash of desirability thanks to its uprated looks and additional equipment. Yet while it’s perfectly capable, it simply doesn’t have the X-factor that makes the Suzuki Swift Sport so enjoyable to drive.

Skoda launched the special edition Fabia Monte Carlo in early 2011. Since then, more than 4,000 have found homes in the UK. It was built to celebrate the Monte Carlo Rally’s centenary, but also aims to blend hot hatch looks with low running costs.

The car’s appearance is inspired by the Fabia vRS flagship, but with a few exclusive touches. The black roof, spoiler, rear diffuser and wheelarch extensions are only found on the Monte Carlo, while the lowered sports suspension and gloss-black finish for the grille trim, headlights and wing mirrors are shared with the vRS. The 17-inch black alloys are similar to the hot hatch’s, too, and Monte Carlo badges on the wings and kickplates help mark this out as a special edition. Our car looked smart in its white-and-black finish, but the Suzuki still had the edge.

The Skoda Fabia only gets a handful of updates inside – certainly not enough to match the Swift. There are comfortable sports seats, metal pedal covers, and leather trim for the steering wheel and gearlever, but that’s about all you get over an SE model. Build quality is hard to fault, though, and plastics are of a slightly better quality than the Suzuki’s.

As with the Swift, the driver’s seat is height adjustable, and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and height. The Skoda Fabia interior is spacious and a real step ahead of the Suzuki thanks to the increase in useful storage, such as a double glovebox and deeper door bins. The boot’s bigger, too, while a low load lip and wider opening mean the Fabia is the one to go for if you need practicality.

However, these cars aren’t just about how much they can carry. They have to deliver on the road, too. The Skoda Fabia’s 104bhp 1.2 TSI turbo petrol engine has a 30bhp power deficit, but boasts a more muscular torque figure – 175Nm to the Swift’s 160Nm. It also generates its maximum from just above idle, so even though it only comes with a five-speed box, the responsive Fabia wasn’t far behind its rival during our in-gear tests.

In corners, the sports suspension is softer than the Suzuki’s. There’s lots of grip, but the Skoda Fabia rolls more and the steering doesn’t feel as direct as its rival’s. On the plus side, a tight turning circle means the Fabia is easier to manoeuvre, while the disc and drum brakes delivered shorter stopping distances than the all-disc-equipped Suzuki.

Look at the numbers, and the Skoda Fabia has an advantage when it comes to running costs. Its smaller turbocharged engine promises lower emissions and better fuel economy, and it’s cheaper to run as a company car.

However, it’s not as well equipped as the Swift. It has manual rear windows, for example, and stability control is a £155 option. The question is whether the driving experience and additional practicality compensate for this?

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