When you look at these two cars squared up to each other, side by side on the same piece of road, any comparison between them seems vaguely ridiculous. The Skoda Fabia Super 2000 rally car may well boast more than its fair share of skirts, stickers and spoilers, but it’s also twice as tall and only half as long as the altogether more exotically proportioned Noble M600. It looks, indeed, a bit like a go-faster shopping trolley beside the long, wide and deliciously low-slung, classic supercar form of the M600.
Things don’t get much better for the Skoda when you fling the technical notes open and compare what lurks beneath their wildly differing skins. The Noble has 450-650bhp on offer, depending how brave you’re feeling and where you position the switch that leashes its twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 engine. The Fabia, on the other hand, has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor that produces a decent, but hardly hair-raising, 265bhp.
And when it comes to torque – usually the defining element of a car’s acceleration – the poor old Skoda gets wrestled to the ground and kicked where it hurts most. It has a mere 180lb ft to the Noble’s whopping 604lb ft (most of which is available and ready to shred any ribbon of bitumen from barely above tickover).
But the Skoda weighs less than the Noble, of course, so any kind of energy deficiency it may suffer on paper is instantly negated in reality, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Give or take a gallon of petrol here and there, they both weigh about 1200kg. Which means the Noble boasts not only gigantic power and torque advantages, but an equally unfair power-to-weight advantage, too. And it has much wider rear tyres, much bigger brakes and a classic mid-engined chassis design that makes the front-engined Skoda seem worryingly workaday.
So why did we even choose to put the Skoda through the purgatory of such a comparison, and on The Snake handling course at Chobham proving ground that could have been designed specifically to suit the Noble? Because in reality the Fabia can take it, and then some. It does have one or two tricks up its sleeve, after all, some of which even an M600 driver might be a touch disturbed to discover.
And the most effective of these is its four wheel-drive system. With mechanical diffs at the front, at the back and in the centre of the car, all of which are controlled electronically, the Fabia can generate traction and grip that the Noble, fat tyres or otherwise, can’t hope to compete with. It’s also geared much, much shorter than the M600 and features a straight-cut sequential transmission that can slice between ratios significantly quicker than the Noble’s conventional six-speed manual.
You don’t even need to use the clutch once under way in the Skoda. Everything the Fabia S2000 does once on the move has been designed to happen as quickly as possible. It even sounds rapid when you fire it up, the starter motor churning for a quarter of a second before the unsilenced engine explodes into life, completely drowning out the gentle purr of the Noble’s V8.
At which point you do think, “Okay, fair enough, let’s bring it on. Let’s see what this snarling, flame-spitting, exhaust-popping, angry little runt of a car can really do.”
So we did, and the results were a little bit weird to begin with. It was a complete and utter one-way street, with the pace being dictated not by the agility and grip of the Skoda but by the sheer speed and acceleration of the Noble. Hmm…
After a couple of back-to-back test runs, with me in the Noble chasing works-supported driver Robert Barrable in the Skoda, it was clear the Noble was quicker. By miles. It could accelerate faster in all the key spots, it had more grip mid-corner – not just through the fast bends where one might expect it to fly, but through the slower ones as well – and under braking it could take huge chunks out of the Fabia pretty much everywhere, despite having no anti-lock system.
Only on the jump section that’s about three-quarters of the way through The Snake could the Fabia pull out any kind of an advantage, but only then because I was backing off in the M600 to avoid grinding its expensive carbonfibre front splitter into terra firma. All of which was a touch strange and not at all what we’d expected.
After one more back-to-back run, during which the M600 once again sat on the Fabia’s tail (allowing me a grandstand view of the Skoda sliding all over the road), we stopped and chatted. Barrable reckoned the Fabia was struggling for grip “everywhere” and claimed it had “no bite at the front end at all through most corners”. He couldn’t really use any of the car’s power as a result and suggested we take a look at the tyres.
At that point it became crystal clear why the Skoda was struggling to keep up. Its rear tyres looked like they were wearing a swimming cap, while those at the front were worn through to the canvas. So the mechanics set to and changed all four Michelins, this time fitting a harder-compound rubber on account of the unusually coarse road surface that makes up much of The Snake. And then we started our test all over again.
This time the outcome was somewhat different. Starting nose to tail again, the Noble still had the edge, just, when leaving the line. But the moment Barrable and the Fabia turned in to the first corner, a third-gear right-hander, well, that was that, really. He just disappeared, and I never saw him again until the end when we turned around and he gave me a great big grin, along with a Barry Sheene-style ‘V’ sign to go with it. Nice one Robert, cheers for that. And there was I thinking the Noble was king of The Snake.
Had they been sandbagging all along, or were the tyres on the Fabia merely spent before we set off? Or, indeed, had Barrable been playing games to begin with, leading me and the dear old Noble into a completely false sense of security?
Either way, it didn’t matter, because when push came to shove the Fabia proved what we suspected it would all along: that it is unbeatable, even by one of the fastest supercars that money can buy, and that no amount of shove from the M600 – not 450bhp, 550bhp or the full 650bhp – would be sufficient to deal with its grip, agility and outright speed across the ground. Even on a road course such as this one.
We did a few more nose-to-tail runs, this time with me leading and Barrable in the quicker Fabia behind, just to see where the key differences in their performance lay. Inevitably it was the turn-in speed of the Skoda and its exit speed from each bend that were the winning skills. No matter how hard I tried to commit the Noble to each corner, the Fabia had the edge. And a very thick edge it turned out to be.
Because when eventually we got the stopwatch out and timed them individually on a run, just to see absolutely which was quickest, Barrable and the Fabia demolished me and the Noble completely. I drove the M600 as fast as I could, scaring myself stupid in a couple of places, and managed a time of 33.2sec. And then Barrable and the Fabia S2000 promptly went 2.1sec quicker. Over a distance of considerably less than one mile.
The point had been proven beyond all doubt. The Skoda Fabia S2000 is faster than a Noble M600 – and by a margin that not even the good people from Skoda could quite believe. I went home feeling a bit shell shocked, to be honest, having been completely blown away by this extraordinary little car.