What is it?
The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo is not a replacement for the now defunct and much-loved Fabia vRS, the go-faster version of the Czech supermini. That may be what this car looks like, with its painted alloy wheels, tinted windows and Monte Carlo Rally-aping badges, and it may be what the motorsport-inspired name leads you to expect, but it’s not what you’re getting here; not quite.
This is, in fact, a new mid-range trim level for the Fabia supermini range. Based on SE trim, it adds 16in painted alloy wheels, sports front seats, some racy-looking pedals and a red-stitched sports steering wheel. Tinted windows and some gloss black body trim help lift the car’s exterior styling above the slightly dowdy level of the standard car, and it's an aesthetic effort which, at least in isolation, is worthy of recognition.
Three petrol and two diesel engines are on offer in the car, allowing owners to balance sporting zest against running costs to their own particular liking,. But that the most powerful of them only gives the car 108bhp is a good indication of about how seriously this Fabia's performance ambitions are to be taken.
For those that want to maximise the sportiness, 17in wheels and sport suspension are both available as options. But our test car – a mid-range 89bhp 1.2-litre TSI – had neither.
What's it like?
A vibrant interior makeover echoes the efforts that Skoda has expended in jazzing up the Fabia’s exterior and makes for a welcome injection of colour in an otherwise monotone cabin. Skoda’s standard-fit cloth upholstery is a mix of red, white and grey – with actual go-faster stripes – and one of those colours is repeated on an unapologetically bright red centre console. The front seats themselves are quite deeply bolstered; they’re a bit small, but the cushion bolsters yield just enough to accommodate larger backsides.
It’s the kind of interior that augers well, suggesting you’ll find a similarly transformed driving experience; but get behind the wheel and the Fabia Monte Carlo quickly makes it plain that it is much more about show than go.
The lesser of Skoda’s two 1.2-litre petrol turbo engines is willing enough and pulls with plenty of guts at low revs, making the Fabia feel light and peppy around town. But it runs out of breath as you work it to high engine speeds – and that’s precisely what the five-speed manual gearbox, with its spaced-out ratios, obliges to you do in order to spirit the car along with any vigour. Changing gears is easy enough, through a light but nicely defined shift action, although a long throw takes some immediacy and fun out of the equation.
The car’s ride and handling is, by and large, just as rounded and mature as that of any other Fabia in the range – but that’s a far cry from what warm hatchback fans may have expected it to be. But those painted wheels add a little more bite to the steering, and the car’s spring rates balance suppleness against body control quite well.
By that we mean quite well for an ordinary supermini, though, which, underneath its visual makeover, is what this car is. Gentle-acting shock absorbers aren’t much use at keeping the body tied down when the road turns bumpy, and the car’s steering feels light and offers little tactile encouragement or reassurance at speed.
Should I buy one?
The Fabia Monte Carlo wouldn’t be on our shortlist of warmed-up small cars. For those who want the added kerbside appeal of a sport option but at the showroom price and running costs of a run-of-the-mill supermini, however, it certainly has its place.
Skoda has done a good job of lifting the car’s exterior styling and adding colour and life to the cabin, but, without the optional sport suspension and the more powerful of its several available engines, at least, the car doesn’t have the driving experience to really distinguish it for interested drivers.
Our wager would also be that even the sportiest 108bhp TSI version has been engineered to add spice to the Fabia range in a decorative and slightly superficial way, and not to radically alter the grown-up dynamic character of the Fabia by very much - and that may very well be exactly how the car’s customer base wants it.
Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 Monte Carlo
Location Middlesex; On sale now; Price £15,425; Engine 4 cyls, 1197cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 89bhp; Torque 118lb ft; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1034kg; 0-62mph 10.9sec; Top speed 113mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 107g/km, 18%