Skoda owners have the last laugh as Czech car firm comes in from the cold

For so long the butt of jokes about reliability, Skoda cars are about to have the last laugh. Instead of dying off like the late but unlamented Yugo, the Czech-made vehicles are proving a success.

Two Skoda models have made it into a top 10 of the most popular cars in Britain. A Consumers' Association survey shows 90 per cent of Skoda Octavia owners would recommend it to a friend, as would 86 per cent of Skoda Fabia drivers.

Only the BMW X5 and the Toyota Yaris Verso were more popular, winning the endorsement of 92 per cent of owners. Other popular brands were Mazda, Audi and Jaguar. Two British-built cars also got the popular vote, the Jaguar S-type and Mini. Rovers and Citroëns fell foul of motorists. Only a third of Citroën Saxo owners recommended it. A few more would back the Citroën Xsara and there were poor scores for the Rover 25 and Rover 45. The Fiat Punto also did badly.

Skoda said the results proved the former state car maker had been transformed since Volkswagen bought a stake 12 years ago and full control two years ago. Much of the engineering of Skoda cars now comes from the Germans.

John Simister, motoring correspondent of The Independent, warned that the survey, of 33,000 Which? Car magazine readers, was likely to have been distorted by the "evangelism" of Skoda owners with strong brand loyalty. But he said: "They are doing pretty well. Skodas have become the sensible, classless car. You buy a Skoda and get Volkswagen quality for a lot less money. I had a Skoda Fabia VRS 1.9 turbo diesel on trial a few weeks ago and it was fabulous. I think reasonably savvy car buyers have realised that Skodas weren't the embarrassment they were."

Skoda said the company had seen a change in attitude since tackling the problem of its ramshackle reputation. "We are very pleased," Cathy Bell, a spokeswoman, said. "Things have changed a lot. Fabia was launched in 2000 and we realised we would have to acknowledge there was a problem and we did commercials that were tongue in cheek.

"In 2000 our research showed that 60 per cent of Britons would not consider owning a Skoda and now that figure is around 40 per cent. "Sales have been rising at between 20 and 30 per cent each of the last five years so we have seen a big turnaround in brand popularity and loyalty."

Cars that owners would most like to recommend to a friend (% who would recommend) :

BMW X5 92
Toyota Yaris Verso 92
Skoda Octavia 90
Mazda MX-5 89
Audi TT 88
Jaguar S type 88
Lexus IS200 88
Mini 88
Toyota Yaris 87
Skoda Fabia 86.

Cars that owners would least like to recommend to a friend (% who would recommend) :

Citroen Saxo 34
Citroen Xsara 37
Peugeot 106 38
Rover 25 40
Rover 45 42
Mitsubishi Carisma 42
Fiat Punto 44
Vauxhall Omega 49
Land Rover Freelander 49
Ford Galaxy 49

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