Michael Booth with the Fabia 2


Would suit: Czech mates
Price: £11,525 (1.4 TDI 80bhp)
Performance: 107mph, 0-62 in 13.2 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 61.4mpg
Further info: 0845 7745 745

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? You are a busy man/woman and, though I don't have anything else better to do, I would always prefer to do completely nothing. So here it is in a nutshell: buying a new Skoda Fabia is a superb idea if you are paying £8,000 for the basic, poverty model, but the £11,500 sticker price on the car you see here is way more than you'd want to pay for something with an engine that sounds like a tombola full of gravel and an interior built from the same plastic they use for children's garden toys.

Well, it seems that leaves us with a little space to fill, so I'd better run through all the stuff they usually tell you about Skodas.

You'll remember that the original Fabia was the car that turned around the fortunes of the much ridiculed Czech company, which had pottered along for so many decades making rubbish little cars for weirdos. That all changed with the arrival of the Fabia, which cost less than a Polo and was almost as big as the Golf. It won countless awards and became a regular feature in the top five of customer satisfaction surveys. Post-Fabia every article about Skodas ended along the lines of "And that's no joke/laughing matter!" (at least, the ones I wrote did). They sold 1.5 million of them, laying the foundation for the most brilliant reversal of a brand's fortunes since Russell reinvented himself as a dandy-Goth.

So, the new one has much to live up to. Park Fabia 2 beside the original and you will see it is quite a bit narrower and taller. It looks like a reflection in a fairground's hall of mirrors. I approve of this; super-minis are getting much too fat these days (the Renault Clio is a right old bloater, for instance). Within just three cars - the original Fabia, Fabia 2 and the Roomster - Skoda has created a cohesive, attractive and instantly identifiable design DNA. Not an easy thing to do - just ask Fiat, which has been trying for far longer and with far less success.

So the new Fabia is clearly related to the wonderful Roomster van-type thing, with those swoopy headlamps framing a proud grill and BMW-ish bonnet. Its platform is shared with the forthcoming Polo, as are a bewildering range of engines, of which, as I said, I suspect the basic 1.2-litre, three-cylinder is the one to have.

Mine had the 1.4-litre diesel which was about as unrefined as diesels come these days (at least at low revs, things did get better at speed) - although it is the most frugal in the range and was gutsy enough. Hydraulic steering, instead of the electronic systems that are being used more and more these days, ensures nice amounts of feel and responsiveness. You sit up high and most comfortably, too.

Would you choose a Fabia from a line-up that included the Polo (the head boy of super-minis, but costly); the redoubtable Toyota Yaris; the impressive Vauxhall Corsa (also more expensive); the good old Fiesta; the cheap-but-suspiciously-so Fiat Punto; and the bargain Suzuki Swift? I might very well (although I'd take another look at the Swift), but one thing is for sure: the name isn't going to put anyone off these days. And that's no joke. s

It's a classic: Skoda Estelle

Can 1.4 million people all be wrong? Well, if they are the 1.4 million who bought Skoda Estelles they can. The car that bore the brunt of the Skoda jokes was launched in 1977 ,supposedly as a response to criticism of its predecessor, the S100, which was rudimentary and downright dangerous. Unfortunately, the Estelle shared these traits, along with the S100's rear-engined layout. This gave the car tricky handling characteristics which often saw the rear overtaking the front on roundabouts and slippery bends under the control of lead-footed drivers not used to having so much weight hanging behind the rear wheels. Skoda attempted to address the Estelle's pendulous handling in 1979 by giving the car wider wheels. This hardly helped and, perhaps unsurprisingly given their lemming-like tendencies and appalling build quality, very few Estelles survive, making them, by dint of their scarcity alone, kind of classic, I suppose. Quite amazing, really, to consider that they made almost as many Estelles as MkI Fabias.

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