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Saturday, September 22, 2007

12 reasons to buy a SKODA...

12 reasons to buy a Skoda

1 Reveal yourself as a person of uncommon judgment — thanks to Volkswagen’s ownership, Skoda now builds first-rate cars.

2 Pay less but get exactly the same quality as any other VW Group car

3 Enjoy a little inverted snobbery. Some may laugh but you know the truth

4 Drive the ultimate stealth car — the 200bhp Octavia vRS is seriously quick

5 Tell bad Skoda jokes with genuine irony — these cars are now as well-built and durable as VW’s own Golf

6 Some say the Octavia even handles better than a Golf

7 Bragging rights — the designer who worked on Octavia also did the new Bentley Continental

8 A company with form. Skoda has been around for 100 years. 3rd oldest car manufacturer.

9 Any company confident enough to call its top-of-the-range car the "Superb" has to be all right

10) FAstest growing car manufacturer in the World. China closed 2 out of 6 VW Factories to Assemble Skodas. Best selling Executive Car in India. SPONSOR OF 2008 BEIJING Olympics.

11 SKODA = AWARD WINNING CARS. Octavia => Car of the year in 6 European countries, GOLDEN STEERING WHEEL AWARD Germany 2005 Winner, Also, won 60+ other Awards worldwide (between Fabia and Octavia from 2000 to 2007).

12) BBC Top Gear UK No. 1 in Customer Satisfaction Survey in 2006 and 2007 with 92% voted "Will buy again". ALSO, JD Power Customer satisfaction Survey 2007, Skoda again ranked No.1 Ahead of LEXUS, Honda, Mazda.

Jeremy Clarkson on Skoda Roomster...

From The Sunday Times (UK)
September 9, 2007

Skoda Roomster

Don’t call it ugly, call it quite brilliant

by Jeremy Clarkson

I daresay we all remember the bad old days when you came back from the shops with a new and exciting electrical appliance. And found it had been sold without a plug.

Nowadays, though, thanks to the exciting Plugs and Sockets (Safety) Regulations 1994 (No 1768) any domestic appliance with a flexible cable must be fitted with a plug and the plug must be fitted with a fuse link that conforms to BS 1362.

As a result, you now come back from the shops to find that your shiny new toy has a plug. But that, unfortunately, the product itself hasn’t actually been built.

Last weekend I bought some outdoor lights for the garden. Except I didn’t. What I actually bought was a box full of pieces that could be turned into some outdoor lights for the garden. By anyone with a simple degree in mechanical and electrical engineering.

Of course, there were some poor-quality instructions which explained that all you needed to assemble your quality product was fingers like cocktail sticks and six and a half thousand tools that you do not own.

It was truly and genuinely extraordinary to find how little had been done at the factory. And this is not a one off. These days we see exactly the same thing with furniture and all children’s toys. The outdoor garden heater I bought back in May, to annoy George Monbiot, is still in its box in six bits because I simply cannot fathom how they all go together.

Of course I commend any company that can maximise its profits and quench the thirst of its shareholders. This is all excellent and makes the world go round, but implying on the box that the customer is buying a garden heater when in fact he’s buying a box of pieces: that’s flirting with fraud.

How long will it be before the box contains nothing but some iron ore, a piece of the Russian gas fields and 6,000 miles of pipeline? How long before Ikea sells you a tree in Finland and a saw? And as we edge slowly towards the meat of this morning’s missive, how long before car makers catch on to the idea that people are idiots.

At present it costs the car makers a fortune to assemble a car. The parts are made elsewhere and then nailed together by billion-dollar robots at the plant. So how long will it be before Ford notices what’s going on in the garden lamp industry and simply ships the components directly to your home. Along with a scrappy instruction book, saying, in French, that all you need to put everything together is some oxyacetylene, basic arc welding skills, and a robot.

This isn’t as far fetched as you might imagine, because already almost all the cars we buy are made in kit form. The Aston Martin DB9 is a case in point. It was specifically designed so that the basic structure could be clothed in a different body and sold as something else. The V8 Vantage, for example.

Then there’s the Rolls-Royce Phantom. It is built in the British factory like an Airfix kit, using parts that come in boxes from the BMW plant in Germany. Great. But think how much cheaper it would be to deliver those boxes straight to your door. Along, perhaps, with some walnut and 14 cows that you’ll need to skin and turn into seats. All you need is a large potato peeler and a sewing machine.

The ultimate kit car, though, is the Volkswagen Golf. Its underpinnings are used to make lots of other Volkswagens, like the Beetle, as well as by Audi, Seat and Skoda.

Sometimes I wonder why anyone actually buys the Daddy because it’s possible to buy what’s essentially an identical car. Usually for a lot less.

But then when I look at those identical cars I stop wondering. I mean, it’s all very well imagining that your new Seat is made from Golf parts but it was assembled by Spaniards. And that’s like buying a garden lamp that has been assembled by me. Yes, it’s cheap, but every time you turn it on you will be electrocuted.

Skoda, however, is different. As we know from all the excellent new houses that are being built in Britain these days, the eastern Europeans are fine engineers. It is in their culture, somehow.

So a collection of German parts made by Petr Cech: that should be pretty good. The only problem is that Skoda has never actually made something brilliant enough to overcome the Primark badge on the back. Until now . . . Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the Roomster.

Ordinarily, there is nothing on God’s earth quite as depressing as a mini-MPV. Whether it’s a Renault Scénic or a Citroën Picasso or that truly terrible Toyota Yaris van, we know that you are biding your time until you are unlocked from the shackles of life by the blissful relief of death.

We know that your life has turned out to be nowhere near as successful or as happy as you’d hoped. We know that you have no imagination. And we know that you have no sense either, because a mini-MPV offers exactly the same number of seats as a normal car.

We can deduce from this that you’ve spent more money on something which comes with a bit more headroom. And what’s the point of that, unless your children are actually giraffes. And if they are giraffes, then you are plainly way too interesting to waste your life in a bloody MPV.

The only exceptions to this rule, thus far, have been the Ford S-Max and the Citroën Berlingo: two genuinely clever and appealing cars. But the Roomster is better still.

First of all there’s the price. It’s just £13,500. And for that you get – yes – a Skoda badge. But you also get alloy wheels, antilock brakes, a full-length glass roof, rear parking sensors, an alarm, cruise control, curtain and side airbags, electric windows and door mirrors, a front arm rest, an immobiliser, a stereo capable of handling an MP3 player, a delightful leather steering wheel, a trip computer and an astonishing array of potential seating positions in the back.

The rear seats, in fact, are so flexible that I managed to get three kids on them. And a full-sized trampoline in the boot.

Eventually, of course, we arrive at the styling. In the same way that you can discuss the merits of Gérard Depardieu for hours but at some point you have to discuss his nose.

Yes. It’s odd. I’ll grant you that. It looks like a cut and shut car. A mangled up blend of Postman Pat’s van, a Wendy house and a Lancia Stratos. But here’s the thing. I loved it. I thought it was unusual without being sweet. Striking without being daft.

I should also explain at this point that while most car makers offer only four colours – silver, silvery grey, greyish silver and grey – the Skoda brochure looks like it comes from Dulux. There’s a choice of five blues, two reds and two greens. Mine was olive metallic and it was great.

I’m procrastinating. And that’s because the Roomster (was it named after Marc Bolan’s lounge?) has a bit of an Achilles heel. It’s, um, not very nice to drive.

It should be fine. The front end is essentially from a VW Polo and the back from a Mark 4 Golf. But the steering is far too quick. You ease the wheel a nad and whoa, the whole thing darts left in a scuffle of tyre squeal and body roll. I liked the car so much I wanted to get used to it. But I never did.

And then there’s the engine. It’s a 1.6 litre VW unit but not one of their best. It’s rough, unwilling to rev and not that powerful. Perhaps the diesel would be better. I hope so because mechanically the only really good bit in my test car was the automatic Tiptronic gearbox.

Ordinarily this would be enough to render the whole car worthless. But sometimes the driving experience must play second fiddle to the whole ownership package.

That’s certainly the case with the Volvo XC90 diesel. It’s a dreadful car to drive, really, but it’s so clever and so well thought out we’re on our second. And about to buy a third.

The Roomster falls into this category. Yes, it’s wobbly and rough, but it’s extremely clever, well equipped and best of all it brought a great deal more light into my life than my new garden lamps. Which, incidentally, are now on eBay.

Vital statistics

Model Skoda Roomster Level 3, 1.6
Engine 1598cc, four cylinders
Power 105bhp @ 5700rpm
Torque 114 lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission Six-speed Tiptronic
Fuel 36.7mpg
CO2 185g/km
Acceleration 0-62mph: 12.1sec
Top speed 114mph
Price £13,585
Rating 4/5 stars
Verdict It shouldn’t be brilliant but it is

Thursday, September 06, 2007

FABIA write-up 2: Nice little car - but not as an automatic

by r_welfare - written on 15.12.04 - Rating: (4 of 5 possible stars)

Picture above: Fabia Combi Wagon

Advantages Well-priced
Disadvantages Light steering

I thought I'd report on my time with a 2004 Skoda Fabia 1.4 16v Comfort automatic recently. I had the car for just over a week and in that time travelled over 750 miles.

Let me firstly say that the jokes about Skoda are now well and truly over. They began to die out around 15 years ago when the Favorit was released - here was a modern(ish) front-wheel drive hatchback from the purveyors of the funny air-cooled cars with the engine in the back. While that first Favorit lacked a bit of polish (it was plagued with typical Eastern-European fit and finish), Skoda attracted the attention of VW who injected large amounts of cash. To begin with there wasn't much to show for it (although the build quality of the Favorit did improve over its' six year life), then in '96 they gave us the Felicia - fundamentally the same car but with rounder edges, and a half-decent interior.

Then, in '98, the masterstroke - the Octavia. Based on the current Golf, here was a Skoda that owed very little to the old school, except for competitive pricing. Quality-wise, styling-wise, engineering-wise it was on a par with the other VW group products. VW obviously had faith in Skoda, because when it was time to launch the Mk4 Polo, they chose to release the oily bits first in a new Skoda - the Fabia.

So we all know the Fabia is fundamentally the same as a Polo - and it's none the worse for that. Upon first impression, the car looks solid and quite classy (although mine was a rental and had no wheeltrims, so this was diminished somewhat). It's big for a supermini, being some 12' long, and quite high. Personally, I find the all-in-one colour bumpers a bit heavy-handed (not to say how much they would cost to replace in a bump, given they have no rubbing strips on this model), but it's generally very modern and inoffensive.

Inside is where the surprises start. I mean, the dashboard is VW-quality, and therefore up there with the best, with soft-feel plastics abounding. A million miles away from the Estelle and Favorit of yore. It's all very similar to the Polo or even the MK4 Golf (although it misses out on the neat touches of that car, like the dampened action of the grab handles). It's easy to get a good driving position as the seat height can be adjusted on a ratchet mechanism, and the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach. Instruments are clear and concise. The only things I didn't like were the fact that the clutchfoot rest wasn't quite long enough for my size 11s, and the heater controls were too far down the dashboard - to change temperature with a passenger would get raised eyebrows as they thought you were trying to grope their knee! Between the stereo (more anon) and the heater was a cubbyhole for bits and pieces about 3 inches deep - why not move the heater controls up here instead?

Rear seat space seemed pretty good to me, although I didn't spend any time there, and the chairs themselves were quite comfortable. The boot was of a reasonable size - you could get a good few shopping bags in there or a set of golf clubs easily enough, it was much bigger than (for example) the old Metro but obviously not as big as the Accord I'm used to, where you could live in the boot. Full marks for the grab handle on the inside to shut the boot without getting your hands dirty, but I'd have liked to be able to open the boot from the driver's seat - you only have the fuel flap release there.

Another surprise is the equipment level. OK, ignoring the fact that only a few years ago Skoda put out real bargain basement machines, this is more indicative of supermini specs improving beyond all recognition in the past 10 years anyway, but even with a mid-range model like this there was air conditioning, electric heated mirrors, electric front windows, ABS, front foglights, power steering, remote central locking, CD stereo, and my personal favourite, the trip computer. Remember the Golf GTI Mk2 had a trip computer in the digital clock that you activated the functions using the column stalk? Well, it's alive and well in the Fabia. I had great fun with this, especially the 'current MPG' feature (apologies to everyone stuck behind me as I treated the accelerator like an eggshell). The only thing I couldn't fathom out was the stereo, it only had 10 buttons but I still couldn't get it to stop putting the Traffic Report on. Maybe at 27 I'm past it? (Lord knows what the average Skoda owner at 50+ makes of it)

What was it like to drive? Well, the ride and handling were pretty impressive if you remember Eastern European cars of old. This one is right up there with the competition, if not quite as compliant as the French rivals in the suspension department. My only gripe was the steering - the power-assistance was very high, and there was less 'feel' than in my Honda Accord, which was surprising (Japanese manufacturers are famous for building power steering systems with no road feel y'see). However, when parking (coupled with the large areas of glass) there was no problem placing the car at all.

The only real downside to the car was the engine/gearbox combination. Given that it said '1.4 16v' on the back I assumed that it was the 100bhp unit used to great effect in the hot Lupo, but according to Skoda you only get this unit with the 5-speed manual. This unit is detuned to 75bhp when coupled with the 4-speed auto, and according to Skoda's website will do 0-62mph in 17 seconds. It never felt that slow to me (and that IS slow), but it makes a lot of strange noises when accelerating which sometimes put me in mind of a diesel - very thrashy. The gearbox is OK, but hunts around a bit on hilly sections and doesn't do a lot for the economy - according to the computer I was seeing around 38mpg overall, and that included a lot of motorway cruising. It does rev quite a bit (3500rpm) at 70mph though. I will give praise for the gear selector on the instrument panel, although I can't help feel that electronics are beginning to go a bit far in new cars. This one made lots of bing-bong noises - when it was running out of fuel, when the outside temperature dropped below 4C, when the radio couldn't find the Traffic Report. I'm just a luddite at heart.

So would I buy one with my hard-earned? Not this combination of engine and transmission to be honest (although it does seem good value at a shade under £10,000), I would either go for the basic 1.2 6v 3-cylinder (which still has air conditioning, ABS, power steering, twin airbags and a CD player) for £6,995 or the hot new vRS diesel if I was feeling flush. The cars are attractively-priced, well-built (from what I can make out) and Skoda dealers still tend to be small family-run affairs in my area, so you should get good service. The joke is finally over - the Fabia is a good little car in it's own right.

UPDATE: In October last year I put my money where my mouth is, and my girlfriend and I purchased a Fabia 1.4 16v Comfort manual. 3 months and 9,000 miles on, it's exceeding all our expectations and returning between 46 and 51 miles to the gallon. It's a great car!
Summary: I liked it so much...I went out and bought one!

FABIA write-up 1: Would you buy a Skoda?

Would YOU Buy A Skoda?
by kenjohn - written on 23.01.02 - Rating: (3 of 5 possible stars)

Advantages see opinion
Disadvantages see opinion

~ ~ Forget all the old jokes that used to do the rounds a few years back about Skoda. In the bad old days, these Czechoslovakian cars were without question one of the worst on the road, with “sewing machine” engines, and the build quality of a small boy’s go kart.

But since they became part of the Volkswagen group, they have improved beyond recognition, and today they must rank in the top half dozen of European car manufacturers.

I wrote a review a good while back about the Octavia, their top of the range car in the large car bracket, which is proving to be a very popular choice with taxi drivers here in Dublin. (Not to mention the general public!) But today I’m taking a look at their small car, the Skoda Fabia, which is also making waves in the marketplace, and becoming increasingly popular as a “budget buy” for the cost conscious motorist.

~ ~ The current model Fabia is available in three versions.
You can have a five-door hatchback, a four-door saloon, or a four-door estate.
I would have preferred to have test driven the hatchback, which is the most popular model in the range, but as the dealer had just sold his last one, I had to content myself with the saloon version.

My car had a very lively 1.4-litre, 16 valve, petrol engine, with a five speed manual gearbox. If this engine doesn’t take your fancy, then you could also go for the two alternatives. There’s a lower powered version of the 1.4-litre petrol engine, (which obviously costs less of your hard earned cash) or if you fancy real economy (but at a higher price) then you could opt for the 1.9-litre diesel version.

~ ~ But whatever engine choice takes your fancy, you can rest assured that the Fabia offers a very spacious four door saloon, with ample room for four adults (five at a squeeze), and a luggage capacity in the large boot that rivals anything in its class, and even beats many cars in the medium to large car segme nt of the market.
And if you fold down the 60/40 split level rear seat, then you have the equivalent of a small van, and there’s very few loads that you wouldn’t be able to cart around with relative ease.

~ ~ The 1.4-litre that I drove could (with a stretch of the imagination) be described as the performance engine of the range. And it must be said that it was indeed lively enough through the gears, even if you’d never be entering it for a saloon car race at Brand’s Hatch.

Off course, like its Spanish cousin the Seat, the engines and running gear are all German made from its parent company Volkswagen, so you can be assured of both reliability and longevity, and easily affordable and obtainable spare parts.
And with service intervals of 10,000 miles, then a visit to the garage once a year or so would be the norm for most motorists. I did think the one-year unlimited mileage warranty was a bit cheeky though, especially in these days of 3-year warranties being commonplace.

Manufacturer’s these days (at least here in Ireland) seem to be quoting performance figures in “kilometres” rather than miles. The quoted time for the Fabia from a standing start to 100kph (62mph) is 14.1 seconds, and it will carry you onto a top speed of 168kph. (104mph) Not too bad for a car of this size!
And the fuel economy figures are fairly impressive as well. You’ll get about the 30mpg mark driving around town in the traffic, rising to an impressive 54mpg on a long run. So if your driving is a mixture of both, then on average you’ll get about 42mpg.

The ride was firm but comfortable enough, and the suspension coped adequately with the innumerable “speed bumps” that seem to be a feature of town driving today. And on the open road, the ride was quiet and refined, with no excessive cabin or wind noise up to 80mph. (which is as hard as I pushed it)
It cornered well, if not in the rally class , and the body roll from the firm suspension was not appreciable. And the servo-assisted disc brakes stopped you quickly and assuredly enough.

One criticism I would have would be with the power steering, which I found extremely light, with poor driver feedback, but I suppose that you could get used to it given time.

An immobiliser is also fitted as standard, so you don’t have to worry too much about it being removed illegally from your front drive, although I still think a stout chain and padlock round the steering column is the best deterrent going for a car thief.

~ ~ The interior of the car is spacious and bright, with comfortable seats.
And the colour scheme doesn’t grab you by the throat and try to throttle you either, with a subdued décor (beige on the test car), and matching plastic trim. (that doesn’t “look” like plastic, if you follow my drift)

Interior storage space is adequate, with a medium sized glove compartment, and storage pockets in both front doors. One nice touch is the small shaped holders for placing your plastic cup full of tea or coffee in the inside lid of the glove box.
A wide opening boot gives easy access, and there are electric windows fitted at the front, with central locking and child safety locks as standard. The toolkit is neatly stored away in its own little box inside the spare wheel well, so that it wont rattle around in everyday use.

There are two trim specifications “Classic” and “Comfort”, the only difference as far as I can make out being the height and reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and the height adjustment on the driver’s seat. Both are very handy, by the way, especially if you happen to be an “awkward” size. (i.e. larger or smaller than the accepted norm.)

Oh, and you only get the driver’s airbag as standard on the “Classic”, while with the “Comfort” your passenger gets one a s well.
There are rear seat belts fitted as well, but the middle passenger in the back has to make do with only a lap belt, which I don’t like, although they are still the accepted standard on most cars. (I think they’re damned dangerous!)
The instruments were all easily to hand, with nothing awkward to get at, and a nice touch was the adjustable lighting level for the instrument panel. (Great if you do a lot of night driving)

The car also has a very sophisticated trip “computer”, which if you like that sort of thing, will tell you everything you would ever want to know about mileage rates, fuel capacity, length of time to your next fuel stop, and so on ad infinitum. I was never too taken with these gadgets, but I could see how it could possibly appeal to the more technically minded motorist.

The radio/cassette was better than average, with no less than 8 speakers front and rear, although it had a generic badge, so it was impossible to tell the manufacturer. (although I suspect it was a Blaupunkt or Bosche)

~ ~ Costwise?
Well, there are a lot of different specification models available, so if you are truly interested in this car then you would be as well to visit a good website like “autotrader” or “Top Gear”.

So the little Skoda Fabia gets a three (and a half) star rating out of five from this reviewer. Personally, it wouldn’t be my own particular choice of car in this bracket. (see my review of the Seat Ibiza, or the Alfa 147)
But if it’s an inexpensive, good quality, and high specification small family car you are looking for, it’s well worth having a look at.
One thing is for SURE! The days of all the Skoda jokes are long gone.