Car reviews - Skoda - Fabia - Monte Carlo
Roomy, comfortable, well-appointed supermini
Room for improvement
Optional package required to get all the good gear pushes price/value equation hard
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5 Sep 2016
By TIM ROBSON
WE’VE actually seen the Fabia Monte Carlo on our shores before, where it contributed about 40 per cent of the volume mix for the last generation machine, with another 10 per cent coming from the range-topping RS.
The more focused and fierce RS has been discontinued at a head office level, though, with Australia’s enthusiasm for a firecracker mini hatch not replicated in other world markets.
The Monte Carlo, though, has been designed to provide most of the sizzle of the RS without the steak.
Riding 15mm lower on stiffer springs, and wearing a complete bodykit that even comprises a jutting chin spoiler that wouldn’t look out of place on an improved production racing car, the Monte Carlo is all grit and gristle with its black 17-inch rims and lairy colour palette.
Inside, it’s a similar story, with heavily bolstered cloth seats, an eye-opening colour scheme, a fixed-glass roof shielded by sheer cloth covers, a flat-bottomed steering wheel that wouldn’t look out of place on a high-end VW Golf GTI and even a speedo and tacho combo that’s unique to the Monte Carlo.
And that’s exactly where the performance stops. The 81kW/175Nm 1.2-litre petrol turbocharged four-pot powerplant produces near the best numbers across the board, but it gets no sports tune, no exhaust treatment… nothing.
Likewise, the chassis scores lowered springs, larger rims and… well, that’s all. There are no adaptive dampers or clever roll bars in sight.
There’s still plenty to like a reversing camera for one, and dual-stage automatic emergency braking that can operate up to 210km/h if needed. “If it was going down a very steep hill!” laughed Skoda Australia director Michael Irmer.
Its seven-speed DSG gearbox is another plus, along with that comfortable and stylish steering wheel. The seats are (almost) slung low enough, and the narrow seat bases are just on the right side of snug, too.
Press the start button and hit the road, though, and it’s all very… normal.
Underwhelming, even, given its visual theatre. Not incompetent, though – not in the least. The Polo-based Fabia is compliant and well behaved even on the larger rims and lower springs, and its steering, while light, is communicative enough around town.
Our limited test precluded any highway stints, but we’d warrant it would be more than adequate for short to medium jaunts along our nation’s freeways, too.
And being a Skoda, the Fabia is packed full of cool little goodies that can be construed as gimmicky, but should be seen as value additions from people who still like cars.
A shopping bag receptacle in the boot, for example, an umbrella under the passenger’s seat and a small rubbish bin in the door are neat, almost personal touches that set Skodas apart from the pack.
And the fact that Skoda Australia is also offering the Monte Carlo as a wagon for just $1150 extra also elicits a slow, knowing nod for being a damn fine idea.
Despite its compact footprint, it can carry more luggage than a Mazda6 wagon – and it manages to give the occasionally ungainly Fabia a bit more balance in its side profile, too.
So, the Fabia Monte Carlo isn’t necessarily faster or more nimble than a regulation 81TSI Fabia. It does, however, look the part, and for some people, that’s quite important.
At $23,490 plus on-road costs for the hatch, it’s a $3000 uptick over the standard car, and there’s a premium to pay for things like radar cruise, auto light and wipers. Skoda, though, says its buyers aren’t looking at budget basement options, and doubts the costs would dissuade them.
The Fabia Monte Carlo is a clever, unusual little car, and as Skoda moves away from the quirky edge it’s been promoting via clever but polarising products like the Yeti, it may be one of the last chances to sample something that’s a pretty unique prospect in the market today.
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