Style v Practicality

Six months in the waiting but now the promised in-depth look at three popular small hatchbacks from the VW Group.

It surely won’t have escaped the notice of anyone who drives today that fuel prices have rocketed in recent months. On average, the price per litre is now at least 25% more than it was just over twelve months ago, attributable partly to profiteering by the oil companies, but also because of hefty increases in fuel taxation and the recent rise in the rate of VAT. Statistics are already showing that people are using their cars less than six months ago. Whilst this can be quite easy to achieve by some, others have little choice but to rely upon their motor vehicle, either for work or simply because they live in rural areas without regular or any public transport facility.

Petrol is now an average £5.80 per gallon whilst diesel costs £6.00 or more. These are staggering prices and for the average income earner, it is becoming increasingly difficult to absorb ever-increasing motoring costs. For many drivers, therefore, fuel economy is becoming the single most important factor in any decison regarding a change of vehicle, and recent sales figures show that the small car sector accounted for about 60% of all new car sales.

Whilst many new vehicles are now more fuel efficient than their older counterparts, it is the small hatchback that offers the best combination of comfort, space and economy. The market is awash with vehicles in this sector offering buyers an almost bewildering choice. Most manufacturers offer a choice of petrol and diesel engines, with some offering selective automatic transmission and sport models. The latter, however, do rather deviate from the economy label, although obviously offer better economy than larger sporty models. Readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and the ubiquitous Mini but there are many offerings from Asian manufacturers too. However, this article is focussing on three models from the VW Group, namely the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Škoda Fabia. In engineering terms, these cars are virtually identical, but clever design and styling results in three very different models.

Faced with this dilemma, the final choice as to which to buy can be bewildering. If you are seeking a three-door hatchback then only the Polo and Ibiza offer this facility. If you want greater practicality from an estate version, then your choices are limited to the Ibiza and Fabia. For the sporting enthusiast, you have the choice of a Polo GTi, Ibiza Cupra and Fabia vRS. So… which to choose?

Choice is generally a very emotive subject. Given that overall performance and fuel economy are very similar on all these models if equipped with the same engine, then choice effectively comes down to styling, space and price! The most flamboyant of the three is the Ibiza with its combination of curves and sharply defined edges but this style is likely to date more quickly and possibly reflect in future trade-in value. The Polo is of pure classic design… in fact, it looks very much like a scaled down version of its bigger sister, the Golf, a car that has had phenomenal worldwide sales success. This can only be an advantage and of the three cars, the Polo will retain greater percentage value after three years. The Fabia, on the other hand, is rather box-like although it’s frontal appearance has recently been improved by a subtle facelift. Whilst its aesthetic appearance lacks the charisma of the Ibiza and Polo, it is the most practical of the three comparative models offering greater headroom and luggage space.

All models share the Polo platform and running gear, with engines coming from the VW group. Choice of engine is slightly more confusing however. Of the three models, Škoda offers the greatest range, with almost all engines on offer being the latest versions, including three common rail diesels. Seat also offers a good range of the latest technology whilst the Polo currently offers a limited choice of new engines alongside older and less environmentally-friendly units.

So finally it’s decision-making time! Let’s first take a look at the prices as at February 2011 … undoubtedly uppermost in many potential buyers’ minds:

Seat Ibiza Price range £9925 to £18275
Škoda Fabia Price range £9755 to £16260
Volkswagen Polo Price range £9995 to £18790

The starting price of all models is very similar but standard levels of equipment do vary considerably. However, it is the very top of the range where the price differential is greatest… all three sporting models come with the same 1.4TSI 180PS engine coupled with a 7spd DSG gearbox, one of the best in the motoring industry. Therefore one can save £2530 by opting for the Fabia rather than the Polo GTi if prepared to sacrifice on style yet benefit from more practical and usable space. At the time of writing, both the Ibiza and Fabia are even better buying prospects as purchasers can save 20% VAT on the list prices. There is, however, a downside to this as trade-in values will reduce accordingly. As the saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it!

As for my choice, if money were no object and I could increase the specification of the vehicle with extras, I would actually opt for the classic design of the Polo. However, despite all the vehicles sharing common parts, the Škoda continually excels in dealer and driver satisfaction surveys, so this is an important factor to consider.

As an addendum, the other manufacturer within the VW Group is Audi who have just introduced the compact A1 model. This also shares the same platform but with a price range from £13420 to £20705 it is somewhat out of the same league.


Brass Rubbing

A popular pastime in the 1960s and 1970s, brass rubbing has once again captured the interests of people across the world.

So what exactly is a brass rubbing? Quite simply, a brass rubbing is the process of obtaining an impression of the brass on paper by rubbing heelball wax over it. A carefully executed rubbing makes an ideal wall decoration as for many, the primary interest lies in the aesthetically pleasing pictorial qualities of these reproductions. However, behind this façade lies a wealth of historical interest. These memorial brasses, found mostly in the cathedrals and churches of Britain, not only provide a visual history of fashion, armour and ecclesiastical vestments, but also illustrate how life styles changed from the thirteenth to the end of the seventeenth centuries in medieval England.

Joan Darcy
Joan Darcy

In earlier times, monuments to the dead were of incised slabs of stone, usually imported from abroad, but as costs soared, craftsmen soon realised that brass plate would not only be a cheaper commodity, but would also be far more durable. This provided for greater scope in the art of engraving, enabling such intricate details of costume to be preserved, as can be seen in many fine examples of brasses throughout the country.

Brasses were engraved to commemorate classes of society rather than individuals and all classes are represented, including bishops, priests, ladies, city gentry and tradesmen. The earliest known brass in England dates back to 1277 and depicts Sir John d’Abernon at Stoke d’Abernon in Surrey. This is a fine figure of a knight holding a lance with an arrow-like blade, clad in detailed armour with surcoat (a garment to protect the wearer from discomforts caused by shirts of mail) and intricately designed leather sword strap. As brasses became increasingly popular as commemorative plaques, the precise detail of costume and accessories waned, and by the late fourteenth century, knights were shown in plainer armour, changes in style becoming less apparent. However, a noticeable feature was the replacement of the leather sword strap by a metal studded belt, forming an integral part of the suit.

The most prominent feature on brasses of ladies was undoubtedly the development of their headgear. Generally, ladies were depicted wearing long tunics with their headdresses as the striking feature. Examples are the zigzag and horned headdresses, and the famous ‘butterfly’ that was made by brushing the hair back into nets and extending the veil on wire wings. The brass of Lady Say (1473) at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire is a fine example. From this time until the mid sixteenth century, other styles developed such as the ‘dog kennel’ design, together with a change in costume, often revealing underskirts and pleated skirts.

Wool Merchant
Wool Merchant

As previously mentioned, traders were also depicted in brass, noticeably wool merchants, who emanated from the Cistercian monks of the thirteenth century. Most of these brasses are to be found in the Cotswolds, Chilterns and Lincolnshire Wolds, the main wool-producing areas, and fine examples can be seen at Northleach in Gloucestershire where there are no fewer than six wool-merchants depicted. It should be noted that the costume worn by these merchants is very similar to that worn by present-day clergy.

Brass effigies were often accompanied by Inscriptions in Norman French (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) and in Latin and English from the fifteenth century. Other decorations include ornate crosses such as Nicholas d’Aumberdine (1350) at Taplow, and canopies or frames that represented the architectural style of the day. Examples of this are elaborate pinnacles and arches in the Perpendicular style (Alianore de Bohun (1399) in Westminster Abbey) and later, the Gothic style.

For anyone intending to embark upon the art of brass rubbing, the following materials are required:

Detail or lining paper; heelball wax; masking tape; soft duster

John d'Abernon
John d’Abernon

Now for a few tips! Before beginning the task, it is both essential and courteous to obtain permission from the incumbent of the parish. Brasses are to be found in many inaccessible places in churches – under pews, high on walls or tombstones, or even concealed behind the organ! When consulting the parish priest (whose address can be found in Crockford’s Clerical Dictionary, available at most public libraries) he or she will usually advise the location of the brass, and whether or not a fee is payable. Alternatively, a contribution towards the upkeep of the church can be made.

Firstly, use the soft duster to clean the brass, removing any loose dust or grit to avoid tearing the paper. Secure the paper firmly over the brass effigy with tape and outline the figure on the paper by gently rubbing the cloth along the outline of the brass. When rubbing, always maintain even pressure and rub in one direction, starting at one end of the brass and working along. The finished rubbing should be lightly polished with a clean duster before removing the paper. Any slight tears in the paper can be repaired after removal by pasting a small piece of the paper on the reverse of the rubbing.

Traditionally, brass effigies are made with black wax on to white paper but gold, silver and copper rubbings on black paper help to create a striking image. Other colours which appear quite popular are red, green, pewter and purple.

As a result of its increasing popularity and vandalism in our churches, specialist brass rubbing centres have been established in various parts of the country as well as overseas. These centres provide a selection of reproductions of the best brasses available, thereby enabling easy access and protecting the original memorials.