Mid-Life Crisis?

In order to breathe new life into existing models, many manufacturers give mid-life facelifts to some of their cars.

As loyal readers of my blog will be aware, I have a penchant towards cars from the VW Group. I am not saying for one minute that other manufacturers don’t produce fine products, but personally I like the understated styling of VW Group models which don’t date at the alarming rate of some design offerings available today. Take the styling of the current Ford Fiesta as an example. This model compares directly with the Volkswagen Polo and Škoda Fabia yet depreciates some 7% more in value over a three year period. Most Japanese manufacturers appear to have lost the plot where styling is concerned, having adopted aggressive front ends and protruding tail-light clusters. This is simply the trend of the moment and avant-garde designs fast lose their appeal with the buying public. Whilst some would say that many VW Group products are rather staid, they continue to hold their value over the years and rarely look out of place amidst more futuristic offerings.

The question that one must ask is why models are given a facelift. Surely there would be no need for change had the designers got the product right in the first place. In reality, car makers want to keep their products in the forefront of the market place, and it is a constant battle to keep up with new and improved products from competitors. Facelifts therefore inject new life into existing models, extending their life for 18 months up to three years. In recent months, facelifts have been announced for the Audi A3, SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf. The modified A3 is already available but buyers will have to wait until early 2017 for the updated models from the other marques.

To look at the aforementioned facelifted models, it is quite difficult to spot what is different. External changes include new or tweaked grilles, restyled bumpers, improved lights and new wheel designs. Most improvements are not visible from the outside as they centre around upgraded infotainment systems and enhancements to the power output of engines on offer. None of these are a bad thing and if they generate new life into a three or four year old product, it’s good news for the manufacturer. Limited changes to the exterior are also good news for the owners of pre-facelift models as only the diehard discerning buyer will be able to spot the differences.

Let’s start with the SEAT Leon. A reshaped front bumper now features a grille that has been stretched by 40mm, and the car is offered in three additional exterior colours. Interior trim has been upgraded and an electric handbrake and ambient lighting have been added. The new 115bhp 1.0 three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, already available in the Audi A3, Škoda Octavia and VW Golf; is now offered and the 1.6 diesel engine has had a power boost to 115PS. Add-on options include wireless phone charging, Traffic Sign Recognition and Traffic Jam Assist.

Next the Škoda Octavia. This boasts a new front end which has already divided opinion. It features split headlights with LED daylight running lamps and a wider grille that more closely resembles the new Kodiaq SUV. The lower bumper section has been tidied up with crisp horizontal lines designed to emphasise the car’s width. The rear bumper has also been restyled and the tail-lights tweaked. Inside, it is the infotainment systems that boast the biggest change. All systems now come with capacitive touchscreens which are larger in size. Optional features include a customised key that can store multiple driver preferences, a heated steering wheel, folding tables in the backs of the front seats and new cup holders that are moulded to the shape of bottles allowing them to be opened with one hand.

Now for the VW Golf which has a re-profiled bumper, slightly modified grille and air duct styling, minor restyling to the front wings and revised headlights with LED daytime running lights and a new full LED main beam function. The rear receives full LED tail-lights and a newly designed bumper and the model benefits from new wheel designs and exterior colours. Inside, there are revised trims for the doors, dashboard and centre console and some models can be specified with an Active Info Display with 12.3in high-definition monitor in place of standard analogue instruments. Infotainment systems are enhanced with larger displays across all models together with new or updated driver assistant systems including  Traffic Jam Assist, Emergency Assist, Lane Assist and an updated City Emergency Braking system. Needless to say, most of these options come at a price!

Finally the Audi A3. Key updates include styling tweaks with Xenon or LED headlights as standard. The front grille has had a minor restyle along with the headlights meaning the car now more closely resembles the larger A4. As with the other marques, the Audi also boasts new exterior colours and wheel designs. The main technological enhancement is the option of a virtual cockpit display in lieu of conventional analogue instruments.

Prices for the revised models are unlikely to deflect far from existing prices although uncertainties over exchange rates may ultimately have an impact. It’s fair to say that the improvements and enhancements across all these models are good for the consumer as they reflect the latest developments in technology. They should also reap rewards for the manufacturers as they either retain or attract new customers to their product range whilst remaining competitive in a fierce marketplace so it’s hardly a mid-life crisis!

For comparison pre-facelift photos of these models, please refer to earlier blog posts.

The Rise Of SUVs And Crossovers

The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of SUVs on our roads …

Sports Utility Vehicles, more commonly known as SUVs, are now a very familiar sight on the world’s roads. From humble beginnings in the hands of one or two manufacturers, almost all main carmakers now offer at least one SUV in their range. Many companies now make SUVs in all their model segments meaning that the buyer can choose according to size as well as budget.

So what exactly is a SUV? It’s a vehicle designed to carry passengers in a traditional front and back seat configuration, whilst also providing increased luggage capacity. The vehicle sits higher above the road affording both driver and passengers greater all round visibility. Some of the larger, upmarket models offer various seat configurations to either preference passenger-carrying or luggage holding. Vehicles may be adorned with more rugged outdoor embellishments and also offer the option of four wheel drive. Early models were very much of a traditional box design and based upon light commercial vehicle chassis but nowadays, most models are closely based on their related car brethren and often described as crossovers.

It will come as little surprise, therefore, that the modern day SUV and crossover is far more than a utility vehicle. One of their main attractions is their increased ground clearance for on and off-road ability, although few people are likely to avail themselves of the latter. They have fast become something of a status symbol as they command greater road presence whilst still retaining the styling cues of a traditional car. Manufactures such as BMW and Audi offer an almost complete range of SUV models to meet the needs of most buyers whilst others provide a more limited choice or are only just entering what has become a very lucrative market.

A complete newcomer to the marketplace is SEAT who have just launched their first SUV to be called the Ateca. This will be a direct competitor to the revised Volkswagen Tiguan from their sister company. Currently, Škoda only make the Yeti which has been a success for the company but is now showing its age. In a few months time, Škoda will be unveiling their new model, the Kodiaq, which will sit at the upper end of the model spectrum both in size and price. A new Yeti is due within about eighteen months plus a small SUV based upon the Fabia. As their only existing SUV does not directly compete, this article is comparing the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan as both share the same MQB platform architecture.

As one would expect from SEAT, the new Ateca offers Spanish design flair. The car is derived from the current Leon, a model that is undoubtedly one of the best looking hatchbacks on the road. Delays in this car seeing the light of day mean that the company has been able to study the competition and, hopefully, get the product right from launch. First and foremost, the entry level model undercuts almost everything else on the market, and even the top specification models undercut the likes of the Renault Kadjar and Kia Sportage. Modifications to the proven VW 1.4TSI petrol engine enable two cylinders to shut down when driving at lower speeds although this is undetectable by the driver. The dashboard closely resembled that of the Leon, albeit with some improvements, one of which is an increased infotainment display. In SE trim, the car boasts 17″ alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control and a driver profile select system. Whilst sharing the same wheelbase as the Leon, the Ateca is taller, wider and longer than its sibling, meaning there is more space all round for  passengers and 510 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place.

The VW Tiguan has been around for several years and the previous model underwent a midlife face lift. The new model more closely resembles the family image and has sharper styling, better performance and efficiency than its predecessor. As with the Ateca, it sits on the ubiquitous MQB platform so offering similar accommodation to its cousin. Overall, the car is longer and this translates into boot capacity of 615 litres with the seats in place. In SE trim, expect to find 18″ alloys, an 8″ infotainment display, DAB, Bluetooth, climate and cruise control. The dashboard is typical of cars from VW, being exceptionally well assembled using soft plastics and ergonomically designed. It shares a broad range of petrol and diesel engines with its stablemates but compared with rivals is on the pricey side and lacks the special design flair making it appear rather anonymous.

There is a considerable price differential between the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan. In almost identical SE trim level, the Ateca costs around £21015 (€25300) whilst the Tiguan commands £25260 (€30320). Neither model comes with satnav as standard so expect to pay £525 (€640) and £725 (€880) respectively for that convenience. Whilst VW are always more expensive, reflecting their image and refinery, an additional £4200 is a lot to pay for what is essentially increased luggage capacity. The Ateca has been priced to sell, and with its more aggressive styling, is the preferred choice … that is until the all-new Škoda Yeti arrives in 2018. The battle may then begin!,

When Less Is More

A few vital statistics …

Regular readers will already be familiar with my blog reviews and comparisons of cars from the Volkswagen Group. One aspect that I generally omit is the overall size of each vehicle, so to make amends, I am detailing the vital statistics of four comparable vehicles. These are the SEAT Leon, Škoda Octavia, VW Golf and the Audi A3. Each car compared is a 5-door hatchback, and for price comparison purposes, uses SE trim specification. Obviously, despite the same name, levels of trim in each car do vary considerably with the Skoda offering some of the highest and the Audi the least.

Leon

Firstly, the SEAT Leon. This is currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 125PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4263mm Width 1816mm 1975mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Octavia

Now, the Škoda Octavia. This is also currently priced from £18245 (approx €23720) for a 1.4 TSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2686mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4659mm Width 1814mm 2017mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 590 litres with rear seats up to a whopping 1580 litres with seats folded.

Golf

Next, the VW Golf. This is currently priced from £19710 (approx €25600) for a 1.4 TSI 122PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1549mm Rear Track 1520mm Length 4255mm Width 1799mm 2027mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1270 litres with seats folded.

Audi

Finally, the Audi A3. This is currently priced from £20700 (approx €27000) for a 1.4 TFSI 150PS Manual in SE trim.

Wheelbase 2636mm Front Track 1535mm Rear Track 1506mm Length 4310mm Width 1785mm 1966mm with mirrors. Boot space ranges from 380 litres with rear seats up to 1220 litres with seats folded.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how similar these vehicles are. The Leon, Golf and A3 all share the same MQB platform whilst the Octavia benefits from a stretched version of the same platform. The Leon and Golf are virtually identical in size, right down to the luggage capacity. Despite the A3 giving the impression of being a large car, it is actually shorter than the Octavia. As is to be expected from Škoda, the Octavia delivers considerably more for your money and offers boot space to rival cars in the segment above, proving once again that less is more! Ultimately, the final choice is down to styling as all the models are extremely well built and share the same mechanical parts.

Battle Of The Giants

It’s not often that I review large or executive class vehicles as I’m very much in favour of economy and being environmentally friendly. Fortunately, nowadays, it is becoming easier to blend both these qualities as engineering and design advance in leaps and bounds …

Following my penchant for cars from the Volkswagen Group, mainly because of their more classic designs and overall reliability, this review is comparing two relative giants from both Škoda and VW in the guise of the Superb and Passat. The original modern-day Superb utilised a 10cm stretched version of the Passat model at the time, and was launched in 2001. Whilst never being a huge seller, it gradually commanded a larger slice of the market owing to its passenger and luggage capacity, not to mention overall reliability. It has therefore been popular with taxi drivers who opted for a larger car than the ever-popular Škoda Octavia.

This model was replaced in 2008 with the second generation Superb, which boasted a unique ‘twindoor’ arrangement with an innovative rear opening that could double as a regular separate saloon boot and full hatchback. The car was larger than its sister Passat derivatives and continued to attract new customers to the marque. Now, after over seven years in production, this model has now been replaced with the mark III Superb, a car that effectively takes Škoda into new territory.

It would be fair to say that the styling of the outgoing Superb was somewhat dowdy despite the car offering exceptional value for money with its passenger and luggage space. The Passat has always upstaged it in the design stakes, and whilst only coming in conventional saloon or estate form, has been the VW Group’s market leader in the segment. However, this could be all about to change with the new Skoda incarnation. The Superb is now an exceptionally classic-looking car and gives the equally attractive Passat a run for its money. The ‘twindoor’ rear opening has been ditched in favour of a traditional hatchback opening, but the car gives the impression of being a traditional saloon. Once again, the Superb is built on a stretched platform some 80mm longer than the outgoing model, weighs about 75kg less, and is 47mm wider thereby providing more elbow room. Passengers also benefit from increased headroom, especially in the rear. A major factor of all Škoda cars is their luggage capacity compared with comparable models from other manufacturers, and the new Superb boasts 625 litres with the rear seats in place, increasing to a massive 1760 litres when the seats are folded. It is therefore likely to swallow almost anything one cares to put in it!

The car will offer a choice of seven fully turbocharged petrol and diesel engines depending upon the model derivative. The excellent DSG automatic gearbox will be available with selected engines so it should be possible to tailor-make the ideal package. Living up to the Simply Clever features offered by Škoda, the car comes with a built-in umbrella in each of the front doors and a rechargeable torch that also serves as a boot light. Even the basic model is well-equipped, boasting alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an infotainment touch screen. Better specification models have larger wheels, climate-controlled air conditioning, cruise control and rear parking sensors. For the ultimate in motoring, opt for the expensive Laurin & Klement spec with heated front and rear seats, adaptive dampers, powered tailgate, a TV tuner and more luxuries besides. These specifications apply to the UK market where models are generally better equipped as standard than in some other European markets. The interior layout is clearly designed for ease of use and driver comfort and avoids the gimmickry found in many competitor cars. Overall, the car is very well assembled and offers a comfortable and quiet driving experience, and with the entry level Superb S 1.4 TSI 123bhp engine currently costing £18640 (€25500), it will take a lot of beating in the value-for-money stakes!

More than ever before, the Superb is a real challenger for its cousin, the VW Passat. This model recently underwent a major facelift to become even bigger yet lighter than its predecessor, but at the same time becoming far more fuel efficient. Some top spec models command a premium price meaning that VW are targeting customers of smaller BMWs and Mercedes, but it has to be said that the car is of premium quality. Whilst the Passat is not the largest saloon car in the VW stable, it is the largest in terms of sales as the Phaeton is a super luxury saloon competing with the likes of the Audi A8 and Lexus LS. At first glance, the new Passat looks very similar to its predecessor, but actually boasts a 79mm extended wheelbase in a car that is slightly shorter due to reduced front and rear overhangs.

Specification across the model range has been improved and the car offers a sleeker look than before. As with the Škoda, the interior layout is conventional, with all controls readily to hand. Astute readers will note common switchgear used across many models in the VW Group. All models come with a 6.5 inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. Higher spec models feature sat nav, adaptive cruise control and other optional extras including the much-publicised Driver Assistance featuring, amongst other things, automatic full beam dipping, lane assist and side scan radar. Like the Sperb, the Passat is based on the MQB platform that has been discussed in previous model reviews. This platform underpins popular cars like the VW Golf, Škoda Octavia, SEAT Leon and Audi A3, so reliability should be taken as read. Luggage capacity is 586 litres with the rear seats in place but these can be folded top increase space. Remember, however,. that access is restricted as the Passat is a conventional saloon with a boot rather than the hatchback versatility of the Škoda Superb.

The Passat is a very well-engineered vehicle and now offers the complete package … a refined, comfortable, sporty saloon in a classic design that will retain its value better than many of its competitors. As with many things, the final choice between these two cars will be the price. As mentioned, the Superb actually offers more room than the Passat, and whilst it may not be right at the top in terms of overall refinement, it isn’t far off and offers exceptional value for money. The entry level Passat S 1.6TDI costs £22215 (€31000) which is over £3500 (€5000) more than the Superb … a lot of dosh! Both cars will offer estate derivatives at greater cost but offering even more carrying capacity making it a true battle of the giants!

Brand versus Style

Regular readers of my motoring blogs will undoubtedly know that I’m a devotee of Škoda cars but here is a review of two alternative marques from the VW Group …

In a world whereby most average family cars look very similar, making an informed choice on which car to buy can be a daunting task. Some people demand every conceivable gadget and gismo available, no matter what these may cost, whilst others are content in having a vehicle that delivers a solid driving experience without too many trimmings. Nowadays, most manufacturers offer products that are light years away from their models of fifteen years ago so ultimately it comes down to individual preference or even bias! Yes I am somewhat biased as I’m a firm believer in value for money rather than paying simply for an upmarket badge.

If you exclude premium names such as Bentley and Bugatti for example, then Audi is at the upper end of VW Group marques with Škoda and SEAT holding more lowly positions. Of course, that in no way derides these makes and they more than compete with both their cousins and other manufacturers. The VW Golf made its first appearance in 1974 and has been a world best seller for most of its life, now being in its seventh generation. A Mark 8 version is scheduled for the 2018 model year. As with most models, the car has grown from its original size back in 1974, with the current VW Polo about the size of the Mark 1 Golf. Sharing the same MQB platform as the current Golf is the latest SEAT Leon and this blog will compare the two models which are virtually identical in size.

There can be little doubt that the VW Golf offers a solidly built, quality-engineered car, coming in three-door, five-door and estate guises. Virtually every new incarnation of the model improves upon its predecessor, but in so doing, the price has reached what some might describe as epidemic proportions. As with nearly all manufacturers, the model offers far more standard equipment and safety features than at the start of this century, so these will contribute to higher prices. However, the danger is that the car falls outside the affordability parameters of the family market at which it is aimed. Performance comes from a range of proven petrol and diesel power units, all of which are turbocharged, and one even has a fuel-saving device that shuts off two cylinders when they’re not needed. The Golf excels in its riding and handling capabilities and few cars within the category can equal it. This is achieved through sophisticated suspension settings although smaller engined models have to rely upon a more traditional set up. Over the years, VW have refined their engines to the point that most offer an exceptionally smooth travelling experience.

The dashboard is well put together with all controls readily to hand and plenty of soft touch material. Switchgear is well damped and the overall ambience is one of functional comfort rather than an array of gimmicky buttons found in some manufacturers models, notably Ford and GM. As one would expect, the Golf is a safety-conscious zone boasting seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag) and stability control. Mechanical parts are marked to deter thieves and the car achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating in crash tests. Basic equipment includes Bluetooth, a DAB radio and air conditioning, but opt for a mid range specification to get adaptive cruise control, automatic sensor-driven lights and wipers, plus alloy wheels. The higher spec models also offer full climate-controlled aircon which is worth considering as an option on other models if made available as it keeps the interior at a pre-set temperature. A touch screen infotainment system sits in the centre of the dashboard, from which many features can be controlled. The Golf will seat four adults in comfort and five at a pinch. Boot space is about par for the segment and benefits from a height adjustable floor which is useful for eliminating a step up to the rear seats when in their folded down position.

Sitting directly alongside the Golf is the Leon from sister company SEAT. This car can be looked upon as the equivalent of a Spanish holiday, offering fun, flair and affordability. Whereas the Golf is very conservative in design, the Leon is more stylish and distinctive, yet shares the same platform, engines and technology … so basically a Golf in disguise! It offers both style and substance in a package comprising German engineering, Spanish flair and a build quality to virtually match its cousin. As with the Golf, there is a comprehensive range of engines including high powered derivatives for the FR and Cupra models at the top end of the model spectrum. Handling is generally good thanks to the suspension and damping set up, but some may consider the ride to be slightly on the firm side. Personally, I find this advantageous as it eliminates some of the sickening motion encountered in some vehicles. Overall refinement doesn’t quite match that of the Golf primarily because of more wind noise and models fitted with larger wheels suffer excessive road noise. Safety and security features are plentiful including seven airbags, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and emergency brake assist. To help deter thieves, all models have an alarm fitted and the Leon also achieved a 5 star Euro NCAP rating.

Interior switch gear largely mimics that fitted in the Golf. Obviously, the sharing of common components is more cost effective and if they’re good enough for a VW, that is a compliment to the Leon! The dashboard is angled slightly towards the driver and is generally a match for the Golf in terms of refinement. The model also has a touch screen infotainment system with sensory response, and whilst this serves the purpose, it would benefit from being somewhat larger. Standard equipment includes basic air conditioning, Bluetooth and an MP3 compatible CD player whilst higher spec models get alloy wheels, cruise control and bright trim on the dashboard. The FR models add dual zone climate controlled aircon, sports seats and leather trim. The Leon easily accommodates four adults but there is enough room for a fifth. The model comes in three derivatives, namely a three-door SC, five-door and estate, and rear head and legroom is slightly reduced in the coupé model. Luggage space can only be described as average offering 380 litres with the rear seats in place, and as with the Golf, there is a step up when the rear seats are folded. The Leon does not offer the adjustable floor height to compensate for this and the boot area offers no useful storage facilities unlike the ‘simply clever’ features of Škoda models!

This latest incarnation of the SEAT Leon makes it one of the best family cars around, with its blend of practicality, performance and style. It is a rewarding car to drive owing to comfortable seats and an airy cabin. Opt for one of the lower-aspirated engines to yield the greatest economy. The Leon undercuts the price of the Golf across its range but the downside is that residual values will not be as great. However, for many people, the deciding factor when purchasing a car is the upfront price, and in this respect the overall package offered by the Leon is hard to beat. A VW Golf 1.6TDI 5-door Bluemotion with climate control and metallic paint currently costs €30400 (£22420). A SEAT Leon 1.6TDI SE 5-door with similar specification has a current list price of €27500 (£20255) so it’s clear to see that the Leon offers very good value for money.

Little doubt then that it’s a choice between brand and style!

IMG_2960
VW Golf Estate
IMG_2961
SEAT Leon Estate

Two Peas In A Pod

After nearly 8 years, Škoda has finally updated their Fabia model!

The first pea in the pod is the Škoda Fabia, the supermini in the manufacturer’s portfolio and a model that helped restore the fortunes of the company. The Mark 1 launched in 1998 proved to be very popular in the segment, most notably because of its chunky design and value-for-money practicality. Sadly, the Mark 2 model that arrived in 2007, has struggled to live up to its previous reputation. This is primarily due to styling or a lack of it … sitting fairly upright, the car has always looked somewhat incongruous and imbalanced. This in no way derides its practicality and overall good value, but it has been long overdue for replacement. So in early 2015 the Czech manufacturer releases a Mark 3 Fabia with aspirations to attract younger buyers.

This Škoda is a completely new car with revised chassis and engines. More than ever, the car closely resembles its sister the Volkswagen Polo, both in looks and passenger accommodation which makes choosing between the two cars much more difficult. With many engines shared between both models, including new three-cylinder diesels and the turbocharged four cylinder 1.2 TSI petrol, it is likely that driving and handling characteristics will be very similar.

Škoda’s design philosophy has always focused on functionality and simplicity, rather than being overtly stylish for the sake of it. The new model loses the awkward box-like image of its predecessor by more closely resembling styling cues from the Mark 1 model. This is achieved by making the car slightly wider and lower, resulting in greater road presence. From a practical perspective, this provides more shoulder room in the front, and with a slightly increased wheelbase, there’s more legroom in the rear. The boot offers class-leading capacity of 330 litres with the rear seats in place, which is 50 litres more than in the Polo.  The rear seats split 60/40 but do not lie completely flat meaning there is a slope when they are folded down. Overall, the Fabia is one of the most spacious cars in its class, beating the Polo, Fiesta and Corsa to name but three competitors, and undercuts them all on price.

Following their ethos of practicality over flair, the dashboard is generally well-designed and, for the first time, incorporates a large central display screen covering most main functions. This is very similar to the display function in the Polo. In higher specification models, there is a system called Mirror Link that allows owners of Android phones to replicate their apps on the dash screen. Quite how useful this facility proves to be remains to be seen – currently the iPhone iOS is not supported. Other facilities across the range include DAB radio, electric front windows, Bluetooth and a tyre pressure monitor with higher spec models offering alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and climate control air conditioning. Sadly, there is no soft-touch finish to the dashboard, with everything covered in black textured plastics, but all appears to be of a relatively high standard.

From a motoring perspective, the 1.2 TSI petrol engines are the most favoured. These petrol engines from the VW stable are very refined, thereby offering comfortable cruising without too much effort on the part of the driver. Whilst not as economical as diesel alternatives, they are considerably quieter. The three-cylinder petrol units also suffer from more noise when at high revs. The Fabia handles safely and confidently but lacks the agility of the Polo, due largely to greater body roll. Initially, the model will be available in S, SE and SEL trim levels. There are currently no plans to make a high performance vRS model though but an estate version will follow in due course.

What of the second pea in the pod? That, of course, is the Volkswagen Polo. It shares some of the engines with the Fabia as well as offering a 1.4 turbo petrol unit. The petrol engines are smooth and quiet, making the Polo a nice environment in which to travel. At lower speeds, the diesels are quite clattery but this abates when at cruising speed. The Polo lacks the overall fun factor offered by the Ford Fiesta owing to more body lean through bends and softer steering, but these are compensated for by all-round ride comfort and stability.

Although at the higher price bracket for superminis, few can rival the Polo’s excellent ergonomics and dashboard layout. As mentioned previously, most models boast a very good colour touch-screen system coupled with clear instrumentation and sturdy switchgear. Overall, it is built to the same high standards as the larger VW Golf giving the car an upmarket feel. Unlike the Fabia, the dashboard is covered in soft-touch plastics, but the car lacks curtain airbags and a passenger airbag deactivation facility. Most competitors offer these as standard equipment.

Rear legroom isn’t as great as in the Fabia and the boot is on the small side. Most versions provide a height-adjustable boot floor to counteract the loading lip. The rear seats do not fold totally flat either. The Polo is available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels as well as a Bluemotion and Bluemotion GT. The mid-range SE provides alloy wheels, aircon, electric windows all round and steering wheel audio controls. As can be seen, the model derivatives follow a similar pattern to those of the Fabia!

So which model to buy? As the title of the blog suggests, these two cars are basically peas in the same pod. Never before have two same segment cars from the VW stable been so close in both style, price and accommodation. The Fabia still distances itself from the Polo on price although the differential is nowhere near as great as it once was and there is little doubt that Škoda are moving upmarket. Whilst this is no bad thing, there is a danger of alienating their loyal customer base as buyers opt for models from other VW Group marques. The final choice between these two models basically comes down to the following:

For overall quality, the Polo is the one to beat.
For overall roominess, the Fabia wins the contest.
For styling, both cars are conservative although I think the Fabia has the edge with its bustle rear.
Mechanically, both cars can offer the same engines and designated trim levels.

Let us therefore draw a direct comparison between the Škoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90PS SE5-door and the VW Polo 1.2 TS! 90PS SE 5-door … the Fabia costs from £13390 whilst the Polo is priced from £14360. That means the Fabia is a minimum of £970 cheaper despite offering more standard equipment, cabin and luggage space. The dimensions of the cars are very similar but the Fabia is 1467mm in height compared with the Polo’s 1453mm, hence the increased rear headroom in the Fabia. Škoda also offers customisation of the Fabia with contrasting colours for roof, mirrors and wheels, thereby hoping to widen its appeal. On balance, I would opt for the Fabia as it looks more distinctive than the Polo and offers several Škoda ‘Simply Clever’ features! The only downside to the Fabia is that the VW will hold its value better, but the differential is unlikely to be too great at this market level.

Simply Clever

At first sight the title of this blog may seem slightly bewildering …

To an extent, this is an update of my blog in May when a comparison review of three cars from the VW Group stable was undertaken. This is a more in-depth look at two of the vehicles whilst the third is recently new to the market this year. The cars in question are the replacement Škoda Octavia and the all-new Audi A3 saloon whilst bringing up the rear is the Volkswagen Jetta, often seen as a booted version of the Golf.

All three of these vehicles are very similar in size and in many ways look similar to each other despite all being unique models. This rather illustrates the fact that computer-designed cars aimed at achieving maximum energy efficiencies all emerge from the design board looking very anonymous and manufacturers are left with detailed styling tweaks to try and make them stand out from the crowd.

The latest version of the Škoda Octavia has moved the model somewhat upmarket. It is larger overall than the model it’s replaced as the manufacturer introduced a new mid segment car called the Rapid some twelve months ago. The Rapid competes more equally with the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra and with the introduction of yet another derivative under the Rapid banner in the shape of the Spaceback, the model should have a considerable impact upon that market segment.

In order to differentiate their model lineup, it was necessary for Škoda to increase the size of the new Octavia which is now closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than the previous model. So back to the blog header of Simply Clever .. it’s the tag line of Škoda and for very good reason as will be seen from reading on!

All the cars being compared here resemble a conventional saloon (or sedan for readers in the United States!) However the Octavia is in fact a hatchback which offers many advantages when it comes to versatility and luggage capacity. Whilst all models have a starting price at so-called basic level, the comparisons here are based on the higher specification models from all three manufacturers but all powered by the same 1.6 TDI 105PS engine.

For a car as large as the Octavia one might imagine an engine of 1.6 litres struggling but for everyday motoring performance is more than adequate even though it requires relatively frequent gear changing at low speed. The ride is generally comfortable and the driver has reassurance from the grip the front wheels provide. A slick gear change offers accurate selection and apart from some wind noise at high speed, the car is generally quiet even with the diesel engine. One of the Octavia’s highlights is the build quality of the cabin which is a match for the VW Golf, always renowned for its finish. Standard safety features include seven air bags including a knee airbag for the driver, five star Euro NCAP rating, electronic brake force distribution, stability control and a hill hold braking function.

The dashboard layout is clear and functional rather than a remit for the whims of designers and incorporates one of the best touch screen infotainment systems currently available. All the car’s functions can be controlled from this unit ranging from fuel consumption data to telephone connection and satellite navigation. Seats are quite supportive with lumber support available for the driver and front seat passenger. There is adequate room for 6ft adults both in the front and rear. The boot is simply cavernous providing 590 litres with the seats up and no less than 1580 litres with the rear seats folded.

Even the entry level Octavia is equipped with alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and a multi-change CD player all for a starting price of £15990. The comparison model here boasts dual-zone climate controlled air conditioning, engine stop-start technology, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, all electric windows, cruise control, satellite navigation, automatic lights and wipers, and part leather upholstery … all for an on-the-road price of £21090!

Next we have the new Audi A3 saloon that is an addition to the established A3 range of hatchbacks and cabriolet. Whilst most models are powered by high performance engines, the manufacturer has not forgotten the cost-conscious driver, hence the availability of the 1.6 TDI unit. The standard specification for the car is with sport suspension which by definition provides a firmer ride all round but customers can opt for a no-cost standard suspension configuration. As is to be expected from a quality front wheel drive car, road grip is good although road noise can penetrate the cabin. Safety features include stability control, front, side and curtain airbags and the maximum five star Euro NCAP rating.

The quality of the cabin is first class although it isn’t as simple in design as that of the Octavia. A novel feature is the slim infotainment screen that pops up from the upper part of the dashboard. The multi media interface offers control of most of the car’s main functions via a control dial and a few buttons. Note that the Octavia’s infotainment unit is touch screen operated and as your hand approaches, a menu pops up! The front seats are both supportive and multi adjustable allowing most people to get comfortable behind the wheel. Boot capacity is 425 litres which can be increased by folding the rear seats flat but access is restricted owing to the saloon design.

The A3 saloon is available in two trim levels with standard specification including dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and sports seats. However, in order to bring the specification in line with that of the Octavia, extras costing £3240 will be needed bringing the on-the-road price to a staggering £25520!

Finally a look at the Volkswagen Jetta. In essence this car resembles a mini Passat which is no bad thing although it looks fairly staid and anonymous. As with the other vehicles reviewed, the Jetta comes with a choice of engines but again for comparison purposes it is the frugal 1.6 TDI model that is being costed. This unit is both fuel-efficient and a willing performer, providing plenty of pace and good acceleration when overtaking. Road holding is reassuring as is to be expected from a proven front wheel drive unit and the steering light yet positive. There is some slight wind and road noise at speed. All the usual safety features are on offer including front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, and a five star rating from Euro NCAP.

Whilst this model is a derivative of the Golf, the build quality of the dashboard doesn’t appear to match that of its stablemate. This may be because the car is built in Mexico where quality control standards are not quite as high as those in Europe. However, the car will readily accommodate four adults on well supporting seats as this model grew in size from the previous generation Jetta. Boot space is remarkably generous offering 510 litres with the rear seats in place. This can be enhanced if the 60-40 rear seats are folded down.

The base model with air conditioning, full electric windows and remote central locking will set one back £19315. However, to have a comparably equipped car to the Octavia, it will cost £24079 which includes £2844 of extras on top of the Sport trim which offers alloy wheels, cruise control and automatic headlights as standard.

The diesel engine referred to in this review offers fuel consumption in excess of 70 mpg for the Octavia according to official tests. Personally I think that is extremely optimistic although careful driving should yield in excess of 55 mpg on a regular basis. Both the Octavia and A3 have Euro V CO2 exhaust emissions of 99 g/km meaning they currently fall into the zero road tax bracket whilst the Jetta emits 109 g/km putting it into the £20 road tax bracket. For those fortunate enough to be able to afford a new car, both are attractive propositions; at some point in time we all need to take positive action to help our environment rather than selfishly driving around in fuel guzzlers that pollute the planet!

Time now to summarise. The biggest car of the three reviewed is the Octavia although only by a narrow margin. With the largest wheelbase, it doesn’t compromise on interior space and also provides the largest luggage capacity. The practicality of the car is further enhanced by the hatchback styling. From a visual perspective, the A3 undoubtedly wins but at a hefty price. Whilst offering reasonable value for money, the Jetta really doesn’t cut the mustard as it is lacking in so many respects at base level. As reviewed, the A3 costs £4430 more than the Octavia and the Jetta £2989 extra. This brings me back to the title of this blog .. namely that Škoda live up to their promise of being Simply Clever!

And to reiterate that fact, you’ll find neat little touches in the Octavia such as a multi media holder, waste paper bin and ice scraper behind the fuel flap. Simply clever!