Some people say the art of making great small cars is all but lost, but that just isn't true. Here's a little Skoda that proves the point. To celebrate 100 years of the Monte Carlo rally Skoda has come up with the Fabia Monte Carlo,a trim level based on the mid-range SE, with five doors by default and pepped up with some very nice extras.
It looks the business thanks to optional black 17in alloy wheels, black wing mirror housings, matching black side sills, wheel arch extensions and bumper skirts, a black roof and, of course, Monte Carlo badges.
You don't get masses of equipment as standard but there's air conditioning, electric front windows, sports seats, electric heated wing mirrors and a rather lovely red-stitched leather steering wheel, handbrake and gear knob set.
The options list is comprehensive and most things on there are fairly priced. There's a touchscreen display to replace the retro standard LCD display, cruise control, climate control and more. There's also a no-cost option to have the seats finished in red cloth instead of the more subtle black and white fleck.
Being based on the SE model you also get a choice of five engines, split three to two towards petrol. The Middle East market gets a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated unit though, offered with 105bhp and 153Nm of torque for adequate oomph throughout the rev range — and just as much fun.
It's a wonderfully gutsy little thing,a moderate squeeze of the accelerator in second gear rewarding you with the sort of acceleration that could have you giggling all day. It's no Top Fuel racer but it's got enough poke to really keep you entertained.
Don't be fooled by that small capacity because the torque pick-up is low and the six-speed 'box works wonders. It feels a lot faster than the performance figures suggest and I'd be surprised if the numbers weren't somewhat on the conservative side. The engine generates a characterful off-beat growl in the background and there's something thoroughly likeable about the way it does its thing.
Long distances aren't its forte because, although the Monte Carlo edition's sports seats look fantastic and give more lateral support around bends, there's no adjustable lumbar support and the seat could use a bit more padding for the bottom of your back. It takes a good 80 or 100 highway kilometres before it becomes noticeable though.
What it does much more convincingly is keep you entertained on a twisty road. As well as large alloy wheels, the Monte Carlo comes with sports suspension;a combination that sometimes makes the car a bit fidgety on rough road surfaces but it maintains lots of composure when cornering quickly. Wide, high-quality tyres give loads of grip and that teeny little engine bestows an engagingly light, flickable feel at the front wheels.
The interior quality is perfectly adequate for this sort of car. The main dashboard is slightly soft-touch while the lower dash plastics and door plastics are hard and slightly natty efforts. To be fair they don't look it though, and for a supermini the Monte Carlo feels relatively high rent, helped by the leather contact points with classy and sporty red stitching.
At Dh66,500 it's not really a cheap car, let alone a cheap small car, but it has charm in the way it operates. That'sa rare quality to find in what's essentiallya sensible German-engineered Volkswagen Polo platform.
As tested, with a few well-chosen options, the Fabia Monte Carlo is an absolute winner. It's a fantastic small car with a near-ideal balance of fuel economy, driving fun and practicality. Its list price is a little expensive against some stiff competition from other similar cars, but it makes a comprehensive case for itself all the same.