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Future models - Skoda - Citigo

First drive: Skoda Citigo a game-changer

Up in the air: The Australian future of Skoda's version of the Volkswagen Up - called the Citigo - is still pending.

Skoda hopes to slot new city car under the Fabia – but not before 2013

5 Mar 2012


SKODA’S smallest-ever production car – as well as its first three-door hatch in history – is still months away from a decision as to whether it will see the light of day in Australia.

Volkswagen Group Australia will likely wait until after the VW Up sub-B light car is released in the last quarter of this year before announcing the local status of the virtually identical Citigo.

Consequently, if the green light is given, sales will not begin until the second half of 2013 at the earliest.

Sporting subtle alterations to the nose, tail-lights, sheetmetal and trim compared with the Up, the Skoda version – set to make its public debut at the Geneva motor show this week – will most likely have to undercut its VW twin by about $1000 or offer a different customer care experience for the numbers to add up in Australia.

Another scenario might see the Citigo offering less power but a slightly higher specification to differentiate the two vehicles.

Up prices have not yet been announced, but expect the base three-door hatch version to start below $14,000, with about a $500 premium for the five-door bodystyle and $1000 for the ASG automated transmission.

29 center imageThat would point to a $12,990 Citigo price for the entry-level 44kW three-door hatch with a five-speed manual gearbox, air-conditioning and power steering.

An innovative side-thorax airbag system should be enough for the newcomer to snare a five-star ENCAP crash-test rating, though rear passengers do not have the same head protection.

Skoda also offers a class-first City Safe Drive radar option that automatically brakes the car below 30km/h to avoid pedestrian impacts.

The Slovakian-assembled Citigo would be pitched in Australia against the Korean-built Holden Barina Spark, Indonesian-made Nissan Micra ST, Malaysian Proton S16 and Indian-sourced Suzuki Alto, although only the latter is as compact as the Skoda.

Like the Up, the four-seater Skoda features an exceptionally spacious and airy cabin, courtesy of a very cab-forward shape, class-leading interior width, deep side windows, generous seat travel and a long wheelbase.

From the narrow yet supportive driver’s seat there is no apparent space penalty compared to a Polo or Fabia. And only the snubby snout and pert posterior’s proximity to the driver betray the Citigo’s stubby 3.5-metre length.

The combination of an all-new chassis architecture, solid build quality, strong performance and a beautifully well-oiled feeling to the steering, gearbox and brakes means the Citigo transcends its size and transforms our notion of how an urban runabout should drive.

A day’s driving in and around Lisbon, starting with lovely sunny weather and ending in a thunderstorm, revealed this to be the best sub-B segment hatchback in the world, even compared with the Toyota iQ, Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo and the terrific little Hyundai i10.

We sampled two quite differing specifications – the range-topping Elegance five-door manual powered by a remarkably refined 1.0-litre 12-valve three-cylinder petrol engine delivering 55kW of power at 6200rpm and 95Nm of torque between 3000rpm and 4300rpm, and a mid-spec Ambition three-door manual using a modified version of the same engine producing the same torque but only 44kW.

Despite the lower power output, the Ambition was fitted with an optional Sports Pack that includes a 15mm lower ride height and an upgrade from Bridgestone 175/65 R14 tyres to Continental 185/55 R15s.

As you would expect, the more powerful Citigo is the go, with a sparkier nature, revvier attitude and a propensity to propel the tiny tacho needle well beyond the 6250rpm red line.

Even with air-con, the 55kW Elegance is a spirited performer with a subdued yet evocative three-pot engine thrum egging the driver on. At 100km/h in fifth gear the engine ticks over at a refined 2400rpm.

Hills required a downshift or two, but this is no chore with the standard five-speed manual – the five-speed automated sequential single-clutch unit is still some months away from production – and engine noise does not become tiresome like some other three-cylinder alternatives.

With only marginal fuel and CO2 savings, we wouldn’t bother with the 44kW model as there just isn’t any top-end fizz to put a smile on your face.

VW’s engineers worked a minor miracle with the electric-powered rack-and-pinion steering system, which defies belief with its natural feel, feedback and response.

With a tight turning circle, it is a joy to use, fast or slow, ripping up a mountain pass or changing lanes in heavy traffic. There is nothing loose or slack to this light yet tight runabout’s dynamic repertoire.

The ride quality is a game-changer – on European roads anyway. On the poor and patchy rural roads of Portugal, the baby Skoda proved to be at least two classes ahead of rival city cars.

The Elegance’s smaller and skinnier rubber offers more comfort than the larger and lower-profile 15s fitted to the Ambition, with no discernible loss of grip.

Peak-hour traffic revealed the Citigo’s biggest asset – its unbeatable all-round vision, afforded by the low waistline and further underlined by the squared-off C-pillar treatment.

Other delights include a smart dashboard design topped with quality trim so that a Polo driver won’t feel short-changed by the Skoda’s ambience.

The optional GPS/Bluetooth screen is intuitive and clever, backed up by a dedicated Smartphone home where you might expect a cupholder or ashtray to reside, a ‘handbag’ hook integrated into the glovebox’s opening latch, a rear parcel shelf that needs no cords to keep it erect, seat-side pockets large enough for a small water bottle and muesli bar, an adult-size rear seat and a cargo area that expands from a reasonable 251 litres to some 959 litres with the split/fold backrest down.

There is very little wrong with this ace sub-supermini surprise. First-time buyers Skoda hopes to attract may not realise how brilliantly complete it is, but the secondary market of Empty Nesters sure will.

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