Last Saturday, I got a chance to go back to Udupi after a gap of nearly five years. I had last been there for my convocation in Manipal. The purpose of the journey this time – Be the co-transporter for Cronin in order to make sure he drove his new Skoda Fabia safely to and from Udupi while bringing his granny down for the weekend.
We set off from Mangalore with me at the wheel. The first thing that strikes you when you get into the drivers seat and turn the ignition are the various features that light up on the dash board. Though it may appear a bit confusing at first (especially for someone who is used to driving a Maruti Suzuki around), the panel gives you a broad view on various security features that are in place – some features may seem a bit too much for Indian vehicles (like the door open alarm etc.). Another important factor that strikes you is the spaciousness of the car. The driver’s seats and the back seats have enough of leg space to comfortably stretch your legs. The boot space is quite big for this small car and can easily take in a couple of big bags.
A slight disadvantage for a new driver is the fact that the seats are sunk in a bit too low and you will not be able to see the bonnet especially when you need to judge the traffic around you in the city. Though this may appear to be a drawback, the fact is this cars turning radius is quite good and that takes away half the tension of not being able to check out whether you are scraping someone’s bumper.
From outside the cars diesel engine is a bit too loud, somewhat like the Indica’s. Once inside with the windows up and the air-conditioning on I felt quite at ease with the silence and it hardly took me a couple of kilometers to get a complete hang of the car. One important factor – all Skoda cars are knocked down versions made completely in Europe and assembled in India. So you will find a few European features in there. I kept pushing the lever to the right of the steering wheel in order to show the indicator. It only resulted in getting the wipers up and running. The indicator lever is to the left of the steering unlike other Indian vehicles. I found this to be the only European anomaly.
The air-conditioning cools at a pleasant level and the car produces enough power to even challenge the Manipal buses (those from Mangalore will know what monsters these buses can be). Keeping in mind that this was a new car, I made sure the speedometer never went above the 100 mark, but the Fabia is a real temptress. The last time I was on the Mangalore-Udupi highway, the national highway project was well under way and along with the mining trucks made our journey hell. Now that most of the project is completed and the roads are getting set, it was great to drive on this highway (despite of a few bottlenecks at Surathkal).
The gear change is smooth and another new feature (at least for me) was the reverse gear on the shift. What you got to do is press the gear down and move it to the first gear position and the reverse function is on. Press the gear down and you are back to first gear. Pretty neat I thought. At high speeds the Fabia holds it own in control and power. No buffeting like a Maruti Swift or Wagon R, this is one mean highway mama who can ride it to hell. The only problem I had was that with the AC on the car took time to pick up speed from a lower gear to a higher gear. There was an obvious delay in picking speed especially when I got into a high gear as I was trying to pick up speed while overtaking. For someone used to pressing the accelerator to the floor this could be a big issue. But for the family man driving his kids to school, it’s your perfect hatchback.
All said and done the car is one neat model that looks good, feels good and executes its functions in the prim, proper way and with the German engineering excellence brought by Volkswagen into the Czech Skoda fold. It comes with a standard CD player music system with decent sound and airbags and interior adjustable mirrors. The price may be a bit high (approx. Rs. 7.5 lakhs) for the hatchback but I feel its money well spent for the quality you get. The diesel engine gives you a mileage ofaround 16-18 kms/litre. Good by the cars standards (keeping in mind the engine power). I have noticed Skoda making its mark in India without shouting out loud from the rooftops unlike other brands. Its performance speaks for itself and the Fabia model is no different. Good pick Mr. Almeida (that’s Cronin’s dad by the way).