Rallying has given us some inspired road cars over the years, so the omens are good for the little vRS, but Skoda has taken the somewhat unusual decision to endow its hottest Fabia hatch with a turbodiesel engine.
Delivering a modest 130bhp, the Fabia might be short of headline-grabbing power, but with 228lb ft of torque it has Alfa 147 GTA-humbling muscle. Coupled to a six-speed gearbox and a stiffer, lower, front-drive chassis the Fabia should have major mid-range punch.
As you might expect, the drive is full of contrasts. Being the most powerful and also the most sensible powerplant in the model range is a unique combination and one that needs a different approach to fully appreciate.
Taken at face value the vRS displays all the usual hot hatch cues. Bigger bumpers with integrated fog lamps up front, new 16in alloys, a tailgate spoiler above the rear window and a bigger tailpipe set the tone nicely. The same is true inside, with well-contoured seats and a chunky three-spoke steering wheel. In fact, everything seems good until you start the engine.
The pulse is very hard, noisy and unmistakably diesel. You really need to fight your prejudice, but get out on the road and the way the vRS hauls is wonderful, pulling the Fabia up the road with real conviction.
The problem is that this performance potential is useable only in a limited rev- range. It feels most lively at 2-3000rpm, which sounds ridiculous for a hot hatch, but anyone familiar with a Golf TDi will know there's serious shove at such low engine speeds.
If you're trying to go fast you become just as focused on this narrow power- band as you do in a Honda VTEC screamer. Where frustration begins to build is when you're braking late into a corner and need the help of some engine braking, for it becomes very difficult to match engine speed with road speed. Similarly, when you're overtaking it requires steely nerve to short-shift and rely on the torque to surge you past slower traffic rather than hanging on to the gear in search of top-end response that isn't there.
The behaviour of the TDI is typical of nearly all diesel engines (one exception being BMW's keen, free-revving 3-litre). Together with a weak sound and soft throttle response, it significantly lowers the emotion and excitement you crave in a hot hatch.
Chassis-wise, the vRS sits 15mm lower and is equipped with stiffer springs and firmer dampers. While more compliant than the aggressively tuned Octavia vRS, the Fabia is significantly more alert and responsive than its lesser siblings. Skoda's trademark green callipers help deliver immediate stopping power and a firm pedal but are prone to fade.
Compared with something like a MINI, the vRS lacks that real hunger for corners and feels as though the emphasis is on safe predictability rather than all-out fun.
The vRS retains the electro-hydraulic power steering from the rest of the range and it could do with being quicker; in quick lock-to-lock manoeuvres it's possible to catch the servo out. It's an unnerving trait that needs considerable forearm shove to counteract.
With a 0-62mph time of 9.6sec the Fabia is slower than its competitors, but the vRS is different to other small hot hatches. It has less raw speed and emotion than a Clio 172 or Mini Cooper S, but all that torque gives it an effortless and surprisingly rapid pace. It may not be enthralling A-to-B, but it will be quick. Obviously fuel consumption is a big plus: as high as 50mpg in normal driving, never less than 25mpg, even when you're driving flat-out.
The practicality of five doors, economy, quality and keen pricing are compelling plus points for the Fabia vRS. But this is of little consequence to an enthusiast who wants a sharp, small Skoda that's happy to sing at six thousand revs. All of which leads us to conclude that the Fabia vRS is a missed opportunity.