Skoda’s cracking City car a contender for class honours

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Skoda’s first foray into the city car sector is a cracker. The Citigo is an urban tot spun off the same platform and built in the same factory as the Volkswagen up! and the SEAT Mii but it might just offer the best value of the lot.

It’s a genuine contender for class honours straight out of the crate.

It seems odd that a company like Skoda, which has forged a reputation for bringing us small, keenly priced cars, has no track record in the city car sector. The Czechs have been able to sell us superminis and family hatches but never a properly compact urban tot. Until now that is. The Citigo marks Skoda’s entry into the class and it’s a car that isn’t just dipping a toe into the water. It’s an instant contender for class honours.

But would you expect anything else from contemporary Skoda? Name one duff car in Skoda’s line up. Anyone who knows anything about cars will struggle with that one, as the range is strong from one end to the other. The Citigo shores up the base of the pyramid quite convincingly. Of course, if you have done the background reading, you’ll know that the Citigo is effectively a modified Volkswagen up! (or SEAT Mii if you prefer) but each is subtly different.

All three cars spun off this chassis, up!, Mii and Citigo, have one thing in common; an almost uncannily good ride. In order to make a vehicle ride well, it usually helps if it has a long wheelbase. The Citigo doesn’t. Its 2.42m wheelbase is admittedly good going for a city car, but it’s what the engineers have done with suspension design and componentry that really makes the little Skoda soak up road imperfections like a family hatch.

Buyers get to choose from two 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engines. The entry level unit manages 60bhp, while there’s also a 75bhp version if you want a bit more response from the throttle pedal. You’ll need to work the gears a little more in the lower-powered car, so if you’re choosing a Citigo for anything other than pure urban duties, the more powerful engine is definitely the one to go for. Good steering, high levels of grip and strong brakes mean that the little Skoda offers more than the usual city car fare for keener drivers.

Skoda initially showed a three-door version of the Citigo, but a five-door model has also joined it and unlike some five-door city cars that look uncomfortably cramped in profile with a set of rear doors, the Skoda still retains a clean shape. Although it’s clearly been developed from the Volkswagen up!, the Citigo’s front end offers, to this eye at least, a bolder styling touch and it’s been the work of Jozef Kaban, who has the Bugatti Veyron on his CV.

All versions of this car are built in the same Slovakian factory and build quality seems very strong. The dashboard is simply designed, with a clear instrument binnacle and a high-mounted pod that houses the ventilation and audio controls. There’s no reach adjustment on the steering column which is a minor grumble but otherwise there’s aces of space and adjustability up front. The five-door model has no more rear space than the three-door and while there’s no shortage of headroom, it’s inevitable that in an city car, rear legroom is pinched if there are taller people up front. The boot is a generous size at 251 litres, which is some recompense.

The trim walk-up consists of S, SE and Elegance models, offered in both three and five door forms. Skoda expects the five-door car to attract the lion’s share of the sales and it’s not hard to see why, with its family-friendly rear access. Standard equipment on all cars includes twin front and side airbags, anti lock brakes, a CD stereo radio with an AUX-in slot to pipe music form an MP3 player and there are also the almost obligatory daytime running lights.

Skoda is looking to offer a wider range of personalisation options than it has on many of its models and the Sport and Design package looks as if it could be a winner, offering black metallic or silver decals and the choice of either 14”, 15” or 16” alloy wheels finished in either black or silver.The Citigo might be small but a number of big car features are offered.

The ‘City Safe Drive’ system uses laser sensors and can apply the brakes at speeds below 18mph to vastly reduce the risk of bumping into the car ahead in city traffic. Skoda also offers a portable Navigon sat-nav and MP3 player called Move & Fun, which seems to have suffered a lot of teething issues. Ask for a test car with it fitted and see if you get on with it before ticking that particular box.

Any city car stands or falls by its ongoing costs and the Citigo looks to have all its bases covered.

Even the top of the line 75bhp models will return a combined fuel economy figure of 60.1mpg with emissions pegged at 108g/km. Opt, as most people will, for the 60bhp engine and the figures are better again, at 62.7mpg and 105g/km.

Residual values look set to be extremely strong, thanks to Skoda’s aggressive pricing and burgeoning reputation for customer loyalty. The Skoda won’t have things all its own way though. The SEAT Mii also looks great value and has a slightly younger image. Insurance is extremely cheap, with the car rated at group 1-2.

The Skoda Citigo does everything it needs to and more. If its importers can keep prices razor-sharp, it’ll fly out of the showrooms. It looks good, offers plenty of space, a keen enough drive and seems very well screwed together. Factor in running costs that are minuscule, some interesting trim options and a strong warranty and you have a very convincing package.

Unlike many city cars which verge on the twee, the Citigo feels functional and mature. While this may strike it from the lists of twentysomethings who may well prefer something cheekier like a Fiat 500, the Skoda is a product that doesn’t need to rely on cutesy gimmicks. It’s just solid good sense. The seats are comfortable, the control weights are just so and the cabin ergonomics are mostly spot-on. Chalk up another winner for Skoda.