The Citigo is Skoda's take on the most modern citycar design in the market. With the Czech brand on the bonnet, it makes value sense too. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Skoda's first stab at citycar motoring is an impressive one, this Citigo borrowing Volkswagen technology and blending it with the value we expect from this growing Czech brand. Those in search of a beautifully conceived, affordable and impressively space and fuel-efficient urban runabout will need to consider it.
It seems strange that a company like Skoda, which has forged a reputation for bringing us small, keenly priced cars, has no track record in the citycar sector. The Czechs have long had a history of bringing us superminis and family hatches but until the Spring of 2012, they'd never tried to sell us a properly compact urban runabout. With this car, the Citigo, all of that changed. It may have marked Skoda's entry into the class but this isn't a car content to merely dip its toe into the water. This, we're told, is an instant contender for class honours. As of course you'd expect if you're aware that this is a re-badged version of the segment-leading citycar design also sold as a Volkswagen up! and a SEAT Mii. This Citigo though, claims to trump its two stablemates with small but significant advantages when it comes to the all-important value proposition. The result, on paper at least, ought to be an urban runabout impossible for canny buyers in this sector to ignore. A convincing entry point to the Skoda range that'll play a pivotal part in the brand's ambitious plans to sell over 1.5 million cars a year by 2018. Let's put it to the test.
So. What's it like, this small Skoda? Get behind the wheel and you've a solid, well appointed cabin that promises a solid, well appointed driving experience. Already, you sense, there's a depth of design here missing from this car's French, Korean and Japanese rivals. Most of these feature three cylinder 1.0-litre engines that are busily revvy at best and downright noisy at worst. A configuration shared here, but delivered with a bit more finesse. Fire the engine and a more refined thrum filters out from beneath the bonnet ahead. Not refined enough, it must be said, to quite let you forget the cylindrical imbalance under the bonnet. But then the characteristic offbeat rasp isn't unpleasant and rather suits this design's rather offbeat charisma. You'll certainly be hearing plenty of it if rapid progress is needed, for without a turbocharger to boost torque, this one needs to be revved quite a bit, peak power not arriving until 6,000rpm, only 600rpm shy of the red line. And if you're wondering quite how much power we're talking about, the answer is not a great deal in the mainstream 1.0-litre variants we're focusing on here, cars offering a choice of either 60 or 75PS outputs, with an identical 95Nm of torque either way. Most will be content with the base version, capable as it is of sixty in 14.4s on the way to 99mph, quite enough to keep up with the traffic. The performance gains offered by the 75PS variant seem relatively slight (0-60mph in 13.2s on the way to 107mph) but the unit is a little more refined.
Design and Build
The styling looks quite smart but forget the aesthetics: two statistics sum up the real thinking behind this design. A length of around 3.5-metres yet a wheelbase that takes up nearly 2.5-metres of that. Which is why, though a Citigo is no longer than a Fiat 500, it offers far more room inside, space in fact for the four fully-sized adults who could never comfortably fit in the apparently space-efficient Italian car. How has this been done? By shortening the front and rear overhangs as much as the designers dared, something only possible at the front by mounting the radiator alongside rather than in front of the very compact engine. The result, once you pull back the doors to their wide-opening 80-degree angle, is a tardis-like interior just as big as that of Skoda's far pricier and apparently much bigger Fabia supermini. Something you especially appreciate on the back seat. Both three and five-door models offer the same amount of rear passenger space of a standard impressive in this segment and helped for taller folk by the way it's possible to easily tuck your feet beneath the seat ahead. It all means that there's comfortable room for two adults provided the journey isn't too long and there'd be space for my three children if three belts were provided here. Unfortunately, there are only two, which is a little annoying. No complaints about luggage space though. Though there's a high sill over which you've to lump your stuff, once you get it in, there's a 251-litre capacity that's nearly twice what you get in a Peugeot 107, a Citroen C1, a Toyota Aygo or a MINI.
Market and Model
Pricing at launch started from well under £8,000 but most Citigo variants in the UK tend to be sold somewhere in the £8,000 to £11,000 bracket common to this kind of car. If you're looking at an entry-level version, there are a couple of price steps I'd consider quite carefully. The £360 premium that will give you the more frugal 'GreenTech' version of the 60PS 1.0-litre petrol engine (the 'GreenTech' tweaks are standard on the 75PS variant). And, even if you haven't a family, I'd want to look at paying an extra £350 to go from the three to the five-door bodystyle. Less crucial is the premium of around £400 necessary to progress from the 60 to the 75PS engine. But urban owners may want to look at paying just over £500 more for the ASG automatic transmission. Equipment-wise, the entry-level 'S' variant doesn't come with very much at all other than the real basics: you even have to pay extra for a spare wheel. You do though, get an MP3-compatible CD stereo with an AUX-in socket, body-coloured bumpers, daytime running lights and a 12V powerpoint. If that's a bit hair shirt for you, you'll be far better served by the air conditioned 'SE' level. In this case, there's less of the penny-pinching meanness. So as well as a cooler cabin, you get remote control locking, a rear seat that spilts 60/40, body colour for the mirrors and door handles and windows you don't have to wind up yourself, Seventies style. Top 'Elegance' variants get the clever 'PID' Personal Infotainment Device with its sat nav, media player and 'phone functions.
Cost of Ownership
This Skoda simply has to be super-affordable to run. It is. Thanks in part to a low kerb weight of only around 850kg, even the least efficient entry-level 60PS models will return a combined fuel economy figure of 62.8mpg, with emissions pegged at 108g/km. Figures you can improve to 64.2mpg and 103g/km by opting for the efficient ASG automatic gearbox, at just 30kgs in weight, one of the lightest auto gearboxes ever made. Those looking for better economy still in their 1.0-litre 60PS Citigo will be drawn inexorably to the 'GreenTech' model which features low rolling resistance tyres, a battery regeneration system and a stop start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it in traffic or at the lights. As a result, it can return an impressive 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and emit just 96g/km of carbon dioxide. Go for the slightly pokier 75PS variant and there's hardly any penalty at the pumps. Unlike SEAT and Volkswagen, Skoda includes its efficiency package (with start/stop and everything else) as standard with this engine, so the returns achieved - 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and 98g/km - are substantially better than the 75PS SEAT Mii or Volkswagen up! models you'd get for the same or more money. Whether you opt for your Citigo with 60 or 75PS, the benefits of the efficiency package are important given that they take this car below the 100g/km barrier, making it completely free from congestion charges and delivering all kinds of tax benefits.
Some citycars sell on cute and cuddly virtues. This isn't one of them. Here instead, the urban runabout has grown up, become mature, got itself properly sorted. If that puts off the twentysomethings who'd prefer something more fashionable, then Skoda won't mind. There are plenty of others in search of an urban runabout with big car virtues and small car pricing, spacious, efficient and beautifully built. This, according to Skoda, is 'engineering excellence with a human touch' - a design someone's clearly thought very carefully about. For the Czech brand, it'll also help that their marketeers have thought equally hard about pricing. That sees this Citigo's value proposition looking strong alongside its SEAT and Volkswagen design stablemates. True, there are feistier citycars you could consider: maybe more charismatic ones too. But none that better deliver on the promise of two words that sum this Citigo up. Simply clever.