TEST DRIVE – Skoda Citigo

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Features editor Steve Sharpe test drives Skoda’s brand new city car and finds it’s not just a hit in the city.

HOT on the heels of VW’s all-conquering city car the up! comes Skoda’s little Citigo.

The paintwork could have been hardly dry on the Volkswagen before Skoda’s little city car came into view on the horizon.

It was always going to be a tall order trying to emulate the success of the up!, which has been picking up Car of the Year awards on a regular basis.

But Skoda is riding on the crest of a wave at the moment and the early signs indicate that the company will be able to continue its quest for global domination with the Citigo. Just this week it was named by car magazine Auto Express as its Car of the Year. The judging panel announced that “the Citigo offers small car buyers the space, quality and comfort normally associated with much larger cars, but at a fraction of the cost. It’s simply sensational value-for-money.”

And it won’t be the last trophy in the cabinet either – because the Citigo is a great little car at a great little price.

The Citigo is up against a growing number of city cars – apart from its up! stablemate there’s the Fiat 500, SEAT’s Mii and the Kia Picanto to mention just a few.

While the 500 gets the vote for looks, the up! and the Citigo aren’t far behind, and with Skoda being under the protective arm of VW there’s unsurprisingly a strong similarity between the Citigo and the up!.

Appearance-wise its unspectacular but there’s a nice-looking front end and a flattened off rear section, with smooth flanks and big windows.

It looks sturdy rather than funky although my test car did have a black stripe running down the centre of the bonnet and the boot, which raised a few eyebrows in a one-litre car.

Skoda’s cabins are always smart and the Citigo is no different.

It’s very minimalist, with just a couple of gauges for the speed, revs and petrol, a few dials for the heaters, a couple of switches and that’s your lot. Uncluttered doesn’t go half way there.

But the plastics look durable if not luxurious, and everything is well put together and, importantly, things don’t look cheap and nasty. And on the higher trims, like the up!, there is a removable sat nav perched on the dashboard.

The roofline is high and there is plenty of space in the front for heads and legs – you don’t feel cramped at all.

In the back things are understandably cosy but there’s enough space for two normal-sized adults.

Accessing the rear isn’t too difficult, either, thanks to the sliding front seats and incredibly long doors. These can catch you out while swinging open, though.

The boot is small but quite deep, although there’s a high lip that gear needs to be hoisted over, and the rear seats drop 60/40 to increase load-carrying space.

There are two one-litre three-cylinder petrol engines in the Citigo, one with 59bhp and the other with 74bhp.

I drove the 59bhp version and, while never going to be lightning fast, it had a decent amount of power at low speeds.

It’s quick off the mark and if kept at high revs will accelerate steadily through the gears.

It’s only at higher speeds and when the revs drop that the one-litre engine shows its limitations.

What really impresses, though, is the way that the Citigo, when it reaches motorway speeds, can handle prolonged periods of cruising with little problem at all.

Considering it was built as a car for the city, it will happily motor along, only faltering with inclines and if asked to overtake at more than a canter.

Skoda have ensured that the city car doesn’t feel too out of place in the country, either. It corners well, feeling planted on the tarmac, and there’s not as much lean as you might think considering the shape of the car.

But urban streets are the environment where the Citigo was aimed, and it’s where it is in its element.

Its diminutive dimensions make it perfect for nipping in and out of moving traffic, and taking on those parking spaces that others slow down for, consider and then drive off. Visibility is good all around, which makes manoeuvring even easier, and the light, accurate steering and tight turning circle make nipping in and out of traffic easy.

The little Skoda also makes light work of broken-up urban roads, taking all but the biggest potholes in its stride.

Small cars have traditionally been plagued by poor levels of refinement and ride quality but, like the up!, this is where the Citigo also impresses.

The ride is comfortable and although there is a small whistle coming through the windows from the outside and a little rumble through the floor, the ride is a lot smoother and quieter than you might expect

It’s only the engine noise that increases along with the speed and you get a rasp at higher speeds, but at lower speeds it remains remarkably quiet.

Like the up!, Skoda has done incredibly well to keep the pricing low for the Citigo. The entry-level model starts at £7,630, rising to the top of the range five door at £10,210. All versions come in either three or five-door models.

But Skoda have made sure that you get an enormous amount for that money.

There are three trim levels available throughout the range. The basic S has power steering, daytime running lights and CD player, while moving up to SE adds electric front windows, Electronic Stability Programme, remote central locking, manual air-conditioning and the split folding rear seats.

Top-spec Elegance models add alloys, heated front seats and the portable “infotainment” device, with the onboard computer, sat-nav, Bluetooth and a multimedia player. That’s a pretty impressive list.

Safety in a small car is paramount and the Citigo has that covered – it was awarded five stars in crash tests, and every model features four airbags and ABS, while a city braking system is available as an option

Add to the bargain prices the fact that some of the range have sub-100 emissions, which means no road tax, and frugal fuel figures – my test car had official figures of 62mpg and, after a week’s normal use had only used just over a quarter of a tank,

This new breed of city car make huge financial sense and the Citigo is up with the best.

Well equipped, economical, a good drive and at a bargain price, it’s a little wonder.

Fact file

Skoda Citigo SE

Engine: 1.litre diesel

Transmission: five-speed manual

0-60: 14.4 seconds

Top speed: 199mph

Economy: 62.8mpg

Price: £8,530