We're getting a little worried with Skoda at the moment.
For many years now, the brand has exuded a satisfyingly no-nonsense attitude, free from PR babble and marketing-speak. It just got on and made good cars, unburdened by the "image" - and therefore, associated costs - of otherwise similar Volkswagens and Audis.
In recent months though, we've seen the word "premium" liberally scattered through the new Octavia's press material, and perhaps worse still, has slapped the word "Sport" on the Skoda Citigo you see here - with its completely unaltered 59-horsepower engine. We had to try it, if only to calm our nerves...
If the Citigo Sport's badging can be justified by styling alone, then Skoda's reputation is perfectly safe. We highlighted the subtle differences between the Citigo and its more glitzy VW Up cousin in our first drive review - it loses the all-glass tailgate, uncluttered front end and pronounced kick to the rear window - but any previous reservations have disappeared in Sport trim.
In short, it looks fantastic. Our car arrived in white, which nets you red stripes and black outlines on the bonnet, roof, wing mirrors, sills and tailgate. Dark grey-painted 15-inch alloy wheels slot under each corner on 15mm lowered suspension, and the rear glass is darkened.
A rear diffuser-style element appears on the rear bumper, while the front bumper gets a jutting black chin spoiler not unlike those you'd find on 1980s hot hatchbacks.
We don't yet know if Skoda plans a Citigo vRS, but if it does it could do a lot worse than to start with the Citigo Sport. The VW Up may still have the more iPod-like details and distinctive visage, but an Up-owning friend who came to have a snoop at the Skoda looked more than a little disappointed that his VW didn't have more of the Citigo Sport's verve...
The red and black theme continues inside, executed with typical Skoda subtlety and taste. Seats are no different from the standard Citigo (and therefore, equally comfortable even on longer journeys - we drove around 800 miles in our week with the car) but neatly trimmed with red sides and striped faces.
A three-spoke sports steering wheel, wrapped in leather and stitched in red, looks far better than the four-spoke affair found in most Citigos. The gearknob too is better to look at and to hold, and the handbrake lever is similarly red-stitched. A shimmery silver-esque dashboard insert emblazoned with the word 'Sport' finishes off the look.
It's all well built, visibility is about as good as it gets on modern cars, and there are just enough places to put things within the cabin - including the deep 251-litre boot. It's all logically laid-out too - really, there are so few buttons in the Citigo's minimalist cabin that there's very little to complain about.
There's good adjustment in the seat, though we'd have liked reach adjustment in the wheel - the long-of-leg but short-of-arm (yours truly) may find the wheel a little further away than is ideal. Rear kneeroom is also a little tight for a car full of taller passengers, but tots to teens should fit in there fine.
While the powerplant doesn't fully live up to the "Sport" billing - more of that below - the chassis once again suggests Skoda is on the right track if ever a vRS model should emerge.
15-inch wheels (up from 14") and 15mm may seem like minimal chassis changes, but they have quite an effect on the way the Citigo handles. The ride is slightly firmer than previous Ups and Citigos we've driven, but not enough to be uncomfortable - and worth it for the handling improvements.
There's noticeably more grip and stability in corners than regular Citigos, the brakes are strong, while the steering feels both meatier and more direct. There's not the involvement you'd get with a Renaultsport Twingo and ultimately it's still on the softer side of things, but for the driver looking for a little more fun in their city car - without compromising its behaviour in the city too drastically - it's pretty much spot-on.
It'll do okay out of the city too - the Citigo remains a refined motorway mile-muncher with relatively low road and wind noise levels and a solid feeling at speed. No other city car (save for the near-identical Up and SEAT Mii) can really match it right now.
No, it isn't that sporty.
We could leave it at that, but that would be unfair - low-powered or not, the three-cylinder petrol unit does have other talents.
Not least fuel economy. After a week and around 800 miles of driving, our car had averaged around 60 mpg according to the on-board computer. It'll happily do that all day at 70 mph motorway speeds, and getting less than 50 mpg proved a real struggle. You'd need to be in heavy traffic all day or on a track to see less than about mid-40s.
Performance is unimpressive on paper, but you never feel too short-changed - it is, after all, just a city car. 14.4 seconds to 60 and 99 mph flat out is your lot, but at town speeds it feels pretty lively and isn't hampered by the emissions-strangled gearing of cars like the Kia Picanto or Peugeot 107. The gearbox itself is light and snappy and the clutch as light as they come.
It does sound kinda cool, too. The 3-pot makes so many different noises you'd think it was morphing into different engines under the bonnet - from near silent, to diesely, to a baby Porsche-style thrum, to a growly parp under deceleration. It has - for want of a less clichd term - character.
Value for money
You do need a bit of money to burn to buy the Citigo Sport, but thereafter it'll cost you as little to run as any other Citigo.
Our car starts at 10,290, and you'll pay an extra 350 for a pair of extra doors. Trouble is, that's well over 2,000 more than an entry-level Citigo S, with identical performance, economy and 20-per-year tax. As a purely rational city car purchase, the S is the one to go for.
The Sport's extra addenda take it beyond a purely rational purchase though, and it's certainly the better looking and better handling car, with a nicer interior. Equipment is good too - it has alloys, aircon, a height-adjustable seat and the various frilly Sport extras.
Our car also had Skoda's Portable Infotaiment Device, which connects to the top of the dashboard and offers up satnav, music functions and car information. Well, it would have done, had some ham-fisted oaf not had the car before us and rendered it incapable of talking to the car, or indeed receiving power. Thus, the satnav worked faultlessly until its battery died...
In Sport trim, the Citigo remains an excellent car. It's fun to drive, looks great and is as practical and economical as any other Citigo.
It's a little bit of a pity that it's no quicker than any other Citigo though, and while peppy, the engine never really lives up to the Sport's looks. The price is also a fair whack to pay for a car offering no real tangible benefits over cheaper Citigos.
If you love the looks, then by all means go for it. Us? We'd buy a regular Citigo and start saving up for a vRS version... if one ever arrives!
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