Skoda invited Dan and around 50 influencers from around Europe to Prague for a weekend to meet the new Skoda fabia & a visit to the home of Skoda: Mladá Boleslava.
The point of the weekend was to reveal the new Fabia, and to learn how forward-thinking and practical the designers are at Skoda. So I’ll start by saying yes I was impressed… and then I’ll tell you all about the crazy experience I had flying in vintage aeroplanes.
The itinerary simply said ‘flyby of the Skoda factory’. I was expecting a small propeller plane, very much like a mini bus with wings. Instead, a powerful hulk of a biplane plane taxied around the corner, looking fresh from the set of Indiana Jones. Bench seats, rope handles, leather seat belts for the pilots. Everything reeked of engine oil, and the noise and vibration was phenomenal. 10 passengers out of their comfort zone, pressing their phones and cameras to the windows to record every visceral moment. The old airfield stretches through much of the town, and the Skoda factories sit alongside it…and around the rail track sidings…and to the north of the town there’s another massive complex. Its clear that Skoda IS the town, yet its full of life and historic buildings.
The Antonov flight was such an overwhelming sensory experience. It was 35 degrees on the ground, and it may as well have been 45 inside the plane. It was just all so intense. The flight home on the Easyjet felt like silk in comparison.
After five glorious but bewildered minutes on the ground, I was completely unprepared for the lunacy of my second air experience. A canvas-stretched 2 seater propeller plane…that’s apparently too fragile to lean on. One hour earlier I was reading the information plaque about this plane in the museum next to the airfield. Now I was being guided in to the front seat.
An eighty year old aeroplane enthusiast stood in front of the plane, and gave a thumbs up to my 60-something year old pilot. In the ears of my flight headphones the pilot says a few phrases in Czech, and then the old man whips the propeller around by hand. He looks like he’s been doing it every weekend for decades, but the shock on his face when the motor starts tells me this never gets old. While the Antonov 2 belched exhaust fumes and seemed to bully its way in to the sky…this little two seater pogos down the bumpy grass airstrip and lifts in to the sky with just enough power to get us off the ground. There’s a simple control stick waggling between my legs, two rudder pedals connected with thin wire and a dashboard with 6 dials and a compass. Simple. It seems impossible that any of these flights would ever happen in the UK – so I’m delighted to have had such a bonkers experience.
The real focus of the weekend was the new face-lifted Fabia. The car won best small car in ‘What Car’ Car of the Year 2017, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins again this year.
As a child, I remember Skoda being the butt of jokes in the playground and on the TV. I’ve had a problem with the styling on quite a few Skoda cars in the past, but I think the latest Fabia looks great.
Before we even got behind the wheel of a car, we took a tour of the Skoda Digilab, in central Prague. The Digilab is one of those cool stripped-back designer hubs (don’t say office) with a collection of teams building Skoda visions of the future. We saw presentations about car sharing, a kind of car Airbnb thing, helpful apps and electric cars and the like. Car ownership, it seems, might soon turn in to car membership – especially if you’re a student living in a city.
It all made a lot of sense to me. Why do we even own cars? Most cars are used for less than one hour per day. They spend their time taking up space, costing money and collecting dings and scratches in car parks. Can our cities really afford for everyone to own a four-wheeled status symbol? Its pretty clear that the planet can’t sustain it. I can’t wait for a future where car ownership becomes rare.
In the mean time, I’m 100% behind improving safety. I’ve talked about my feelings toward modern cars before, and its great to discover that even super-mini cars by Skoda get collision warning safety features and genuinely useful tech.
With a tiny 1 litre turbo-charged petrol engine, its nippy in town and totally adequate on the motorway. The build quality felt easily as good as any other car I’ve driven recently. The interior looked great, and was comfy, too.
We had a little confusion with the in-car Satnav before we left the hotel. Our Anglicised street name spellings weren’t recognised by the system, so we plugged a phone in via USB, and used Google maps instead. As you’d expect in the modern world, the 6.5″ touch screen acted as an interface with the phone, via Android Auto (or iPhone). Simply use your preferred map app, and skip between tracks on Spotify from the steering wheel at the same time. This is a premium and thoroughly unexpected feature.
I recently drove a two year old Audi A6 hire car in Sweden, and it didn’t have those features. My Qashqai beeps “incompatible” warnings every 20 seconds if you plug an Android phone directly in to the USB. If you’re thinking “my car doesn’t even know what a phone is”, let me tell you now that when your car and phone work together, you’ll wonder how you’ve ever coped before.
I drove three of us from Mladá Boleslav, back to explore the tourist sites of Prague. Its easy to see why the Skoda factory is so large. The roads of Czech are full of Skoda cars. You can easily count 10 Skoda in a row, before another brand appears on the road, and then 10 more before the next. Our three weekender suitcases fitted in the boot easily, and the DJ with the iphone on the backseat handled the music and set the tourist destinations on the Satnav. It was effortless and comfortable – precisely how travelling by car should be. I just can’t wait for the future when we don’t actually have to own a car.
Collaboration Note: Dan was invited by Skoda to attend this press trip. Flights and expenses were paid for by Skoda. All words, images and opinions are his own.