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The Favorit was the beginning and the end for Skoda. Launched in 1987, it was the Czech firm’s first front-wheel drive car, but the last before it was swallowed by the huge Volkswagen Group empire.

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As the last of the old Skodas, the Favorit shows us how far the company had come since being established in 1895. We took a factory-fresh 1992 example on a tour of some wet Oxfordshire roads for our Retro Road Test, to see if it can still cut it in 2015.

Skoda Favorit: what are its rivals?

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Back in 1992, Skoda was still the butt of some ill-judged and ill-informed jokes. It was one of a small number of cheap and cheerful cars to be imported from East Europe and could count the Lada Samara and Yugo Sana as two of its direct rivals. It was slightly smaller than a Ford Escort, but its low price (£5,000 at launch) meant it could be bought for the same price as a top-spec Ford Fiesta.

Sadly for Skoda, disputes between the communist government of Czechoslovakia and the designer, Nuccio Bertone, meant the car was delayed. The project was approved in 1982, but development didn’t start until 1985. The Favorit was launched in 1987, arriving in the UK two years later.

Skoda Favorit: what engine does it use?

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The Skoda Favorit was powered by a 1.3-litre engine, derived from the 1.0-litre engine used in the Skoda 1000MB. British firm Ricardo Consulting redesigned the combustion chambers, while Porsche engineered the engine mountings. Interestingly, the Stuttgart firm also helped with the Favorit’s front suspension. With Czech, British, German and Italian input, the Favorit was a European car in more ways than one.

The 1,289cc engine developed throughout the Favorit’s 18-year production run, with a catalytic convertor and later fuel injection having an impact on the car’s power output. As tested here, the Favorit offers 56hp at 5,000rpm.

Skoda Favorit: what’s it like to drive?

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The Favorit was parked at the crossroads of 120 years of Skoda history. It lacks the character and charm of the rear-engined Skodas of old, but it represented the dawn of a new front-wheel drive future. As a result, the Favorit is wonderfully predictable and perfectly adequate. It’s a very easy car to drive, with a decent enough five-speed gearbox (a big selling point at the time) and terrific all-round visibility.

Performance would be best described as leisurely and the Favorit can feel strained if you push it too hard. We could bemoan the lack of a rev counter (you’ll find a huge clock in its place), but the engine soon tells you when it’s time to change up. The steering is slow and you’ll find a huge dollop of understeer if you enter a corner with too much enthusiasm. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to the Skoda Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: reliability and running costs

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The combination of a five-speed gearbox and meagre kerb weight of 840kg translates to a more than respectable average fuel economy of 54.3mpg. Classic car insurance should keep running costs to a minimum.

Bear in mind that few Favorits will be as tidy and well-maintained as this 2,500-mile example. Many will have been used as basic A to B transport, meaning services will have been skipped and cheap parts may have been used. Prices are cheap enough to warrant waiting for a good Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: could I drive it every day?

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There’s no reason why you couldn’t drive a Skoda Favorit every day. After all, people were still buying these things new in 1995. But given the relative scarcity of the Favorit, it would be a shame to subject it to the rigours of 2015 motoring. If nothing else, the winter salt could bring a premature end to an otherwise tidy example.

It’s also worth remembering that the Skoda was a cheap car in its day, so you’re unlikely to feel cosseted by the Favorit’s cabin. It’s a sea of cheap plastics which, even in this super low-mileage car, is beginning to shake and rattle. It’s also worth noting that safety wasn’t one of the Favorit’s strongest features.

Skoda Favorit: how much should I pay?

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Prices are still measured in hundreds, rather than thousands, but you will pay substantially more for a box-fresh example such as this. Expect to pay no more than £800 for a tidy Favorit with a fresh MOT.

It’s also worth hunting down a Skoda Favorit estate, known in some markets as the Forman, which offers acres of space for a bargain price.

Skoda Favorit: what should I look out for?

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Rust will be an issue, so inspect the Favorit for signs of rot. The interior isn’t particularly hard-wearing, so you may need to live with some broken trim and scratched plastics. Also look out for smoky engines and signs that the Favorit hasn’t been serviced for a while.

Sure, the Favorit stems from a time before Volkswagen played a part in the engineering of Skoda products, but this feels like a properly sorted car. Driving one today, you get the sense that age-old Skoda jokes were well past their sell-by date. The Czechs had every right to feel proud of their little Favorit.

Skoda Favorit: should I buy one?

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If you’re after a pre-Volkswagen Skoda you can use everyday, this is arguably your only option. It’s easy to drive, cheap to buy and potentially hassle-free to own. It’s a highly likeable car with distinctive Bertone style and loads of interior space. You’ll also find plenty of on-board storage bins and pockets, including a sizeable and very deep glovebox.

Skoda purists will, with good reason, flock to the likes of the Estelle, Rapid and 110R, but for a retro cool car that may turn a few heads, the Favorit is hard to ignore.

Skoda Favorit: pub fact

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When the Favorit first arrived in the UK, Skoda owned the UK importers based in King’s Lynn. This company would, depending on spec, fit a Philips car stereo, rear wash-wipe, sunroof and mud flaps. They’d also supply alloy wheels to Czechoslovakia.

As a bonus pub fact, in common with other Skoda models, the Favorit name harks back to a much older Skoda car. The original Skoda Favorit was a luxury car built in the late 1930s.