I was commuting 130 miles a day from the south coast into London, racking up 700 miles a week. While I loved my previous Mercedes, in 2008, diesel prices were going through the roof and it cost a fortune to drive, so I needed something more economical.
I picked up the Skoda for £400, spent another £150 on the clutch, replaced the crank sensor and temp sender, and it ran well for nearly 30,000 miles in a year.
Firstly, I want to dispel a few myths. The Felicia is NOT a VW Polo, it's a much bigger car that was designed for Skoda, and a updated version of the Favorit. Likewise, the 1.3 engine is NOT a VW engine, but is the same legendary Skoda engine that was used in the Rapid, but with updated fuel injection. Where VW came in was in tooling - they spent the money in the factory to make the machinery better so the tolerances are much higher than they were on the old Favorit. It was said that the dashboard was so much better made than the Golf and Polo, that VW specified an inferior grain stamping on the plastic to make it look cheaper than it was, so it wouldn't make their products look bad!
The Felicia was a well made little car - it felt much more solid than a comparable Focus or Astra - even if it was a bit more crude. It really felt like a mk2 Golf - with that early '80s directness that comes from not having electrically assisted this and that. However, one criticism I have is the turning circle, like many FWD cars is not good. At work, I could get my old Merc into a tight space in one move, whereas in the Skoda, I had to back up and go again because the arc was too wide. This is mainly because the Merc was so good in this area, because the steering was designed for a taxi.
Mine did have power steering, and the 68hp engine - which made it feel much easier to live with than the stripped out 54hp cheap model without power steering.
It was plenty fast - although coming from a non-turbo diesel Merc, I suppose anything would feel that way!
The seats were more comfortable than I thought they would be - not perfect like the Merc, but I didn't feel sore after my 2-3 hour commute.
Another feature I loved was the footwell - it had a proper left foot rest - something missing from many small RHD cars. While this may not be important to most people, if you have to spend 3 hours in a car, it can be a deciding factor!
This car has a space utilisation that could put an Austin 1800 to shame. There was gobs of space in the backseat, even more legroom than the Merc, and even though it wasn't an estate, the boot was huge. The rear seat could be removed entirely. With this out, the cargo area was nearly a cube - you could fit a washing machine in there!
The engine had a lovely sound, and was very old-school - people knock the old Skoda 1.3 engine, but this is a really well engineered 1960s engine - very much the A-series of eastern Europe. I was able to cruise easily at 70 or more, and still get about 40mpg in a combination of hills, motorway and London gridlock - probably the worst possible combination.
The heating and ventilation system was good, almost instant heat, and well designed.
What makes the Felicia a great car is its ease of maintenance - I could do most jobs myself, and even strange faults like the crank sensor or flickering lights were within my skill range. Parts are very cheap from Jorily Skoda.
There were a few faults that I didn't fix - the rattling exhaust and leaking windscreen. These made the car feel much more of a banger than it was, and if I had treated it better, I would have fixed.
The main reason I got rid of it was because I wasn't doing my huge commute anymore, and could get by with my Volvo estate.
I should also mention that the Felicia, as with all Skodas, has head gasket issues. Mine leaked constantly but slightly as long as I had it, but it never let go in thirty thousand miles. When I sold it, the header tank had some mayonnaise, but there was none in the engine. However, unlike Rover K-series, the head gasket on a skud is not a deal breaker. As the engine is an 'old school' overhead valve, it's cheap and easy to change.
So, if you want a little car that will do everything for under £1000, and be reliable and cheap to fix, the Felicia is a good buy. The added bonus is that they often sold to older people when they were new, so you can find some in amazing condition today. Just make sure to buy the Classic or Lxi trim or better, as these had the better engine and power steering. I would also advise potential purchasers to think carefully about the colour. These cars look a bit plain and cheap in white - very appliance like. However, in metallic colours they can look really nice.
Skoda also made a 1.9 diesel which got amazing fuel economy and a 1.6 petrol with a VW engine. At the prices today, these aren't really a great bargain, as they both fall into the higher tax bracket. The Skoda engine is very reliable if looked after, and has much more character than the VW lumps. Also, the VW engines are too powerful for the gearbox, and can destroy the differential - Polos had this problem too.
While overall I can say that the Felicia is not as good as my old Merc 124, nothing else is either. However, the fact that after using what was one of the most mocked marques for a hard year of driving, it was still in about the same condition as when I purchased it, says a lot for its quality. This is a little car that wants you to like it - it has a personality, something utterly lacking in today's computerised world.