Why the comparison?
The last generation Skoda Fabia vRS very quickly became a cult classic because of its diesel engine; it had punchy performance and bona fide hot hatch looks, but matched with diesel fuel economy.
So the decision to change to petrol power for this generation - thus losing its defining characteristic - was an unusual one. Skoda also dropped the manual gearbox, deciding to offer only a twin-clutch DSG automatic. That's left SEAT to fill in the vacuum with its diesel-engined, manual Ibiza FR TDI.
How are they similar?
Both cars vie for the same sort of customer - those looking for a small, overtly sporty hatchback with decent performance. Both are fairly economical, not demanding the outlay of a hot hatch proper (of the Golf GTI type) and both are available with five doors, so they're relatively practical.
And they're both built on versions of the very same VW Group platform, sharing some parts - can't get much closer than that.
How do they differ?
They differ in some key ways, the main being the aforementioned fuel issue. Skoda could be accused of throwing the baby out with the bath water by dropping diesel and replacing it with a 178bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine. If that's the case, SEAT has duly thrown it back in - the FR TDI has a 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit. This engine has less power, sure, but more torque, so at times it feels almost as quick.
On the quality front both makers seem to have been bestowed with plastics from the lower tiers of Volkswagen's parts warehouse, though the build quality and layout of both cabins are good. The SEAT has more style, we'd say.
But the Skoda has a distinct practicality advantage in that it's available as an estate, whereas SEAT only offers three-door SC and five-door hatchback versions of the FR TDI.
So which one would we have?
As you may have already read between the lines, we're disappointed that Skoda has turned its back on diesel. The vRS engine - supercharged and turbocharged - is very punchy but it's not very tuneful, and the whole driving experience is blunted considerably by the seven-speed DSG. In normal mode it takes too long to kick down when you need a burst of acceleration, whereas in Sport it holds gear for too long, making for engine whine. The steering is too light and lacks feel, too.
The Ibiza is the much more satiating car to drive, with a lower driving position, weightier steering, and a beefy manual gearbox. The diesel engine runs out of puff just about where the vRS's turbo kicks in for its big hit of power, but in the real world the SEAT feels just as flexible because the low down punch is strong.
Both look the part, with styling additions and badges in the right places to show that they're a little more special than the rest of the range, but for us hot hatches - no matter how small - are mainly about driving fun at low to medium speeds. Sadly, the vRS just doesn't cut it in that respect, whereas the FR TDI does the job well.
So, diesel still rules - it just rules with a different badge on the bonnet these days.