Car reviews - Skoda - Fabia - 81TSI
Cavernous boot, comfortable seating, strong engine, beautifully judged steering, ride and handling
Room for improvement
Dual-clutch automatic lurchy at low speed, cheap cabin plastics, lacks high driving position of an SUV
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18 Mar 2016
Price and equipment
THE Skoda Fabia 81TSI largely takes its equipment list from the 66TSI that gets a bit less power (as the name suggests, the 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 81kW versus 66kW) and a manual transmission.
The seemingly hefty $4000 surcharge upgrading to the dual-clutch automatic also buys, in addition to the higher power output, standard cruise control and 15-inch alloy wheels replacing 15-inch steel wheels.
Standout standard equipment on both Fabia Wagon grades includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring technology and City Emergency Brake, Skoda’s low-speed autonomous emergency braking function.
Although rear-parking sensors are listed as standard equipment, disappointingly a reversing camera is unavailable.
Either a $1200 Sports Pack or $2600 Premium Sports Pack are optionally available on the 81TSI only. The former package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime lights, front foglights and 15mm-lowered sports suspension. The latter bundle, as fitted to our test car, further adds automatic on/off headlights and wipers, flat-bottom sports steering wheel, keyless entry with push-button start, digital radio and single-zone climate control air-conditioning.
Other major options include $950 satellite navigation and $500 metallic paint.
The recommended retail price for a Fabia Wagon 81TSI with Premium Sports Pack and sat-nav is $24,990 plus on-road costs.
Specified in this way, the Skoda costs $600 more than the middle-tier CX-3 Maxx. However the Mazda lacks low-speed autonomous emergency braking, keyless entry, digital radio and climate control, and features smaller 16-inch alloy wheels although it does include a reversing camera as standard equipment.
Function comes well before form inside every Fabia, indeed within most Skoda models.
The wagon bodystyle is derived from a light hatchback, and its dashboard design and cabin furnishings reflect the Fabia’s affordable starting price. Some trim textures are shiny and the dash-top plastics are hard and suffer windscreen reflections in harsh sunlight.
The plastic door trims, bereft of cloth trim inserts, are a further reminder that this Skoda will not sell to those who appreciate premium design. Where the Fabia Wagon leads is with its infotainment system, which delivers crisp graphics, rare-for-the-class digital radio and brilliantly integrated smartphone connectivity.
Skoda’s entrant should draw in crowds of people who appreciate pragmatic design.
Seating, both front and rear, is broad and plush. The tall roofline that contributes to the Fabia Wagon’s long and narrow proportions also delivers benefits in terms of headroom both front and rear. This perception could also be (ahem) heightened by the lower seating position compared with small SUV models, however rear kneeroom is not lacking.
Four bottle holders – accommodating a 1.5-litre beverage in each front door, and 0.5L capsule in each rear door – are complemented by a removable mobile phone holder in one of the front cupholders, and a lidded bin inside the driver’s door pocket with a disposable liner.
The latter two items are part of what Skoda calls a Simply Clever package that also includes a luggage net and flexible storage compartments inside a boot that delivers a simply impressive 505 litres of volume with all seats in place.
Not so much as by comparison, but rather by contrast, the CX-3 delivers just 264L, while the Honda HR-V provides 437L as the most voluminous cargo carrier in the small SUV segment.
Where the HR-V eclipses the Fabia Wagon is in terms of loading width. Its small SUV body is 40mm wider than this light hatchback-derived wagon. The tables turn back in terms of loading height, which is impressively low in the Skoda to make life easier when needing to lift larger items first up, and then in.
The Honda also starts as an entry-level model grade with an identical pricetag to this as-tested 81TSI with Premium Sports Pack and sat-nav. It makes the pragmatic, practical Fabia Wagon look ever more tempting.
Engine and transmission
The 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine under the stubby bonnet of the Fabia Wagon is an excellent engine. With outputs of 81kW/175Nm to motivate a vehicle with a kerb weight of 1111kg, the claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 9.6 seconds seems pessimistic.
Conversely the official combined cycle fuel consumption rating of 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres appears optimistic. At city speed the Fabia Wagon often extended beyond 10.0L/100km according to the trip computer, and settled at 8.4L/100km following additional freeway cruising and country road touring time.
The response from the engine and transmission are partially to blame, but also thank. The VW Group turbo-petrol engine is smooth and responsive anywhere from just off idle to redline. Likewise the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, dubbed DSG, is snappy and immediate to changes in throttle response.
The upshot of this is superb driveability but also economy that can quickly spiral out of control simply because the transmission and engine are so keen to get things moving quickly. Driven gently the dual-clutch slinks into taller gears to aid economy, but even slight throttle applications gets the automatic excited and the engine on boost to the detriment of efficiency.
The transmission also has enduring issues dealing with both parking and ‘creeping’ in dense traffic, whereby the driver just lifts the brake slightly to get into the spot or keep up with slow moving traffic respectively. In this instance the Fabia Wagon can feel lurchy.
In all other instances, however, this is a standout drivetrain.
Ride and handling
Although 60-aspect 15-inch tyres are standard, the optional 40-aspect 17-inch tyres that form part of the optional Premium Sports Pack further add Skoda’s 15mm-lower sports suspension.
If the purchasing priority is for a smooth, small family wagon rather than an edgy, surfboard-swallower for singles or couples, then the standard tyre and suspension package would be more appropriate for such duties.
However the sports suspension delivers nicely resolved settings for those looking for an entrée to hot-hatchback motoring, and the combination of a subtly sporting driving feel with superb practicality thanks to the capacious boot is alluring.
The Fabia Wagon rides firmly, but it always feels light on its feet, agile and grippy, the latter virtue thanks to the excellent Bridgestone Potenza tyres. It never feels harsh or uncomfortable, but rather is similar to a Volkswagen Golf GTI in the way it delivers nuanced extra discipline rather than a divergence towards overly stiff suspension.
The superbly tight and medium-weighted steering guides this light hatchback-derived wagon through corners willingly, the Skoda delivering chassis balance and composure that even the best small SUV models such as the CX-3 struggle to match.
Safety and servicing
The Skoda Fabia hatchback received a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating with a score of 34.16 points out of 35.
In addition to low-speed autonomous emergency braking, every Fabia includes electronic stability control, switchable traction control and dual front, front side and full-length curtain airbags.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km. A six-year capped-price servicing program requires totals of $1070 over 3years/45,000km and $2453 over 6years/90,000km, which is expensive for a model in this price range.
The Skoda Fabia Wagon is more than just an off-beat, left-wing alternative to the usual suspects in the growing and already crowded small-SUV segment.
It does not feel as premium as may be expected for a vehicle costing $25,000 before on-road costs, and the $4000 surcharge switching from manual to automatic transmission is excessive despite the increase in power and equipment.
Whatever savings may be wrought in dealerships thanks to this model’s niche status and therefore extra bargaining opportunity, may also be offset by inferior resale values compared with a Mazda or Honda, for example, and the increased servicing costs.
In terms of what it fits in, however, and the way it drives, the Fabia Wagon is an impressive, valid alternative to the usual suspects.
Mazda CX-3 from $19,990 plus on-road costs
Prioritises exterior style of interior space and cabin substance. Feels just like a Mazda2 inside and doesn’t liberate much extra space, however it drives well and has a strong value equation.
Honda HR-V from $24,990 plus on-road costs
Provides cabin space and luggage room to closely rival the Fabia Wagon. However this Honda only drives competently rather than brilliantly as in the case of the Skoda, and its equipment level is much lower.
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