Car reviews - Skoda - Fabia - Range
Versatility, styling, huge cargo space in wagon, smooth manual gearbox, fuel efficiency, safety tech, connectivity, quirkiness
Room for improvement
Hard plastics and cheap cabin materials, harsher ride when optioned with Sports Pack
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8 Jul 2015
CZECH brand Skoda, despite being founded in 1895, is still less than eight years old in Australia, but its model range has expanded beyond the original offerings of the Octavia and Roomster to now include the Superb large car, Yeti crossover and Rapid small car, as well as the quirky Fabia light car.
So youthful is Skoda in Australia that the new Fabia, launched this month, is just the second full-model change-over in the company's brief local history, following the arrival of the third-generation Octavia in late 2013.
While the VW Group-owned brand has taken a while to fire Down Under, sales have risen in recent years, more than doubling from 2011's total of 1652 to a 2014 year-end tally of 3853, with the Fabia chipping in an average of 45 to 60 sales per month.
Skoda is not talking sales predictions for Fabia, but improvements in virtually every area give the plucky little Euro a chance to do much better than it has in the past.
The Fabia launches from $15,990 plus on-road costs for the base manual 66TSI, and if you want an auto the price jumps to $20,290 for the dual-clutch-only 81TSI, with the super cavernous wagon adding $1150 to either grade.
Immediately, it’s obvious that the new Fabia's exterior styling is a big improvement over the oddball look of the old model. However, it is still unmistakably a Fabia – and unmistakably a Skoda.
It still has a large-looking glasshouse which ensures excellent visibility, but the proportions this time around suit it better. The grille, headlights and tail-lights give the impression of a smaller Octavia or Rapid, which is not a bad thing.
Skoda is big on individualisation, and the optional Colour Concept – which alternates body, roof and wheel colours – looks rather cool, particularly in the razzy Sprint Yellow hue.
There is little difference in the cabin between the two grades, although there are different seat trim options and, in base 66TSI guise, the contrasting materials on the seats are funky and appealing. The denim look in the 88TSI might date, though.
The seats up front offer adequate levels of support and are on the firm side, but are far from uncomfortable. There is acres of headroom in the Fabia, particularly up front, but rear-seat headroom is also spot on, and while taller folk wouldn't feel super comfortable in the back on long-haul journeys, legroom is on par with other cars in this segment.
Skoda is not known for its resolved interior styling, but the dash is uncomplicated and logically laid out, if a little dull, and the controls are simple to locate and use. The steering wheel feels large but in both grades it is leather-wrapped and offers multiple controls.
Hard plastics are everywhere, and some of the dash inserts, particularly the aluminium-look versions, are a little tinny and feel a bit cheap. At the end of the day, this is a $16k light car, not a prestige model.
Skoda is talking up the inclusion of its SmartLink connectivity system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the model range, and for good reason. It is the first car in its class to offer it, and it is being steadily rolled out across a number of mainstream and premium manufacturer's ranges.
Our brief play with Apple CarPlay revealed that the system is relatively easy to connect – we look forward to the day it is done wirelessly, something Apple is working on – and the notion of having your own smartphone menu appear on your car's infotainment screen that you can swipe and touch is brilliant.
It eliminates the need to learn a new system, and that familiarity feels safer.
As with any system like this, the user will of course incur data charges from their carrier, and if you venture out of town where there is less coverage, you will lose connectivity.
But if you live and work in a city, it's unlikely to be much of a problem.
In terms of spec, the Fabia’s standard gear list is healthy across the range, incorporating a three-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, roof rails on the wagon, six-speaker surround sound, 6.5-inch screen, sunglass holder, air-conditioning, heated door mirrors, electric windows and Skoda’s Front Assist, which features an autonomous emergency braking system. It’s pretty solid for a car in this price bracket.
If that’s not enough, there are some reasonably priced option packs to jazz your Fabia up even more.
The hatch offers a pretty decent 305 litres of storage space (more than both the Mazda2 and the VW Polo), but the wagon – the only wagon in the light-car segment, if you don’t mind – offers up 505 litres, which is just one litre shy of the Mazda6 wagon, a car two segments bigger than the Fabia.
There are plenty of cool options in both body styles for cargo nets, a little plastic ring for hooked into the wall of the cargo area to hold stuff and a cargo cover that can be lowered in the hatch for a two-level storage area. Not to mention the seven drink holders throughout, which is unheard of in a European car, a massive glovebox, a storage bin in the door and other quirky hidey-holes.
We love the flexibility of the Fabia and in wagon guise, it not only looks cool, but the cargo space and the overall package is more appealing than some offerings in the small-car and even in the sub-compact-SUV class.
Under the bonnet of all Fabias is Volkswagen Group’s EA211 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit, and in base Fabia 66TSI guise it produces 66kW/160Nm and is matched with a five-speed manual gearbox only.
Pulling away in the 66TSI in city traffic, it’s clear Skoda engineers have worked hard to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels for Fabia Mk3, because there is very little external noise penetrating the cabin, save for the rather nice engine note. Even at higher speeds on harsher roads the noise levels are low for a very light car.
It is smooth off the line too, delivering linear acceleration that is sprightly without being exciting. Zero to 100km/h times range from 9.4 to 11 seconds, depending on variant.
The five-speed box is smooth and glides into gear with ease and, combined with the slick clutch, it is a joy to drive. No jerkiness here.
Skoda has balanced the suspension well, with the Fabia offering a compliant ride in 66TSI guise. It handles well through corners, but you would be wise not to be too enthusiastic it’s not a performance car.
The 88TSI increases power to 88kW/175Nm and is married to a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG. The version we drove very briefly was fitted with a $2600 Premium Sports Pack that adds sports suspension that lowers the car by 15mm, fatigue detection, front fog-lights, LED DRLs and 17-inch alloys, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, keyless entry and start, and DAB+ digital radio, among other things.
The sports suspension impacts on the overall ride, making it feel a bit harder than the 66TSI. In a car like this, we don’t see the point of opting for it.
The lower ride height looks kind of cool, though.
A quick dash in the 88TSI without the Sports Pack reminds us of the smooth ride of the unmodified version.
The DSG is a good match with the engine, albeit a touch keen to hang onto gears when pushed. Changes are slick, and when driving down a hill, it is intuitive enough to know when to kick down.
Fuel use is listed as 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres across the range regardless of body style and power output, and in the 88TSI wagon without the Sports Pack, it recorded 6.2L/100km, which is not bad, given it was pushed.
Here we have yet another excellent entrant in the increasingly busy light-car sector, fighting for attention against impressive offerings in the form of the terrific Mazda2, Honda’s likable Jazz, Volkswagen’s mechanically related Polo and Ford’s solid Fiesta.
But the Fabia is different enough to stand out not just because of its individual styling, but because of the whole package Skoda is offering, particularly in base 66TSI guise, which we think is the pick of the range. It’s particularly good given the inclusion of up-to-the-minute connectivity tech and safety gear as standard in a $16k car.
Before you go and buy a tiny crossover like a Holden Trax, Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V, we would recommend stopping by your Skoda dealer first and having a good look at the Fabia wagon.
In wagon or hatch guise, the Fabia is one of the more impressive propositions at that end of the market.
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